Textiles and handiwork from India have long been considered among the best in the world. Cotton threads used in its textiles have been around since 4000 BC. The fabric’s ability to take dye dates back to 2500 BC. When discussing the textile industry in India, both Varanasi and Ludhiana deserve credit. Some of the most renowned and sought-after textiles in the world are silk brocade, banarasi silk made by our local fabric manufacturers, bagru print, sanganeri patterns, ajrak, and Assam silk. But did you know that the history of Indian textiles is just as fascinating as the country’s handicrafts?
Not only did Indian emperors value and support handwoven textiles and skilled crafts, but so did other imperial powers. Their fascination with our age-old practices inspired profound changes in the fashion industry. To that purpose, let’s trace the history of Indian textiles from their earliest days to their present day after independence.
Ancient Indian Textile
India has one of the world’s longest histories of textile production, dating back to ancient times. Although depictions of women in waist garments date back to the Mesolithic, the proto-historic era is when we first find evidence of textile production and use.
Also included in our discussion of textiles is the Vedic period, which predates even the first known civilizations. Many different words have been used to characterise weavers and textiles in Indian culture.
According to the Ramayana, Sita wore woollen garments embellished with sequins and precious stones. Domestic textiles such as carpets and tents were first developed throughout the Middle Ages. The coming of the Muglai changed everything.
From the intimate, sensual pleasure of fine clothes to the enormous, royal grandeur of imperial tents, all of these exquisite goods were crafted with creative abilities and rare materials, and they inspired early modern experiences.
The people of ancient India draped themselves in both sewn and unstitched lengths of cotton and silk. The males wore turbans, belts, and shawls or other top garments thrown over their shoulders. Women also slung a towel over their hips, and sometimes wore a vasana over their top garments. A person’s varna, marital status, regional origin, and social rank could all be deduced simply by looking at a person’s clothing, and particularly a woman’s, since they were dressed according to the weather and the latest fashions.
India’s Textile Industry has Entered Its “Golden Era.”
King Babur founded the Mughal Empire. He favoured silk jawalkat dresses with elaborate embroidery and studded quaba jackets with large collars knotted at the waist. A kamarband with golden ends dangled loosely about his waist. Wrapped over his head was a Kulah turban, the conical kind, gilded and studded with gems.
Emperor Akbar’s accession to the throne marked the beginning of a period of change. He advocated a strategy of cultural synthesis and, in keeping with his unifying principles, cleared the way for less stylistic distinctions to be made in his court and among the general populace.
Imports of expensive fabrics like Chinese silk and Persian gold brocade continued, although they were mainly used as khila (a kind of monetary payment intended to buy the allegiance of royal servants) in the palace. He was dressed for the cold weather of the Mughal homelands in Persia and Uzbekistan, thus the several layers.
Indian handiwork is in high demand all around the globe. Cotton and silk were the predominant materials of the time. Beautifully coloured and patterned fabrics from Mughal India were sent to Europe and became an instant fad there.
The 16th century is considered the “Golden Age of Textile Production” because of the proliferation of new dye supplies, the improvement of weaving processes, and the incorporation of novel floral motifs. Massive collections of woven, painted, and embroidered textiles were accumulated by the Mughal courts, who were huge supporters of the Indian arts and crafts movement.
Kalamkari’s complex designs, which drew tourists to India during the mughal period (16th century), were sent to Europe. The decline of the Mughal Empire did not halt the evolution of courtly fashion, and it was not until the British colonised India that textiles in the country underwent another radical transformation.
Post-Mughal India’s Textile Industry
The high demand of Britishers for Indian textiles and spices drew India to trade with them. The East India Company quickly became the dominant force in Indian textiles after setting up shop in the country’s three primary commercial hubs (Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay).
The main reason for the British invasion was to colonise India. They anticipated that India would provide a big pool of inexpensive labour for the British economy. Some historians date the beginning of the British Empire and the end of the Mughal dynasty to the 16th century. Instead of aiding India’s textile industry, England pushed for the growth of raw cotton and indigo as ancillary industries for British production. This led to the 1681 dispatch of English silk throwsters to India to educate the indigenous weavers there. Before that time, the British had obligated Indian weavers to sell only to them. They kept prices low, making it impossible for handloom artisans to make a profit. As a result, many weavers and dyers in India fell into abject poverty.
Fall in India’s Textile Industry
With the passage of the “Calico act,” Britain took the first step toward securing a monopoly on Indian textiles and the demand they fueled in the United Kingdom. To protect English manufacturers against the expanding dominance of Indian cotton in the English market, the British government passed the “Calico Act” in 1721, which banned the use of all varieties of calico in England. In 1774, when technical advances allowed English textiles to compete with those created in India and other Eastern countries, the Act was repealed.
Indian weavers attempted to sell their wares to the Dutch and French in order to recoup the costs of their labour. British merchants responded by favouring their own peons over the weavers in appointments. But what about the other weavers who refuse to sell to the English merchants? It’s common knowledge that the British ruled their empire with an iron fist. The handloom weavers have been subjected to the same oppression.
Throughout The Time Period of The British Empire
The use of force and price controls were both short-term measures. This was avoided by enacting a permanent tax plan. In contrast to the lenient treatment given to British textile exports to India, which were subject to heavy taxes in Britain, taxes on Indian clothes imported into the country were quite high.
These levies served to equalise trade and had a profound effect on the handloom sector in India.
Beginning in the early 1700s, India bought more British textiles than any other country. However, by the early 1800s, British textile exports to India surpassed those to India. There was a significant price differential between Indian and English yarn in the 1820s. As a result, the market for Indian handwoven textiles began to dwindle, making them a rare and costly commodity.
The British organised trade displays such as “The Great Exhibition” in 1851 to advertise English products. The sample booklets, titled “The Textile Fabrics of India,” were handed out during the fairs so that English producers might find ideas for new markets.
To combat this and bring attention to khadi textiles, Gandhi ji launched the khadi movement. He advocated that Indians utilise handwoven, chakra-spun clothing. However, it was difficult to compete due to stiff competition from British textiles and a lack of assistance from the government.
There’s a good reason why India’s textile industry is regarded as one of the most promising and competitive globally. With government support, it is regaining its glitz and glitter after losing it under the British Empire. If the numbers are correct, traditional Indian arts and crafts are once again becoming fashionable. India is now the global leader in cotton fabric production, and Indian silk scarves are highly regarded across the globe. In 2016–17, India was responsible for 95% of the world’s handloom cloth exports. The textile industry in India is projected to increase by 10% between 2015 and 2026.
With our support and assistance, we can make India handloom textile rich and demanding. You can buy handwoven materials and crafts at fabriclore. We offer a large variety of fabrics with Indian crafts and arts.