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Khadi: The Handwoven Freedom

Derived from the term khaddar, Khadi is a handspun and handwoven cotton cloth, which became one of the symbols of India’s freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have coined the term ‘khadi’ for these fabrics owing to their coarse texture. Khadi is spun using a charkha or an Indian spinning wheel.

Gandhiji visits a Khadi exhibition in Bombay, 1926.

Khadi was introduced to the people of undivided India in 1918 in order to achieve self-sufficiency and independence from British textiles. Thus, in no time, Khadi became the national fabric of India. Because of industrialization, the British textile industry began mass-producing cotton finished goods and marketing these in India at very low rates. They converted India from a supplier of finished textile products to an exporter of raw materials (cotton) to Britain and an importer of cheap, low-quality fabrics. Indian artisans thus were dealt a heavy financial blow.

In this context, Gandhiji gave the call for Swaraj or self-rule, which envisaged an end to dependency on British products and institutions. He spread the message that every village of India must plant and harvest its own raw materials and its people should spin Khadi for their own use. M.K. Gandhi saw this as a way to uplift the common masses out of poverty and build a system of self-reliance.

Eventually, Gandhi promoted the use of Swadeshi products and urged for boycotting foreign goods. At this time, Khadi was already popular as the fabric of nationalism, woven with ‘the threads of Swaraj’. As the idea of spinning Khadi spread across India, Gandhi hoped for unity among all classes through this common occupation by diluting the gap which existed between the people. Soon enough Gandhi understood that more than simply accepting the handwoven fabric, the people of India needed to make Khadi a part of their everyday life. Thus, the Khadi movement was established for social and economic reasons. The essence of this movement lies in Gandhi’s understanding of the fabric as something that could uplift the masses. He recognized that rural India carried immense skills and the villages could prosper by becoming a crafts-based society. Therefore, through the introduction of Khadi, he wished to start a process of change whereby the indigenous arts and crafts of India could prosper and become famous across the globe.

Khadi became a central icon of India's freedom struggle, and Charkha became a prominent figure on the Indian national flag designed in the 1930s.

Sale memo of a khadi piece prepared by Gandhiji at the opening ceremony of Shuddha Swadeshi Bhandar, 1919.


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