The story of textiles in India is one of the oldest in the world and goes back to prehistoric times. Examples have been found depicting waist garments in the cave paintings of the Mesolithic era but concrete evidence of textile production and use starts appearing from the proto-historic times i.e. 3rd Millennium BCE. The evidence of wild indigenous silk moth species from Harappa and Chanhudaro suggests the use of silk in the mid 3rd millennium BCE…….Read the full essay here
Minute dyed fragments of cotton recovered from the site of Mehrgarh (present day Pakistan).
Wild indigenous silk moth species found at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, suggesting the use of silk during Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the world's earliest civilizations.
Excavations at the site of Mohenjo-Daro revealed the presence of dye vats together with woven and madder-dyed cotton fragments wrapped around a silver pot, reflecting an advanced understanding of the process of colour fixing on the cloth.
Cotton fragments excavated from the site of Mohenjo-Daro.
Spindle whorls of stone, clay, metal, terracotta and wood found from various Harappan sites.
Needles found from Harappan sites indicates the practice of sewing during this time.
Priest King figurine from the site of Mohenjo-Daro wearing a robe with trefoil designs suggests that the art of fabric decoration was in practice during the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Depiction of boats on seals, tablets and amulets indicate maritime trade activities during Indus Valley Civilisation.
A dockyard at Lothal site gives evidence of trade during the Indus Valley Civilisation.
References to clothes regularly sent to Mesopotamia from Meluhha (Sumerian name for Indus Valley Civilization), found in the Mesopotamian writings.
References to weaving found in the Rig Veda which describes a weaver as a vasovaya.
References to embroidery found in Vedic texts which mentions pesas or an embroidered garment probably worn by female dancers.
Apastamba Srauta Sutra, a text from the Vedic age, refers to printed fabric or chitranta.
Vedic Samhitas frequently mention woollen threads made up of goat’s hair and sheep’s wool.
Satapatha Brahmana mentions the use of silk and wool in sacrificial garments.
Ramayana mentions Sita’s trousseau which includes woolen clothing, furs, fine silk vestments of diverse colours among others.
Panini in his Ashtadhyayi, Sanskrit treatise on grammar, mentions cotton yarn as being one of the prominent yarns.
Greek physician Ctesian’s writing mentions the popularity of brightly coloured Indian textiles among Persians indicating that Indian fabrics were exported to Persia.
Mahabharata mentions silk fabrics among the presents brought to Yudhisthira by feudatory princes from the Himalayan regions.
Mahabharata mentions printed cloth or chitra vastra suggesting the art of printing had developed by this time.
Megasthenes, a Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, in his book Indica mentions that Indian robes are worked in gold and ornamented with precious stones and they wear flowered garments made of the finest muslins. This is a reference to brocade, embroidery and printing.
Kautilya’s Arthashashtra mentions spinners and weavers who were either a part of guilds or worked privately.
Kautilya’s Arthashastra mentions Haimavatamarga or the route from Balkh to India via Hindukush which was used to trade horses, wool, hides and furs among other goods.
Arthashastra, written by Kautilya mentions use of fabrics such as linen from Banaras and cotton from south India.
In Arthashastra, written by Kautilya, cotton is mentioned as a source of the King’s revenue.
Buddhist literature mentions fabric of Banaras known as ‘kaseyyaka’ or silk of Benaras and woolen blankets of Gandhara (present day parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan).
Buddhist literature refers to different types of textiles and fabrics like linen (Khoman), cotton (kappasikam), silk (kosseyam) etc. Also, there are mentions of weavers (tantuvaya), the place of weaving (tantavitatatthanam), weaving appliances (tantabhanda) and the loom (tantaka).
Buddhist Jataka texts refer to tools for spinning and weaving.
Jain texts mention cotton thread (Kappasikasuttam) and cotton cloth (kappasi kadusam).
The Periplus of the Erythrean sea, a Greek text mentions ancient trade routes and refers to trading of fabrics including muslin from India.
