India is the only country that is home to four different silk varieties: Mulberry silk (Bombyx mori), Eri silk (Philosomia ricini), wild Tussar silk (Antheraea mylitta) and the exclusive wild golden Muga silk (Antheraea assama).
Of these Karnataka played a pivotal role historically in the development of mulberry silk and subsequently silk sarees that are particular to both it’s geography and culture.
HISTORY OF SILK IN KARNATAKA
Although silk first finds mention during the Vedic period, dating back to about 5000 BC, when silk and silk garments were known to Indians. (In the Mahabharatha, there is vivid description about silk and silk garments. Lord Krishna was described as always clad in Kashi Pitambara (silk of Banaras, West Bengal).There are sporadic references to Kashmir silk and Bengal silk.) We begin our foray into the history of silk with the East India Company.
In 1710, the East India Company introduced a new variety of mulberry silkworm in Bengal. This is the first record of research and development of sericulture in India. In 1769, the East India Company introduced a new improved method of silk reeling in Bengal. In 1771, the Bengal Government obtained new silkworm breeds and varieties of mulberry from China. In 1772, the first filature was established in Murshidabad of West Bengal by the British.
The Tiger of Mysore “Tippu Sultan” is the father of the Karnataka Silk industry. In 1785 he sent people to Bengal to learn sericulture and to establish the same in his Mysore Kingdom. He wanted “Mysore to be the foremost among silk producing nations”. The dream of this great ruler eventually came true. In 1860, the first filature was established in Bangalore by an Italian industrialist. During this period many types of cross breed layings were produced by the filature between Indian and Italian or Chinese or Japanese varieties. This was the most difficult period for sericulture all over the world. Due to the out break of the Pebrine disease, the industry almost collapsed. In Bengal and Kashmir, the industry was completely wiped out. But in Mysore the industry subsisted. As the consequence most of the exotic varieties were perished. But the Pure Mysore variety remained stable through this period and persists even till today.
The Mysore sericulture industry was of considerable importance because the sericulture industry in Bengal had ultimately collapsed due to the fall in prices of raw silk, excessive rents charged for mulberry land disease of silkworm, competition from other crops, and withdrawal of European firms from silk trade with India. The industry had almost died out about 1866 and was temporarily helped by import of seed from Japan. But the Mysore race of silk worms held their own positioning until the end. The Industry began to revive about 1890 but again the declined during about 1914-15. The depression and unfair British and European competition from outside hit the industry very hard.
In 1896, Sir J.N.Tata established a Silk Farm with a filature attached to it in the Japanese pattern, in Bangalore, with the help of Sri. K. Sheshadri Ayyar, the Diwan of Mysore. He was helped with technical expertise from a Japanese couple Mr and Mrs Odzou Mr. Odzu trained Sri. V.M.Appadhorai Mudaliar and Sri. Lutchman Rao for the period of one year in this farm.
In 1912, Mysore recognized the need for organizing the need for seed supply on the modern lines of Pasteur’s system. The Architect of Mysore Sir M.Vishveshwaraiah, gave much importance to Sericulture in rural development. He hired the services of Signor Washington Mari from Italy to organize and develop the silk industry in Mysore in 1913. He made available 12 varieties of pure European and Chinese silkworm to conduct experiments in Mysore State (now Karnataka). Under the guidance of Signor Mari, Appadhorai Mudaliar conducted native environment breeding experiments in Channapatna. They successfully developed many cross breed combinations between females of Mysore Local (Pure Mysore) and European and Chinese races, which were far superior to their parents.
In 1914, Signor Mari shifted the headquarters to Bangalore, and Mr Mudaliar continued to carry out the breeding program in his Channapatna Farm.
With this shift came a surge in silk producing sarees not just in Karnataka but also the rest of the country. In Karnataka there were some cross overs from cotton to silk sarees and sometimes a blend as in the case of Ilkals. Bangalore Silks and Mysore Silks also came to the forefront. A little town called Molakalmoru strategically linked to weavers in Andhra Pradesh yet closer to Bangalore started producing the Molakalmoru sarees closer to Independence.
Karnataka thus boasts of some stupendous and high quality silks in it’s traditions. Yet the high road to technology has taken Karnataka away from it’s handloom base faster and further than any other state in India.
At The Registry of Sarees we have discovered that capability in terms of skill is still visible in commissioned weaves and are proud to present a collection of Molakalmoru and Simhasana sarees.