Assam and its adjoining stated in the North East of India are famous for silk. Silk was the royal attire of Tai Ahom Kings. These people came to Assam from a Chinese province through Patkai range of hills and enchanted by the beauty of the region, settled permanently and intermingled with the local people. They must have brought the silkworms with them from China.
Silk is woven in the homes. It is part of economy of the state. Of many varieties Muga: the golden silk and Eri or Ahimsa silk are most famous. Eri is produced by the silkworm called Philosamiaricini and is reared indoors on the leaves of Castor, Kesseru, Payam and Tapioca trees. The yarn from cocoons is spun. The word Eri is derived from Erranda which is Indian word for Castor.
It is produced only in Assam, the East Khasi hills and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Bodo women weave Dokhana (draped skirt), Chaddar (upper cloth) and Jhumara in addition to plain shawls. Endi shawls are highly prized outside. The same silkworms produce different colors of thread in different areas.
For some people, Assam is synonymous with tea. It is not an under statement, it is true because the tea of Assam travels all over the world. Assam tea is known for its strength and Darjeeling tea on the other hand is famous for its aroma. When two are blended in right proportions, magic is created. The people in Assam like their tea brew without any milk added to it. They call it “Lal cha”, the red tea liquor due to beautiful red color. This brew has been proved to be very good for health as it contains many chemicals which are antioxidants. Apart from the tea, Assam is known for the silk fabrics. This silk is so much in demand that the people who go to Assam for work in oil industry, tea gardens and as tourists makes it a point to buy lots of silk sarees and cloth for making salwar and kameez. There are good shops selling silk fabrics in all the big cities.
Silk weaving is an very ancient art of Assam. There are references of silk in the early literature of India. For example, in the times of Chandragupta Maurya, this silk was highly praised by Chanakya. The writer of Alamgir Nama, Mirza Muhammad Kazim mentioned that quality of the silk products in Assam was at par with the Chinese silk.
Three varieties of silk are available in Assam. These are Eri, Muga and Pat. There was a caste of weavers called Katani which specialized in Pat silk. Muga variety is the golden silk with natural color. When I was in Assam at Sibsagar, I saw villagers selling the the silk worm cocoons and someone told me that people here eat these worms as food.
The most famous place for silk weaving is Soalkuchi which is also called the “Manchester of East”. It is a weavers village specializing in the silk weaving. It is said that artisans here were brought to this place from Tantikuchi which was the village of weaver nearby. In fact, the word “tant” stands for the thread.
“Khat khat khat khatsalare sabade prean mor nite nachuyai” was one of the most popular radio songs composed and sung during the fifties of the last century by the present artist pensioner Narayan Chandra Das Of Sualkuchhi.Actually the ‘click-clack click-clack’sound of the loom make the soul of the passerby dance with the rhythmic rattle of the shuttle flying through the sheds of the wrap. In fact the weaving the cloth on hand loom brings the mind closer to the God because of the “Tana” warp and “bana” weft threads are akin to the illusion of this world and we are all lost in the tana bana. Saint Kabir wove the cloth and sung the songs of joy and praise and friendship with God.