Discovering 'Wild Silk'

Beautifully sprawled out on the southern banks of the ganges is the silk city of India, Bhagalpur. Known as Bhagdatpuram (city of good luck) during the Angan Kingdom, Bhagalpur is famous for its textured silk that has come to be known as Tusser silks. Tusser is actually the name of the dying style used for these silks and is said to be the most ancient and traditional art forms in the fabric industry. The history of sericulture and silk weaving in Bhagalpur goes back many centuries.

 

The ancient city of Bhagalpur was an important trading centre in the seventh century. The famous 800ft high Mandara granite hill is mentioned in the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. References to Bhagalpur can be found in Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata where Bhagalpur has been described as the kingdom of Anga. Ancient cave sculptures and tombs show its associations with Emperor Ashoka's reign as well as the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. However historical records are not clear as to how silk came to Bhagalpur. It is commonly believed that silk originated in China and therefore must have made its way to Bhagalpur. However silk excavated from the Indus Valley settlements seem to have been made by a technique quite different from that used to extract Chinese mulberry silk. In fact the indigenous moth species used in modern day Bhagalpur is exactly the same as the one used in the Indus Valley settlements. It is not far-fetched to assume that silk production in Bhagalpur actually predates Chinese silk. The strategic location of Bhagalpur on the trade route connecting the Middle East and the Far East nurtured and grew its silk industry.  Influences of each subsequent ruler and dynasty left a unique mark on the style of the weaving and dying in Bhagalpur. For instance Emperor Akbar is said to have personally supervised royal textile workshops. A great deal of creativity thrived in the industry and a fusion or Indian and Persian designs came about as a result. During the colonial era, Tussar silk was transported all the way to Europe via the harbour at Champanagar in Bhagalpur and was 

 

Silk was considered the privilege of royalty and reserved for the use of the royal family in ancient China. The Emperor, his close relatives and dignitaries were the only ones permitted to wear clothes made from this luxurious material. The Emperor is believed to have worn a white silken robe within his palace. When outside, the Emperor, his Queen and his heir would be seen wearing yellow silk robes. Gradually common folk began to wear silk tunics. Soon silk became a precious commodity and was traded along the silk route long before it was known as the silk route. 

 

Tusser silk has more texture compared to other silks because of it is not produced from mulberrry-eating silkworms. Tussar silk is extracted from the cocoons of a species of silkworms that live in the forest and feed on the leaves of these trees. For centuries, tribal people have reared their silkworms on the leaves of Asan, Arjun and Sal trees in the forests of Bhagalpur. Hence Tusser silks are also known as wild silk being extracted from wild silkworms feeding off forest trees. Tusser silk reflects this exotic and untamed spirit of the wild silkworm producing it.

 

Bhagalpuri Tusser silks have long been cherished because of their purity and resilience. They are said to be the purest, most natural form of embroidered silk. The golden sheen and textured feel of a tusser is unmatched by any other silk and is a must-have in any woman's wardrobe. The brightly coloured silks get their unique richness due to the dying process. Today Bhagalpuri Tusser silk is not limited to saris but features in a number of fashion and home decor items. Natsy by Design brings you handwoven Bhagalpuri Tusser Silk stoles- a contemporary accessory woven with rich tradition. 

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