Tales of traditional Indian Textiles! – North East

Introduction

Due to its inherent strength for skilled work force and locally available raw materials, the textile industry of North East India, since generations, is known for the production of intricate fabrics.

Arunachal Pradesh

The state of Arunachal Pradesh is an exotic collection of socio-cultural life that blends many types of cultures and traditions. Weaving among the people of Arunachal Pradesh is as old as the story itself. Cotton is widely used in this state in almost every type of attire. Color and design have symbolic meaning among some of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Certain clothes and ornaments are often associated with a family’s social position and achievements, in the fields of hospitality and war. Shawls, skirts, wraps and lungis are the fashion favorites here. With 26 distinct tribes and over 100 sub-tribes, the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are Adi, Aka, Galo, Nyishi, Apatani, Bori, Tagnis and Bokar.
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Arunachal Pradesh tradition

Geometric patterns dominate the clothing worn by the Adi, Aptani and Mishmi tribes, with the most popular motif being that of angular designs and zig-zag lines. Even floral patterns take on a more geometric form in fabrics of these regions. Other common patterns to be seen are stripes. The simple, straight lines in the clothes of Adi and Aptani tribes are reflective of a more disciplined way of life; while the Mishmis display more celebratory patterns in their attires. The dressing styles follow a hierarchical system in many tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. For example, in Wanchoo tribe, a certain type of blue band for arms and legs can only be worn by members of the chief’s family.

Assam

Assam’s handloom industry is majorly silk oriented. The salubrious climate of Assam is suitable for sericigenous flora and fauna. Four varieties of silk worms and their host-plants – mulberry, Eri, Muga and Oak Tassar are popular and important in this state. Sericulture is an important cottage industry of Assam and is centered in Sualkuchi, Kamrup (rural) district of Assam, situated on the North bank of the mighty Brahmaputra near West of Guwahati.
Mekhla Saree from Assam

Having a long tradition of silk weaving since at least the 17th century, Sualkuchi is the prime centre of the silk handloom industry of Assam. Sericulture activities are intimately linked with the culture and tradition of the Assamese people.
Pat Silk from Assam that depicts a mythological scene

The handloom industry of Sualkuchi encompasses cotton textile, silk textile as well as Khadi cloth. Sualkuchi is well known for silk textiles for mulberry and muga silk. Muga silk, also known as ‘the golden fibre’ is produced only in the state of Assam. It is the product of the silkworm Antheraea assamensis endemic to Assam. The silk produced is known for its glossy fine texture and durability. This silk can be hand-washed and its luster increases after every wash. Another amazing fact about Muga silk is that it quite often outlives its owner.

Pat silk is produced by Bombyx textor silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white in color. Its cloth can dry in shadow. Eri silk is made by Samia cynthia ricini worms which feed on the leaves of castor oil plant. This silk is soft and warm and is popular for making shawls and quilts.

Assam is also known as a major silk production area and the tribal groups incorporate some simple extra weft geometric designs into silk cloths, but most of the silk textiles produced here have traditionally been plain and undyed. Furthermore, a complicated Lampa technique is carried out in Assam. The textiles of this group vary considerably in quality, but are all characterized by designs depicting scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. Most of these relate to his exploits as a killer of demons in various animal forms or as a lover of the gopikas. Several of the pieces also show scenes from the Ramayana. Pat silk sarees, mekhela chaddar, muga mekhela and edi i.e., patla shawl are some of the most popular textiles of Assam.

Other states of North East are also known for their textile and especially for silk production. Meghalaya is the second largest silk producer amongst the North East states. Most of these states have several traditional mulberry silk producing areas. Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim are some of the leading producers of bamboo in the country and have an established tradition of high-quality weaving. The weavers from North East are highly skilled. The textiles produced from these varieties of silk, highly skilled labor and advanced weaving techniques are extraordinary.

Sign off

In the next part, we will look into the textiles from the state that is home of the most sumptuous sweet delicacy of the nation, along with a state that weaves a very exquisite silk. We will also take a peek at a state that is known for a type of fabric which can be dated back to 600 B.C.

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