Murshidabad Silk : The Story of Golden Threads


Murshidabad Silk Saree Weaving


Murshidabad Silk : The story of the golden threads. Most of the people relate the place- Murshidabad with Siraj Ud Daulah & Murshidabad Silk. Murshidabad has witnessed a golden legacy of innumerable important historical events that changed the history of India. Murshidabad is the second largest silk producing district in West Bengal. The position of Murshidabad near the Bhagirathi river made the town an important center for Silk Trade. Muslin, Jamdani and Baluchari Butidar Sarees from Murshidabad can be found in the Art Galleries of the Indian Museum in Kolkata, too.


Murshidabad Silk Threads


Murshidabad Silk and Its Importance in Indian History



George C. M. Birdwood, the renowned art referee for the Indian Section of the South Kensington Museum in his book 'The Industrial Arts of India (1800)' said - "The City of Murshidabad is still famous all over the world for its gold brocades or Kincabs." This clearly shows the importance of Murshidabad as a silk manufacturing hub. Murshidabad was the main center of silk manufacturing and was producing Muslin, Jamdani & Baluchari Butidar silk sarees for the families of Nawabs.

Old Murshidabad Map


During the early 17th Century the Murshidabad Silk attracted foreign merchants. The foreign merchants used to call the Murshidabad Silk as Bengal Silk. Kassimbazar ( now called Cossimbazar) was the main hub of the manufacturing of Murshidabad Silk. Approximately around the 1650s, the East India company started opening “Kuthi” ( A property where business dealings take place or business are conducted). The Murshidabad Silk enabled the Britishers to establish a Business Center in India and later they would use this to take entire control of India. The Dutch, Portuguese, French also got interested by the Murshidabad Silk and started setting up Kuthis across the Kassimbazar.

Old Silk Factory in Murshidabad Cossimbazar
(Cossimbazar Silk Factory from other side of Hooghly)


Looking at the opportunity in trading Murshidabad Silk the Britishers opened their first Kuthi or Factory at Kassimbazar in approx. 1658 AD. Slowly they started building more factories and started keeping ships on the Bhagirathi river to transport Murshidabad silk to the world. Soon Murshidabad became one of the important business centers in India. The local people flourished and the silk weavers were the many beneficiaries. They became so important in the society that the silk weavers were often presented as gifts by the royal families or given as dowry.

Slowly the factory steps up by the East India Company started employing the local Murshidabad silk weavers. After Siraj Ud Daulah was defeated in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company and Robert Clive started showing the true colors.

(Source)


Now instead of shipping the manufactured Murshidabad Silk, they would ship the raw materials to Britain and they would bring back the manufactured silk to India and sell it at an extremely high price. The Britishers would start collecting tax on the sale of raw silk and would control the price of the raw silk. This lead to the local people getting poorer & this practice led to the dwindling of the silk weavers. The entire focus started shifting from manufacturing silk to just producing raw silk. However, this was not long Britisher around 1833 started closing the factories of silk as they started incurring losses. This lead to the complete destruction of the silk industry in Murshidabad.

However, through Silk trade the Britishers set a strong foothold in the Eastern Part of India which eventually helped them to control the economics in the region. This helped them to conspire along with the rich merchants of the region against the Nawab of Bengal Siraj Ud Daulah and defeat him in the Battle of Plassey which was one major turning point in the history of India.


Why Murshidbad Got Famous for Silk Sarees


Murshidabad is known for the premium quality of silk. The quality of silk not only depends on the silkworm but also on the art of weaving. How the silk threads are extracted from the cocoon and how it is weaved makes the silk special.

Murshidabad is famous for its Murshidabad silk saree made of fine mulberry silk with maroon and red borders .In earlier years the borders were laced with Gold Zari. Murshidabad silks are also popular for hand-printed designs and other materials which are also printed with wooden blocks.
When Murshid Quli Khan shifted his capital from Dacca to Murshidabad the weavers also shifted with him. Murshidabad soon became known for the Dhaka Muslin Saree made of Silk and Cotton. Later it became known Bengal Muslin.

Murshidabad Silk Thread ready for weaving


The Bengal muslin saree became the favorites of the Mughal empire and was a treasure for them. The quality of the Muslin Silk Saree was so superior that it could fit inside a small matchbox.

Murshidabad was also famous for its Baluchari silk Sarees. It's not known to many people that the Baluchari sarees were first weaved in a village called Baluchar in Murshidabad. Later due to some natural calamities the weaving community shifted to Bishnupur. Now Bishnupur is known for Baluchari sarees, however, Murshidabad was the place where the Baluchari silk saree weaving started.

Murshidabad Silk saree weaving


Along with Muslin Silk Saree, Murshidabad was also famous for its Jamdani Silk Sarees. The Jamdani silk saree is famous for its Persian designs. The Jamdani is the king of Muslin silk saree is sought after for its quality. It is said that every Bengali owns at least one Jamdani silk saree. The Jamdani sarees are often passed on through generations as an heirloom.

