Textiles from India

Textiles from India have a rich and varied history. Indus valley civilization used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (3000 BC) have unearthed household items like needles made of bone, spindles made of wood and fragments of woven cotton suggesting homespun cotton was used to make garments.

Legend has it that when Amrapali, a courtesan from the kingdom of Vaishali met Gautama Buddha (500 BC), she wore a richly woven semi transparent sari, a technical achievement of the ancient Indian weaver. Literary information about textiles in India can be found in the Rig-Veda (1500 BC), which refers to weaving. The Ramayana (400 BC) refers compares rich styles worn by the aristocracy with the simple clothes worn by the commoners and ascetics.

Indian silk was popular in Rome in the early centuries of the Christian era. Cotton material from Gujarat has been found in the 5th century A.D Egyptian tombs at Fostat. Cotton textiles were also exported to China during the heydays of the silk route.

Silk fabrics from south India were exported to Indonesia during the 13th century. India exported printed cotton fabrics or chintz (cotton usually printed with flowery patterns, that has a slightly shiny appearance), to European countries and the Far East before the coming of the Europeans to India. The British East India Company also traded in Indian cotton and silk fabrics, which included muslins (a very thin cotton material)

Brocade weaving, especially with gold and silver, has been an age-old tradition in India. Combination of pure silk, silk and cotton blends and with gold and silver threads are woven. Material with their own specific properties and specific (processing of yarn and dying) treatments are historically specific to different parts of India.

Color plays a vital part in weaving.

  • Red - the color of love. The three tones of red evoke the three states of love.
  • Yellow - is the color of versant (spring), of young blossoms, southern winds and swarms of bees.
  • Nila (indigo) - the color of Lord Krishna who is likened to a rain-filled cloud.
  • Hari Nila - the color of water in which the sky is reflected.
  • Gerwa (saffron) - the color of the earth and of the yogi the wandering minstrel, the seer, the poet who renounces the world.

Nakshas (designs) forms an important part of weaving with geographically different parts of the country having their own idiosyncrasies.

Designs and motifs have undergone changes gradually and imperceptibly, generally being influenced by political changes in the country’s history from the mural at Ajanta, the Gupta period (14th century AD), mughals later and then the weavers weaving English design for their British patrons.