Northeast India is home to one of India’s vast ecosystems, tradition, culture, and hub of the indigenous clothing industry. Travellers and locals of the Northeast know that the natural spectrum of the states is one of their defining features. Another outstanding feature is that Northeast India is an abode for silk.
Silks authentic to the Northeast are woven into some indigenous clothes of the country. Also, some trendy types of sarees are born out of the skilful works of the locals of the states. The Northeast silk works have some influences from Bengal. But what makes the majority of the silk work of the place authentic is its inspiration from the abundant nature at their disposal.
Here, we will talk about the silks found indigenously in the Northeast, the types of sarees the silks result in, and some unique features found in the works of the Northeast sarees and silks.
Silks of Northeast India
Sericulture has been a part of India for a long time. Northeast, one of the enormous biodiversity of the country, has its unique Seri-biodiversity. The sericulture has overall had a significant impact in the Northeast. From nurturing nature to improving the economy, the region has become a hub for some unique silks that are primitive.
Assam is the gateway to the Northeast. The indigenous silks of Assam have been in production since time immemorial. Sual Kuchi is now the hub of the Assam silk industry.
Here are some of the results of the skilful sericulture of Northeast India-
Eri silk is one of the most traditional silks of the Northeast, particularly in Assam and Meghalaya and has a unique characteristic. It is born out of the Samia ricini caterpillar. While extracting the cocoon does not kill the silkworm. This gives the Eri silk the name of Peace Silk.
The silkworm takes 30 days to grow into its actual size. It primarily feeds on castor leaves. Once it achieves its complete form, it spins the silk in its cocoon for another 15 days. At last, the silk is processed when the moth leaves the cocoon.
The tribal and rural women of the region carry out the processing, spinning, and weaving of the silk. The dye given to the silk is also natural, staying true to the ilk of the silk.
The final product of the silk, Eri clothes, has been a part of the daily life of the natives of the Northeast. It’s fine qualities like the durability, comfort of cotton, the warmth of wool together make the Eri silk a preferred choice. The Eri clothes get softer with every use.
The natural qualities of the Eri silk, along with the texturing of the cloth, have made it pride of the Northeast. The popularity of this silk requires a lot of production. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also produce this silk now.
Also known as the Golden Treasure of Assam, Muga silk is another authentic silk of the Northeast. The silk from the Antheraea Assamensis silkworm results in the Muga silk. The worm is endemic to Assam. The silkworm finds nourishment from Som, and Soalu leaves. The resulting silk has durability and is of a glossy texture.
Historically, Muga silk was first achieved during the Ahom dynasty (1228-1826). The Ahom kings wore Muga silk resulting in Muga as the royal silk. As a symbol of the most acceptable local offering, the royal visitors were given Muga silk. It was then that Muga culture became popular and an integral part of the economic and social lives of the state.
Muga silk has been given the Geographical Indication status since 2007. The Assam Science Technology and Environmental Council is the production unit of authentic Muga silk. This further supports the claim of Muga silk being a symbol of Northeast India.
The naturally glossy and golden silk is attractive in itself. The artistic skill of embroidery and zari work adds more texture and colour to the final product. The quality of the silk is so fine that it often outlives its owner, making it an excellent costly investment. Like the Eri silk, Muga silk also improves with every wash. Be it in the form of a saree or Muga Mekhela Chador; the Muga silk is the choice of many locals and visitors of the state. It’s fine texture and natural shine make it an eye-catching choice as a souvenir for tourists.
Pat silk, also known as the Mulberry silk, is another indigenous silk of Assam. The larvae of the Pat silkworms, Bombyx textor, prefer the mulberry leaves, resulting in the name.
The natural colour of the silk is either brilliant white or off-white. The silk has a glossy tint and is durable. The final products of the silk can be in the form of a saree, mekhela, shawls, and much more. One of the unique features of the clothes of this silk is that they can dry in the shadows.
The Pat silk clothes have a white base with subtle or vibrant colours. Given its natural white colour, the final result of the garments preserves its naturality with a minimalist addition of patterns.
Each state of the Northeast has a style of saree typical to their region. Assam being the hub of sericulture, its silks have a significant contribution in inspiring clothing across India. The individual states of India give the silks a touch unique to their place. But if you want to get a hold of an authentic North-eastern saree, a Muga silk saree or a Mekhela is what you should get.
Mekhela is a traditional garment of the Assamese women. It is an article about two-piece clothing. A blouse of similar colour and texture is worn with the Mekhela these days.
The bottom part of the clothing is the Mekhela. It is a round-fit skirt of the length of the waist till the ankle. There is a petticoat beneath the Mekhela, and there are pleats in the Mekhela skirt.
The other part of the attire consists of the Mekhela Chador. The Mekhela Chador covers the upper portion of the body. One end of the Mekhela Chador is inside the Mekhela skirt, and the other end is left open like the end of a saree pallu.
The Mekhela Chador is of interest to many. Either the Muga, Eri, or Pat silk forms the Mekhela Chador. The Muga silk’s golden and glossy texture is a more popular choice of silk for the Mekhela Chador. The patterns and designs on the Mekhela Chador are unique. The artistic skills of the clothing are very prominent.
This traditional clothing has become very popular nationally and globally. Many contemporary designers try their hand at a modern adaptation of the Mekhela Chador. But the highlighting feature of the clothing is always its natural shine and texture.
Features of the Northeast Silk Saree
So far, we have got to know the natural elements of the silks of the Northeast that make it so popular. But there is one particular feature that is unique to the works of the Northeast silk sarees.
As we all know Northeast is abundant with nature and has a rich biodiversity. The usual designs of flowers, animals, and geometric patterns are standard in sarees across the nation. But it is only in the sarees of the Northeast where a Rhinoceros is woven as a decorative motif. Indeed, genuine pride of the region, North-eastern sarees prove to be a perfect mix of nature and man’s skill.
Housing is one of the biggest sericulture of the country, and the Northeast is truly a treasure and pride of the nation. An abode of silk, Northeast India has given a wide array of natural and humane artworks. The clothes resulting from the silks of Northeast India are worth each penny. The hard work of the textile industry labours and the natural quality of the silks make it a sought-after choice of clothing.