References are found to Chinese silk imported to Kanchipuram and exported from there to Malaya (Malaysia) as found in Chinese works.
Uttarapath (northern land routes) and Dakshinapath (southern land routes) constituted the grand trade route of India during the Kushana period.
During Gupta period, cotton preparation is evident from Ajanta paintings.
During Gupta period, the text Jambudvipa Prajnapati mentions about 18 traditional guilds including silk weavers (pattaila), sellers of napkins (ganchhi), calico-printers (chhimpa) and tailors (sivaga).
Bana’s Harshacharita mentions tie and dye fabric or bandhyamana.
Hieun Tsiang, a Chinese monk in his eye witness account mentions Kiau-shi-ye (product of silkworm) and Cotton.
Emergence of a specialized trading group for weavers known as Saliya Nagaram in South India.
The history of textiles and fabrics in India has deep roots which can be traced back to the ancient period. While the ancient period offers us substantial evidence to show the production, use and trade of textiles, it was in the medieval period that significant shifts started taking shape in this sector. Court patronage to textile craft intensified to an unprecedented level which led to increased production and trade of these items...….Read the full essay here
References found to very early use of bow-string devices in India for cotton carding.
References to spinning wheels start appearing in the works of Persian poets.
Zai Barani, a medieval historian, includes pattolaya (patola) among important items of booty obtained by Allauddin Khalji from his Devagiri expedition. Patola is the technique of pre-dyeing yarn before weaving to create colorful patterns on fabric.
Amir Khusrau, Indian poet and musician identifies women with needle and spindle (duk), as being women’s spear and arrow, perhaps suggesting that spinning wheels still had not reached India.
Indian poet Isami notes that Raziyya Sultana, first and the only woman ruler of Delhi Sultanate should have occupied herself with the spinning wheel, rather than the throne, suggesting that the spinning wheel had arrived
Zia Barani mentions zarbaft or gold woven in his work, Tarikh-i-Firozshahi, indicating that gold brocade was a practiced craft during this time.
Words chippa (block printer) and chappa (printing) found in a 14th century text, suggesting that block printing was a practiced craft during this time.
Remnants of printed fabric from Gujarat found in Fostat, Egypt, suggesting lucrative textile trade from Western India to Africa, West Asia and Europe.
Vertical looms started being used in Kashmir for carpet weaving.
Cambay developed as an important port in Gujarat for the textile trade.
King Zain-al-Abidin brought Persian craftsmen in Kashmir to teach them the twill tapestry technique of weaving.
Clear mention and illustration of the spinning wheel found in Miftah-ul-Fuzala, a 15th century dictionary.
Evidence of treadles in horizontal looms found for the first time in India, from an illustration of Miftah-ul-Fuzala, a 15th century dictionary.
Court costumes of Mughal Emperors Babur and Humayun were of Turkish and Mongolian origin. They were made of very thick fabric.
Reference to Chippa sari found in Jayasi’s Padmavat, a 16th century masnavi text. In all likelihood, cloth printing had become an established craft in India by the 14th century.
Emperor Akbar discards the costumes of his successors and chooses light fabric like muslin and silk for imperial clothing which suits the sub-tropical Indian climate.
Akbar introduces chakdar jama in his court which was worn by Rajputs, though with some changes. Dupattas, ghagras and bodice of rajput women were completely taken over in the Mughal Harem. Fusion of Persian and Rajput sartorial sense achieved by this time
First mention and illustration of a pit loom found in the Tuti-Nama of Zia-al-Din Nakshabi. In this loom, the pair of treadles are placed in a pit in the ground.
Akbar’s noble, Abdur Rahman Khan-i-Khanan encouraged craftsmen who created chintz patterns with stamping blocks at Sironj, Madhya Pradesh.
Textile industry became the largest industry of India under the Mughals. Gujarat, Cambay, Ahmedabad, Patan, Bengal, Kashmir, Agra, Lahore, Dhaka and Delhi were the leading centres of production.
