The Manufacture Of Textiles
The manufacture of textiles was a well developed activity in India since ancient times. In this section we shall see what was the state of art in ancient India in spinning yarn and weaving of cotton and silk cloth.
India is one of the countries where cotton fibre was spun into thread and woven into fabric since a very early time. Archaeological findings at the Indus valley cities indicate that woven cloth was known in India nearly 4000 to 5000 years back, as the Indus culture is dated around 2000 to 3000 years B.C. Baked clay seals depicting the social life of that period have been found on the site of the ruins at Mohenjodaro and Harappa. On some of these seals are depicted men with apparel draped around their bodies. This apparel is shown to have a design which is presumably painted on it. It is possible that this painted cloth was woven out of cotton. These findings on the Indus valley sites are very old and lack any other supporting evidence.
But the Greeks under Alexander who invaded north-western India around 350 B.C. have recorded that they found cotton cloth for the first time in India. Before coming to India, the Greeks had passed through Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia, but they discovered cotton cloth only in India. The Greeks also knew woven cloth, but the fibre they used was wool and when they saw that the material from which cloth was woven in India grew on trees, they concluded that India was a country- where wool grew on trees. The term cotton-wool for the cotton found on its tree has stuck on till today.
The English term cotton itself perhaps originates from the Sanskrit word for it viz. Karpasa. The Greek term Karpasos and the Latin term Carbasus have evidently been derived from Sanskrit. India continued to produce cotton cloth throughout the areas of history and was an exporter of fine muslin cloth till two hundred years back. The muslin of Dacca had acquired global fame. This industry thrived till the 18th century when British commercial interests considered its existence to be a threat to the factories of Lancashire and killed that art by cutting off the fingers of the masterweavers. But in spite of this, today this art of spinning and weaving fine cotton cloth does survive in isolated corners of the country though it is now on the road to extinction.
But in ancient times this art had been given active encouragement. According to the notes to the Periplus "The manufacture of cotton cloth was at its best in India until very recent times, And the fine Indian muslins were in great demand and commanded high prices, both in the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe. The industry was one of the main factors in the wealth of ancient India".
In ancient India the textile industry was thus well established right from the cleaning of cotton, spinning of yarn, weaving of cloth to the dyeing of cloth. Cotton yarn was referred to as Sutram or Tantuhu, spinning of yarn was termed Taantavaa and Tantakaran, spindles used in doing this were called Tarkuti or Tarkutam. The loom was called Tantra-Vdpaha.
A weaver of cloth was called Tantavayaha-Paha or Patakaara . The activity of weaving was called Tantu-Tantra-Vayaha, Pata-Nirmanam or Pata-Karman. The texture of cloth was called Tantu-Sutra-Gunaha or Taantvam. Textiles or fabrics were called Tantu-Nirmit. The process of dyeing as referred to earlier in the section lac was termed 'Vastra-Ranga-Kruta' which literally means 'to dye cloth'
SILK CLOTH :
Silk did not originate in India, it originated in Mongolia. But since very early times India was on the trade route of silk and the manufacture of silk cloth and the rearing of silkworms had started in India soon after the technique was introduced here from China'. The word Silk is derived from the Mongolian root word Sirkek which means silk, form this we have the Chinese word: Ssi, the Greek: Ser. Latin: Sericum and the English: Silk. In Sanskrit the word used for silk yarn is Kitta-Sutram. The word Kitta is an abbreviation of Kitaka which means a worm.
Thus in ancient times it was known in India that silk yarn is derived from silk worms. In fact silk worms were reared in India and silk yarn and cloth were manufactured and exported. Silk worms were known as Tantu-Kitam meaning Thread worms. Silk cloth imported from China was called Chinaam-Shakam, and locally manufactured silk cloth was called Kaushambaram and Komala, Ambara which literally means sky but was also used to refer to cloth, komala means soft and the word seems to have been used due to the soft texture of silk cloth.
This is a type of cotton cloth which is fast printed with parti-coloured pattern. This cloth is usually glazed but is relatively cheap. This has been one of the many types of cotton cloth exported from India. The word Chintz is also derived from the Sanskrit word Chitra which means 'picture' or variegated. This origin of the word Chintz is supported by the Oxford Dictionary.
This word which is still used in modern Indian languages is a corruption of the word Chaturanga. This is so as the game of Chaturanga was in ancient times played on a piece of cloth, in place of the modern chess board. These carpets called Satranji were exported from India in ancient and medieval times. The word: Sataranji has found its way into many modern foreign languages including English. The Oxford dictionary defines it as an 'Indian cotton Carpet'.