Soft as silk, soft to touch and wear, so delicate that you felt light wearing it and so gracious that it was fit for the Kings and Emperors. When daughter of Aurangzeb wore it she was criticized for wearing a transparent dress although she was clothed in seven layers of the material. Can you take a guess as to what I am talking about? It is the famed Bengal Muslin, cotton but not just cotton-sheer fine cotton.
What happened to Bengal Muslin:
A story of treachery, the disappearance of Bengal Muslin from the popular scene of textiles is tragic.Originating in Dhaka, Bangladesh it was not only exported to the Arab world but also grew popular in the western countries especially in the 18th century. Bengal produced wide variety of muslin from plain to thick,striped or fine. The soil, the temperature, the waters of Bengal rivers and not to mention the weavers of Bengal all contributed to the fine quality of Muslin it produced. So where did this delicate hand spun fabric disappear?
Until 1757, there was no monopoly of any company on the trade scene of Dhaka. There were European traders exporting the products out, the weavers earned handsomely and the competition among the traders only made things better for the weavers and families. But after 1757, the East India Company took over. The policies, laws, combined with the industrial revolution and the import duty exercised on the Indian textiles did not make things easier for the weaving community. They became dependent on the Company.The flooding of factory produced muslin did not help either. In 1825 the factories closed and the weavers were rendered out of work. The British textiles had dominated the markets!
Today realizing that most old things are gold- some enterprises are working with Bengal farmers and weavers to produce this fine gold. One of them is an organization called the Mahatma Gandhi Gramudyog Seva Sansthan(MGGSS). Established in 2010 it is trying to revive Muslin,Khadi, hand looms and to promote desi varieties of cotton that have lower eco footprint compared to the foreign varieties of cotton. Their recent exhibition at Ants Cafe showcased some of the collections like soft stoles, kurtis, plain fabric, dupatta, dhotis, sarees etc.
“We have been able to bring Bengal Muslin of a quality up to 500 counts. We are researching to produce yarn counts of more,” said Rubi Rakshit, one of the representatives of the MGGSS passionately. The increase in counts is a depiction of how fine the garment is !
One of their challenges has been to create awareness about hand looms and thereby increase the demand of these traditional crafts. Only then there is profit for farmers, weavers,dyers,spinners etc- all through the production chain.
So as a city dweller the maximum that you can do is to visit such exhibitions and sales, understand a bit more about this rich heritage and choose to support such enterprises. And spread the message further.
To know more about this project check out Arup Rubi Rakshit page.
The Song of the Shirt-Jeremy Seabrook