Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are learning about silk and the Silk production in India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Traders introduced the silk cloth to India, mainly from Samarkand and Bukhara and it gained immense popularity among the royalty and the aristocracy. King and nobles bought the woven fabric by the yard, wearing it as a gown or using it as a wrap or shawl. 'Jamawar' weaving centres in India developed in the holy cities and the trade centres.
Traders introduced the silk cloth to India, mainly from Samarkand and Bukhara and it gained immense popularity among the royalty and the aristocracy. King and nobles bought the woven fabric by the yard, wearing it as a gown or using it as a wrap or shawl. 'Jamawar' weaving centres in India developed in the holy cities and the trade centres.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 21, 2024

Silk of India

Due to its rich and fine raw materials, the rich and powerful merchants used 'Jamawar' and noblemen of the time, who could not only afford it but could even commission the weavers to make the fabric for them, as in the case of the Mughals. Emperor Akbar was one of its greatest patrons. He brought many weavers from East Turkestan to Kashmir.

What is silk?

Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The protein fiber of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and is produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoons. The shimmering appearance of silk is due to the triangular prism-like structure of the silk fibre, which allows silk cloth to refract incoming light at different angles, thus producing different colors.

Figurative motifs in the silk clothing
The Indian motifs were greatly influenced by nature like the Sun, Moon, stars, rivers, trees, flowers, birds and so on. The figural and geometrical motifs such as trees, lotus flower, bulls, horses, lions, elephants, peacocks, swans, eagles, the Sun, stars, diagonal or zigzag lines, squares, round shapes and so on can be traced through the entire history of 'Jamawar', which is a special type of shawl and are still being used but in a rather different form in terms of intricacy and compositions, thus creating new patterns in the silk clothing in India.

Indian weavery
Indian weaver predominantly used a wide variety of classical motifs such as the swan 'Hamsa', the lotus 'Kamala', the tree of life 'Kulpa', 'Vriksha', the vase of plenty 'Purna', 'Kumbha', the elephant 'Hathi', the lion 'Simha', flowing floral creepers 'Lata patra', peacocks 'Mayur' and many more. Legendary creatures such as winged lions, centaurs, griffins, decorative of ferocious animals, animals formally in profile or with turned heads, animals with human figures in combat or represented in roundels were also commonly used motifs. These motifs have remained in existence for more than 2,000 years. However, new patterns have consistently been introduced and sometimes some of these are even an amalgamation of the existing patterns. Such attempts at evolving new designs were particularly noticeable from the 10th century onwards, when patterns were altered to meet the specific demands of the Muslim rulers.

Jamawar clothing in India
One of the main reasons for the diversity in the designs of the 'Jamawar' cloth was the migratory nature of its weavers. Ideas from almost all parts of the world influenced these designs. The bull or the swan, arranged between vertical and diagonal stripes can still be found in the silk 'Jamawar' sarees of India. Patterns with small flowers and two-colored squares such as chess board design are seen, used both as a garment and as furnishing material – bed spreads with same kind of pattern are still woven in some parts of Gujarat. 'Jamawar' dating back to the Mughal era however contained big, bold and realistic patterns, which were rather simple with ample space between the motifs. The designs stood out prominently against the background of the cloth.

"Silk is produced by several insects but, generally, only the silk of moth caterpillars has been used for textile manufacturing. There has been some research into other types of silk, which differ at the molecular level. Silk is mainly produced by the larvae of insects undergoing complete metamorphosis, but some insects, such as webspinners and raspy crickets, produce silk throughout their lives. Silk production also occurs in 'Hymenoptera', which are bees, wasps and ants, silverfish, mayflies, thrips, leafhoppers, beetles, lacewings, fleas, flies and midges. Other types of arthropods produce silk, most notably various arachnids, such as spiders"

Additional decorative elements
Complex patterns were developed only when additional decorative elements were included in the basic pattern. During later periods, the gap between the motifs was also filled with smaller motifs or geometrical forms. The iris and narcissus flowers became the most celebrated motifs of this era and were combined with tulips, poppies, primulas, roses and lilies. A lot of figurative motifs were also used in the Mughal era such as deer, horses, butterflies, peacocks and insects. The Mughal kings played a vital role in the enhancement of 'Jamawar' by putting their inspirations into the cloth's designing and visiting the weavers on a regular basis to supervise its making. Shining, decorative pallus were jals were the main designs of this time and the borders were usually woven with silk and zari Kristian Bertel | Photography learned.

After the Mughal Empire period, the figurative motifs were discouraged by the Muslims and more floral and paisleys were introduced. However, inspiration was taken from these figurative motives and put into designs as in the case of using only the peacock feathers instead of the complete figure.

See this video about silk in India made by The Hindu.

Silk production in India
In recent years, the Indian government has attempted a modest revival of this art by setting up a shawl-weaving centre at Kanihama in Kashmir. Efforts to revive this art have also been made by bringing in innovations like the creation of 'Jamawar sarees' by craftsmen in Varanasi. Each 'Saree' is a shimmering tapestry of intricate design, in colors that range from the traditionally deep, rich shades to delicate pastels. A minimum of 4 months of patient effort goes into the creation of each 'Jamawar saree'. Many of the 'Jamawar sarees' now have matching silk shawls attached to them, creating elegant ensembles fit for royalty.

About 97 percent of the raw mulberry silk is produced in the Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Mysore and North Bangalore, the upcoming site of a 'Silk City', contribute to a majority of silk production. Another emerging silk producer is Tamil Nadu where mulberry cultivation is concentrated in Salem, Erode and Dharmapuri districts. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and Gobichettipalayam, Tamil Nadu were the first locations to have automated silk reeling units.

Read also:  Travel to India

Travel to India

Read also:  Travel to India

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of silk clothing in Maharashtra. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.