When one says ‘khadi’ the word itself springs up a variety of emotions. Though khadi is a hand woven cloth, its meaning and relation to the freedom struggle of India is legendary to say the least. Khadi has a long and winding history and the evidence of its presence has been from around the times of Mohenjodaro and the Indus Valley Civilization. It has seen its share of ups and downs, however, unlike many other handicrafts or handlooms, khadi transcends the line of mere clothing or garment value to reach almost the cult status of an iconic significance under Mahatma Gandhi.
History of Kadhi
Hand weaving or spinning has been known to the Indian subcontinent for centuries now. In fact, terracotta spindles and bone tools used for weaving have been found as archeological evidence from the Indus Valley Civilization. There are also textual descriptions of hand spinning and weaving that are found as early as 400 BC in Herodotus’s writings about India. Some paintings dating back to the 5th century in the Ajanta Caves also show women separating the cotton from the seeds thus indicating that spinning cotton into yarn was a familiar skill.
Alexander the Great established the Trade Route and from here on began the initial movement of the hand woven cloths across Asia and Europe. By the end of the 17th century, India’s hand woven calico, chintz and muslin were a hit in the European markets. The growing popularity of the hand woven fabrics threatened the local expertise of the foreign markets, which led to France and England passing laws that banned chintz. With the introduction of industrialization and textile mills, they now sold their manufactured fabrics to India at very low cost.
The setting up of the textile mill at Bombay was one of the last blows that left thousands of weavers across the subcontinent unemployed.
The decline for hand woven cotton fabrics continued to decline until Mahatma Gandhi took it upon him to interweave the khadi movement into the larger struggle of the freedom movement.
The Khadi Movement
Gandhi’s call for boycotting foreign products was spearheaded by the use of khadi. He saw khadi as not only a means to strengthen the economy of the nation, but also a way towards self-reliance and resilience. Since Britain was buying cotton at cheap prices from India and then selling the machine made fabric at higher cost, the khadi movement became a symbolic movement that moved beyond immediate gains into a higher philosophical rhetoric.
Khadi became an important part of the Swadeshi movement and Gandhi tirelessly advocated the idea of spinning one’s own cloth as the means to shunning away from the foreign oppressive policies. He himself began wearing only the dhoti and started spinning his own yarn. The spinning wheel thus became a landmark representation and integral part of the freedom struggle.
The All India Spinners Association was formed in 1925 after the introduction of the Non-Cooperation Movement. The organization worked to improve the standard and techniques of the local weavers.
Khadi after Independence
Post-independence, the government continued to encourage the production and marketing of khadi. The All India Khadi and Village Industries Board was set up which was later changed to the Khadi, Village and Industries Commission or KVIC.
It is heartening to see that khadi has continued to remain an important part of our cultural landscape. Today its value is more noteworthy because the eco-friendly fabric also defines the need of the hour. Also, khadi is not only spun cotton, but also silk and wool, making it a perfect fabric to be worn both in summers and winters. It is light, easy to carry and makes a definite style statement.
A lot of modern designers such as Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi Mukerjee, Rohit Bal and more have incorporated khadi in their fashion and apparel shows. Big brands such as Fab India and others are also known for promoting khadi.
With a zero carbon footprint and its significantly rich history, the khadi is one of India’s finest treasures. It paves the way to set a great example of how local skills and material can sustain itself through all times. Yes, we all do use machine made fabrics, but India has a rich repository of hand woven fabrics that should not be ignored less forgotten.