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Bengaluru through its textile traditions

INDBengaluru through its textile traditions

Suresh Jayaram, Archana Hande and Jeevan Xavier
| Photo Credit: IIHS MEDIA LAB

Tipu Sultan may be known for his valour, tiger stripe motifs, expansion of Lal Bagh, patronage of Channapatna toys and the development of rockets, but there is another thing this now-controversial figure hasn’t been given enough credit for –  the growth of the Mysore silk industry.

Vibrant sericulture industry

Tipu sent emissaries to China and Oman to collect silkworms, thereby kickstarting a vibrant sericulture industry in Karnataka, says Suresh Jayaram, who was part of a recent panel discussion in the city, a panel that included Archana Hande and Jeevan Xavier.  

“Tipu has a very important role to play in textiles,” says Suresh, a Bengaluru-based artist and art historian. “He was someone who was a modernist, and he brought the material culture into Mysore,” he adds at the session titled Knots, Loops, Tangles: Exploring Bengaluru through Textiles, part of City Scripts, an annual urban writing festival organised by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS). 

Besides Tipu’s contribution to the industry, the discussion revealed various aspects of the history of textiles in Bengaluru. Among the many important events that were discussed was the genesis of the Tata Silk Farm in the 1890s in the Chamrajpet area. “The industry benefited from the Tata silk farm,” says Suresh, pointing out that this changed the very nature of the industry. “It was no longer a small-scale industry. Silk was here to stay,” he says, before delving into a fascinating account of how silk, woven in Bengaluru for parachutes, was repurposed into wedding gowns that were worn across the world. 

A global commodity

But then again, silk has always been a global commodity, a point that was reiterated by Archana who spoke about the silk route, perhaps the earliest global trade route in history. Silk, she points out, was synonymous with China, which had been growing it for centuries and supplying silken thread worldwide. “Tipu brought the secret from there,” she says.

She also discussed the Jacquard loom and its impact. “Silk was no more of an exclusive material because of Jacquard. Even a middle-class person could buy it,” says Archana, who admits that she does not see the romance of handloom compared to the power loom. “The weaving technique was the same. Power loom helped the weavers (since they could scale up production),” she argues. 

City’s evolution

At the event, the panelists highlighted how slow the technological growth within the industry is and how weaving skills are in constant danger of going extinct. They also explored how the textile tradition played a significant role in shaping the city’s evolution―its impact on war, migration, urban planning and the economy.

“The first and second population spurt in Bengaluru was due to textiles,” believes Jeevan, pointing out that though the city is today called Silicon Valley, it was a textile town after agriculture died out. “Everything came from the fertile ecosystem it provided.”

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