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History of handlooms

The origin of the art of weaving in India is shrouded in the mists
of antiquity

European Womwn using Indian fabrics

Fragments of woven cotton and bone needles have been discovered at Mohen-jo-daro and Harappa, the ancient seats of the Indus Valley Civilization. Even the Rigveda and the epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana dwell upon the craft of weaving at length. These weavers of the past were true masters of their craft. Such was their capability that legend even refers to the fabulous semi-transparent saree (a great technical feat) worn by Amrapali, the famous courtesan.
Indian cottons and silks were exported in huge quantities, causing concern among the Romans because their wives could not have enough of these beautiful fabrics! Fragments of cotton fabric were also found in the Egyptian tombs at Fostat, China too was another big importer of Indian fabrics in ancient times.
Moving ahead, silks were exported to Indonesia in the 13th century, India also exported a lot of cotton and chintz to Europe and the Far East before the advent of the British East India Company.

There were basically three types of weaving traditions in India :-

a) The Rural
Representing the familiar, unchanging images of rural life. These are abundantly
full of joy and life, with figures of plants, animals and humans.

Tribal Weaver

b) The Classical
Revolving around royalty and court life. Here the forms and symbols varied according to the patronage of the ruler. Symbols and myths were rendered graphically, with elegance and style.

c) The Tribal
These were usually bold geometric patterns and weaves in strong primary colours usually woven on simple bamboo looms.

The Islamic invasion caused a clash of weaving cultures and traditions.

Where the Hindu weaving had an abundance of life and spontaneity, with imaginary
animals, plants and human figures, the Islamic tradition was more withdrawn and
discreet. Representation of living creatures was stylized to the point of abstraction
since Islam did not believe in graphic representation of living creatures.

According to legend, Hazrat Adim Ali Salam was the first man to walk the earth,


It was his son Hazrat Shish Paigamber Ali Salam who is credited with the discovery of weaving. In 1288-1298 AD, Hazrat Khwaja Bahaudin Nakshaband Bhokhari Rahamtulla Alia was born, who later became the creator of the Nakshaband (design template for weaving) which completely revolutionized the art of weaving.
The Nakshaband technique or weaving according to premade design templates probably came to India with Mohammed Bin Tughlaq. It ensured the continuity of a design through the years whereas earlier weavers had created non-repetitive designs.

Muslims did not believe in wearing pure silk or wool especially
during prayers.

This lead to the creation of fabrics with mixed silk and cotton or wool in the
warp and weft. One such fabric was Mushru (meaning legal) since its warp
was silk and the weft was cotton. Himru was another such blended fabric,
only more expensive since it was much finer.

Gujarat had been the focal point of weaving in the past.

However the great fire which took place in 1300 A.D. caused most of the weavers
to flee and settle around the country in places like Delhi, Ajmer, Agra, Banaras,
and Madras. The silk weavers of Murshidabad and the Saurashtros of South India
both trace their lineage to Gujarat.

The courts of the Muslim kings were resplendent in expensive garments
embellished with heavy 'zari' work and intense 'meenakari.


Persian motifs of flowers and fruits like the pomegranate, the Iris tulip had become part of the Indian design scene. The vibrant reds, yellows and oranges of the Hindu tradition combined with the dusky pinks, emerald greens and turquoise blues of Persia to form a new colour vocabulary. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was said to be so fond of the 'Jamdani', that one had to seek royal permission before daring to wear the precious fabric. It soon came to be called 'Aurangzebi' on account of the Emperor's overwhelming passion for the fabric.

With the coming of the British, the fabrics being woven, lost much of their
intricacy and beauty.

Helicopter Woven on Garment

Traditional Indian motifs were dropped in favour of large wallpaper like designs including absurd images of helicopters, aeroplanes, gardens, houseboats and palm trees etc. Pastel shades were incorporated which lacked the brilliance of Indian colours. The Indian 'zari' industry too, went downhill when 'zari' began to be imported from Belgium. The traditional silk and cotton too, was largely replaced by synthetic yarn.
It was to resolve these issues of design, colour, texture and quality that Tantuvi was born.

Benaras holds pride of place among the ancient weaving centres in the country.


Its legendary cotton muslin was said to be so fine that even oil could not penetrate its finely woven texture. This muslin was rightly called King's Muslin and legend has it that Buddha's body was wrapped in it when he died. Benaras was known for the Jamdani inlay technique where fine patterns were woven all over the body of the fabric along with the weft, in the same count, a technique indigenous to India. Ancient records speak about five tones of white being used - ivory white, jasmine white, white of the August moon, white of rain-spent August clouds and conch white.
During the Mughal era, Benarasi silk sarees became very popular - Persian motifs and Indian designs studded with gold and silver became the darling of Mughal society. Today they enjoy the same public adulation and are exported across the globe.

Interesting Snippets

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