Muga silk mekhala and chador with jaapi
Muga silk is a variety of wild silk geographically tagged to the state of Assam in India. The silk is known for its extreme durability and has a natural yellowish-golden tint with a shimmering, glossy texture. It was previously reserved for the use of royalty.
In the Brahmaputra Valley, the larvae of the Assam silkmoth feed on aromatic som (Machilus bombycina) and sualu (Litsea polyantha) leaves. Muga silk can be dyed after bleaching. This silk can be hand-washed with its lustre increasing after every wash. Muga silk, like other Assam silks, is used in products like saris, mekhalas and chadors.
Sericulture in Assam is an ancient industry without a precise time of origin. Assam was well known for the production of high quality silk since ancient times. The craft of weaving goes along with the production of silk. Weaving is an important characteristic of North East India Neolithic culture. It had been practiced among all the ethnic groups of Assam. The craft of weaving grew to such sophistication in Assam that it was known all over India and abroad. Kautilya’s Arthashastra, a political literature of the 3rd century BC, makes references to the highly sophisticated silk clothing from Assam. The knowledge of sericulture probably arrived with the Tibeto-Burman groups which arrived from China around the period of 3000-2000 BC. Moreover, there was another trade of Silk through the Southwestern Silk road which started from China, passed through Burma and Assam, finally getting connected to the main silk road in Turkministan.
There are various other records to show that Silk came to India through Assam. There are references of Assam silk in the records written by Huen Sang where he has written the use and trade of Silk in Kamrupa during the rule of king Bhaskar Varman. Ram Mohan Nath in his book "The Background of Assamese culture states that: "The Kiratas,(an early Mongoloid race in Assam, were traders in silk, a word that was derived from the Mongolian original word ‘sirkek’. The Indian word ‘sari’ is probably derived from the same word. “It is therefore clear that in ancient times traders from different parts of Tibet, Central Asia and China flocked to Assam through various routes, and as they traded mostly in silk, they were generally called Seres – Cirrahadoi – Syrities – Cirata-Kirata. The word Kirata therefore, is a general term referring to the people of the Mongolian origin and it refers specially to the Bodos.” These Bodos referred by Nath are today known as Bodo-Kacharis which includes groups such as Boros, Dimasas, Rabhas, Sonowal, Garo, Koch and many more. J.Geoghegan in his book "Silk in India" states that: "It is the Kiratas who introduced the cultivation of silk with its different varieties in Assam and it is from Assam that Silk was later introduced to mainland India. Whatever may be the date of the introduction of the worm, its geographical distribution at present day, and the fact species first introduced was a multivoltine, seem to me to lead to the conclusion that the insect was first introduced into India from the north-east (i.e. Assam)".
Although Silk was cultivated and woven by women all around Assam, the silk clothes of a particular place named Sualkuchi achieved much fame during the Ahom rule. Silk was given royal patronage during that period and Sualkuchi was made an important centre of Silk weaving. The Hand-loom industry of Sualkuchi encompasses cotton textile, silk textile as well as Khadi cloth which are, in fact, traditional cloth endowing high social and moral value in and outside the state. However, Sualkuchi is well known for silk textiles both mulberry and muga silk. In fact muga, "the golden fibre" is produced only in Assam and it has also tremendous export potentiality. Such activities are intimately linked with the culture and tradition of the Assamese people since long past.
Muga production received great patronage from the Ahom dynasty in the later period of their rule, under whose reign muga culture thrived and became a part of the social and economic life of the Assamese people. Royalty and senior mandarins were prescribed clothing made of the silk. Ahom kings were known to keep many costly muga sets in the royal storehouse for presentation to distinguished visitors to their court. Queens were personally involved in training weavers. The fabric was also a chief export of the Ahoms.
Muga silk was recognized as a protected geographical indication (GI) in 2007, and was granted a GI logo for trademark purposes in 2014. The logo has been registered with the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council. The Central Silk Board of India has been granted the authority to inspect muga silk products, certify their authenticity and allow producers to use the GI logo. This board is also involved in R&D and infrastructure development for Assamese silk, including muga, through the Central Muga Eri Research & Training Institute (CMER&TI) in Jorhat, Assam.
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- "CMER&TI". CMER&TI. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
- Phukan, Raju (2012). "Muga Silk Industry of Assam in Historical Perspectives" (PDF). Global Journal of Human-Social Science. 12 (9): 5–8.
- "Finally, muga gets GI logo". The Telegraph, Calcutta. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
- "CSB Annual Report 14-15" (PDF). Annual Report 2014–15. Central Silk Board, India. November 2015. pp. 5, 123. Retrieved 29 January 2016.