Dacca (Dhaka) became the prominent centre for muslin weaving. Muslin achieved the status of most preferred fabric. Earned names like abrawan (running water), baft hawa (woven air) and shabnam (evening dew).
Paisley motif on textiles becomes the predominant motif during the Mughals. Appears most in Kashmiri shawls of this time.
Muslin, Silk, Velvet became favoured fabrics of the royalty.
Golconda became a centre of Chintz, Masulipatnam of Kalamkari and Gujarat of block print techniques for decorating textiles.
Kashmir became a centre of shawl weaving under the Mughals. Kashmiri needle work embroidery developed during this time.
Carpet weaving became an evolved craft under the Mughals.Kashmir and Lahore were prominent centres.
The British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company (VoC) entered into Asiatic trade of which Indian textiles was a major part.
Establishment of the first Dutch trading station at Masulipatnam.
Textiles with floral motif in vogue during Emperor Jahangir’s reign including damask rose, poppy flower, iris and lily.
The British and the Dutch traders established permanent factories at Surat for trade.
In a letter, Jan Pietersz Coen, the Director-General of the VOC, emphasized that people of Java were particular about good quality and would pay a very high price for Indian textiles.
Indian patola fabrics from Gujarat became very popular in the Southeast Asian markets. Patola is the technique of pre-dyeing yarn before weaving to create colorful patterns on fabric.
Velvet costumes became a symbol of pomp and show under the Mughals. Italian traveller Pietro Della Valle refers to a Mughal noble wearing a brocaded velvet coat.
Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveller in Mughal India, states that the ambassador of the Shah of Persia on his return from India, presented his master with a coconut shell, set with jewels, containing a muslin turban thirty yards in length, so exquisitely fine that it could scarcely be felt by the touch.
Floral motifs became more intricate and detailed during Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign.
Crank handle found on a spinning wheel first time in a Mughal Miniature painting, suggesting advancement in spinning technology.
The East India Company reached Bengal after establishing itself in Gujarat and Coromandel. It mainly was in quest of goods for its intra-Asian trade. The commodity chosen for this was raw silk and silk textiles.
Francois Bernier, the French traveller visited India and described the imperial workshops or karkhanahs as a combination of large halls where different craftsmen worked under a superintendent.
The Dutch took over Nagapattinam in the Coromandel Coast and started trading in coarse cotton.
Bengal became the main center for the production of both raw silk and finished silk goods. French Traveller Tavernier recognised Kasimbazar in Bengal as the main silk producing region.
Coromandel coast became the largest supplier of cotton textile to the European market, especially Holland.
Bengal became a major exporting region of India, with silk as an important item of export.
Textiles and Fabrics from the Indian Subcontinent were known in Europe well before the Industrial era. The extraordinary quality of the dyed and painted fabrics of Masulipatnam was described by John Fryer, an English physicist and travel writer. More such accounts of merchants and travellers are found from the 18th century, describing the types of clothes, materials used and production techniques that were prevalent in the Subcontinent. The popularity of Indian textiles and fabrics in the European markets led to attempts at emulating the production of these items locally in Europe especially in the 19th century after......Read the full essay here
Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama arrives at Calicut. He discovered a new sea route to India from Europe via the Cape of Good Hope. This led to enhanced trade relations between India and Europe. Indian textiles were a major item of this trade.
Vasco da Gama establishes the first Portuguese trading station at Cochin.
English East India Company established through a Royal Charter issued by Queen Elizabeth I.
Establishment of the first Dutch trading station at Masulipatnam.
Traders of the English East India Company arrived at the port of Surat.
First Headquarters of the EIC established in Surat.
Establishment of the first French trading station at Surat.
Printed cotton textiles from India become immensely popular in England and other European countries.
Emergence of a protest against the popularity of Indian cotton textiles by the local wool and silk makers in England.
The British government introduces the Calico Act to ban the use of printed cotton textiles (chintz) in England.
Establishment of the first textile industry in England.
Flying Shuttle is invented by John Kay marking a major innovation of Industrialization in Europe. It is an important step in the direction of automatic weaving, increasing the production of fabric.
