India has a diverse and rich textile tradition. The origin of Indian textiles can be traced to the Indus valley civilization. The people of that civilization used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, have unearthed household items like needles made of bone and wooden spindles, suggesting that the people would spin cotton at home to make yarn and finally garments. Fragments of woven cotton have also been found at these sites.
The first literary information about textiles in India is available in the RigVeda, which refers to weaving. The ancient Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata mention a variety of fabrics in vogue during those times. The Ramayana refers to the rich garments worn by the aristocracy, and the simple clothes worn by the commoners and ascetics. Information about ancient textiles of India can also be garnered from the various sculptures belonging to the Mauryan and the Gupta ages as well as from ancient Buddhist scripts and murals. Legends say that when Amrapali, a courtesan who lived in the kingdom of Vaishali (in present day Bihar), went to meet Gautama the Buddha, she was attired in a richly woven sari, which testifies to the technical achievements of the ancient Indian weaver.India had numerous trade links with the outside world and Indian textiles were popular in other countries of the ancient world. Indian silk was popular in Rome in the early centuries of the Christian era. Several fragments of cotton fabrics from Gujarat have been found in the tombs at Fostat (older areas of Cairo city, the country’s capital). 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 also exported printed cotton fabrics / chintz to Europe and the Asian countries like China, Java and the Philippines, long before the arrival of the Europeans. In the 13th century, Indian silk was used as barter for precious commodities from the western countries. Towards the end of the 17th century, the British East India Company traded in Indian cotton and silk fabrics which included the famous Dacca (Bengal) muslin besides substantial quantities of the same fabric made in Bihar and Orissa. The past traditions of the textile and handlooms is still discernible in the motifs, patterns, designs, and weaving techniques, employed by the weavers even today.Surat in Gujarat was one of the oldest centres of trade in cotton textiles. This textile reached Surat from different parts of India which would be sent back after processing (refining, dyeing, stain removing etc). Manufacturing of cotton and silk fabrics was the main industry in Surat, which attracted the Dutch as well as the English in the 17th century. During the 16th century, there was a vast market for textiles of Surat in South-East Asia, the Gulf countries and East Africa. During the Mughal period, products like pagdi (turban/headgear) made with golden thread, cloth for sashes and veils, were very well-known.| | | |
Chintz was a painted or stained calico cloth (Calico is a fabric made from unbleached, often not fully processed, cotton) printed with flowers and other devices in different colours. It was a popular choice for bed covers, quilts and draperies. During the 17th and 18th centuries it was imported to Europe and later produced there. Initially Europeans reproduced Indian designs, gradually adding original patterns.| | | |
Long-cloth was also painted in a similar fashion. With the help of wooden blocks, beautiful designs and motifs were printed on cloth. Owing to its ideal location on the river bank, bleaching of cloth was developed as a specialized occupation in Surat. | | | |
The crowning glory of Indian textiles was Kinkhab or 'Brocade'. This is a fabric woven out of silver threads, which makes it very expensive. The thread is drawn out of...