Another kind of saree which is famous in Murshidabad is Garad saree. This kind of saree is mostly white or off white in color and have plain borders. These are mostly woven from Mulberry or Tussar Silk.

No city on earth could produce 4 or more variety of sarees with finesse the way Murshidabd produced. Murshidabad became to be known as the Silk Capital of India and all European powers started coming to Murshidabad to trade silk.

How Murshidabad Silk Saree is Made


Before looking at the process of how Murshidabad silk saree is made it's important to understand the pain taking the process of extracting the silk threads from the cocoon. Once you know the process you will appreciate the Murshidabad silk sarees more.

The process of making silk is known as Sericulture. The silk threads are made from the cocoons of the silkworms. It requires approx. 8 cocoons to make one thread of approx. 200 meters.

Murshidabad silk



The process of sericulture is detailed below:


Farming the Silk Worms


At first the eggs are put inside the mulberry leaves so that they can hatch.
Once the silkworms hatch from the eggs they vigorously feed on the mulberry leaves.

The silkworms feed for 4 days and then the next day they completely fast and don’t eat for one day. On this day when they don't eat they shed their existing skin to grow just like the snakes do. This process keeps on repeating.

They keep on growing for around 30 days till the color of the silkworms turn light yellowish and the size is approximately 2-3 inches.

Silkworm



The preparing of Silk Cocoons


Once the silk worms reach 30 days they start making the cocoons. They take approximately 48 hours to weave a cocoon around their body.
The cocoons are bright yellow in color.

Once the silk cocoons are completed the cocoons are plucked and kept in the sun for 1 day.
The silk cocoons are placed under the sun so that the caterpillar dies inside the cocoon.

Silk Cocoons



The process of extracting Silk Threads from Silk Cocoons


The silk cocoons are boiled in the water for approximately 1-2 hours. During the boiling process, the cocoons become soft.

Automatically one small end of the thread comes out. This part is extremely important if the silk threads are pulled from anywhere part from this end the cocoon breaks up and a single thread can’t be extracted rendering the threads unusable.

This single thread is fed into the machine so that the entire 200 meters of silk thread can be extracted. 8 Threads are extracted at one go and made into a single thread. The silk threads are so delicate that one thread can’t be used to weave the silk saree.

The silk threads are then colored and rolled up into bobbins. These bobbins are then used in the weaving machine to make the Murshidabad silk saree.

How the Silk Sarees are weaved


The silk sarees are weaved in a loom. The most commonly used loom is called Pit Loom. Since the silk sarees are weaved with hands on the loom its often called Handloom sarees. A handloom silk saree costs more than a machine weaved saree For weaving a silk saree in a handloom it takes approximately 5-7 days to weave one saree.

Murshidabad Silk Weaver


The Murshidabad silk sarees are weaved by intersecting silk threads. The major components of the pit loom are: Warp Beam, heddles, harness, shuttle, reed, and takeup roll. There is a pit seat where the weaver sits to weave the Murshidabad silk saree. From this, the loom gets its name as pit loom.

silk loom in Murshidabad

Loading of the Loom

Before the weaving process of the silk saree is started the loom is loaded with the silk threads.The silk yarn is prepared in yarn sheets by rolling it on an iron rod. This process is called beaming as a beam of an iron rod is used. For this process, the strands of the silk threads are passed to various holes in the loom. This process itself takes 1-2 days.

Punch Card Making & Loading it in the Loom

As a child when I used to see the weaving process I always used to think how the weavers get the designs right. The designs of the silk saree are made into punch cards and the punch cards are loaded to the loom. The silk threads pass through these punch cards and based on the placement of the colors the design is made on the silk saree.

silk punch hole design

The Weaving Process of Murshidabad Silk Saree

It takes approximately 4-5 days to complete making a Murshidabad Silk Saree.The weaver keeps on pressing the pedal of the loom and pulls the knob the loom to create a mesh of the silk threads which form the famous Murshidabad Silk Saree.

The weaving process of Murshidabad silk


Where to see the Weaving Process & Buy 

Murshidabad Silk Saree


Barikothi a Heritage Hotel is located in the Jain patty in Murshidabad and offers Silk Tour experiences in Murshidabad. When you stay at Barikothi just request to go for the Murshidabad Weaver colony tour. 

For booking and tariff, kindly contact Barikothi at info@barikothi.com or call them at +919051200800

You can see the weaver colony and the weaving process at Tantipara in Murshidabad. There are many small shops at Tantipara in Murshidabad from where you can buy the authentic Murshidabad Silk Saree.

If you are not going to Murshidabad and happen to be in Kolkata you can buy authentic Murshidabad Silk Saree from Indian Silk House Agencies.

Disclaimer: I was hosted by Barikothi during my tour to Murshidabad. However, the views and process explained here are completely my own and no way influenced by the authorities/companies. This article has been written out of sheer love of heritage and no monetary gain has been made from the said authorities.

If you own a Murshidabad Silk Saree share your experiences in the comment section below.


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