The gross value of trade passing through the port of Surat falls from Rs 16 million to Rs 3 million.
The East India Company starts intervening in Indian politics following the Battle of Plassey.
The emergence of the Industrial Revolution in England makes it difficult for Indian textiles to compete with the machine made products.
Hand powered Spinning Jenny is patented by James Hargreaves. The invention of the Spinning Jenny is an important development in the textile industry, immensely boosting textile production and meeting the ever growing demand.
The Calico Act is abolished in England. This is done only after the Industrial developments in Europe that now enable them to compete with the textiles and fabrics produced in the Indian Subcontinent.
Samuel Crompton invents the Spinning Mule allowing the manufacture of high quality thread in large scales. The Mule is a multiple-spindle spinning machine that makes it possible for one operator to operate multiple spindles simultaneously.
India loses its rich textile market and becomes only a supplier of raw cotton for England. This period is represented by the drain of wealth from India to England.
Cotton piece goods account for 33 percent of India’s export.
First Cotton Mill established in India at Fort Gloster near Calcutta by a British merchant named Henry Gourger. About 700,000lb of yarn was spun here annually.
Cotton piece-goods account for not more than 3 percent of India’s exports.
The real development of the modern cotton industry in India began with the establishment of the Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company in Bombay by Cowasjee Nanabhoy Davar.
The Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company begins production.
First Jute Spinning machinery was installed at Rishra in Bengal under the initiative of George Acland and Babu Bysumber Sen.
The Oriental Spinning and Weaving Company, established by Maneckji Petit begins production. This is designed as a composite mill.
Georgel Acland floats the Ischera Yarn Mill meant for the production of jute yarn. This mill continued till 1862.
Borneo Company starts a spinning and weaving mill for Jute at Baranagar, along the Hooghly River. This mill was driven by power looms.
Tariff Act is passed by the British Government, abolishing export duties on all cotton products exported from India. A 5% duty on raw cotton imported to India is introduced herein to discourage the Indian cotton mills from importing American and Egyptian raw cotton.
Messers & Co. promotes the first successful cotton mill in Madras - Buckingham Mill.
First woolen mills in India start at Kanpur and Dhariwal.
Production begins in Empress Mill, established by Jamsetji Tata in Nagpur. This is the biggest cotton mill in India.
Abolishment of import duties of cotton goods into India under the Viceroyalty of Lord Ripon. This measure leads to loss of revenue for the government and attracts severe criticisms from the Indian producers. It is seen as a deliberate move to disrupt the growth of the Indian Industries.
Tariff and Cotton Duties Act is passed, wherein a 5% import duty is imposed on the import of cotton fabrics and yarn. A countervailing excise duty is introduced for all fine quality yarns of more than 20 bundles and of a certain length and weight produced in India.
India reports the presence of 193 textile mills with 4,845,783 spindles and 40,124 looms.
Beginning of the Swadeshi Movement.
The leaders of the Swadeshi Movement appeal to all Indians to boycott foreign clothes. It leads the Indian industrialists to produce cloth in their mills on a large scale.
Production of cotton piece goods doubled between 1900 and 1912.
Indian textile mills attain a great domestic market during the First World War. They also supply a number of war requirements. India develops trade links with Persia, Turkey, Africa and Ceylon.
Mahatma Gandhi promotes the use of Khadi, a hand-woven fabric made of hand-spun thread. This is a part of his call for self-rule or Swaraj. Khadi and spinning wheel, thus, become symbols of the Indian Nationalist Movement.
The saffron, white and green tricolour flag is adopted as the National Flag of India. The spinning wheel was placed at the centre, symbolizing swaraj.
Indian mills supply a huge number of war requirements throughout the Second World War. The total value of orders placed by the Supply Department during 1939-1941 amounts to Rs. 50.4 crores.
India becomes an independent nation.
The Textile Committee Act is passed. The Textile Committee is hereby set up to control the quality and standard of the textile products and machinery.
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