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Story of Silk


 

 

Pramoda Chitrabhanu

Jain Meditation International Center

How many people know that the silk one wears or uses involves violence and that one wears it with great pride in the places of worship? It is sad that one follows traditions blindly without questioning the origination or it�s making process.

It all started around 1133 A.D. at the time of King Kumarpal, the King of Gujarat, a state in Western India. During his rule he was greatly influenced by a great Jain teacher Acharya Hemchandra who was a disciple of a Jain Prophet named Mahavir. The King was so inspired by his teachings of Ahinsa and Compassion that he declared in his entire state to stop killing for food, sport or fun.

It is said that he was further inspired by the saint to lead a religious life and perform puja (a symbolic worship to an idol in the temple) everyday to show his devotion to Lord Mahavir. The King was asked to wear the best, the most expensive and new clothes to perform the puja and so he ordered the best of the material to be obtained. His men went and purchased the most costly, fine and soft material from China for their King. At that time the King did not know that the material purchased for him was imported silk, made from killing silkworms, which involved sheer violence. If he knew that he would not have used silk for puja. But since then the tradition continues. Unfortunately even today people wear silk clothes in religious rituals justifying that King Kumarpal used it.

It is time one wakes up to the fact and knows the true story of silk. Beauty Without Cruelty organization in India has done a great work in this field and brought to light the cruelty involved in making silk.

Soft, smooth and shimmering silk is perhaps the most attractive textile ever created. More than two thousand years ago, this beautiful fabric was imported from China known as "Chinanshuk" in Sanskrit language. The method and source or its production was a very highly guarded secret -may be because it involved the killing of millions of lives.

The filament of silk is what a silkworm spins for its cocoon. The cocoon is constructed as its shell to protect itself during its cycle of growth from caterpillar to chrysalis to moth.

The female moth lays about 400-600 eggs. The eggs hatch in about 10 days and the larvae (1/12 inch in length) emerge. They are fed on mulberry leaves for 20-27 days till they are fully grown (3-3 1/2 inches length).

A fully-grown caterpillar emits a gummy substance from its mouth and wraps itself in layers of this filament to form a cocoon in 2 to 4 days. The caterpillar develops into a moth in about 15 days. To emerge it has to cut through the cocoon - thereby ruining the filament of the cocoon. In order to save the filaments from being broken, the chrysalis are either immersed in boiling water or passed through hot air or exposed to the scorching heat of the sun, thus killing the lives inside. The filaments of the cocoons are then reeled.

To produce 100 grams of pure silk, approximately 1,500 chrysalis have to be killed. Certain chrysalis are chosen and kept aside to allow the moths to emerge and mate. After the female moth lays eggs, she is crushed to check for diseases. If she has any disease, the eggs laid by her are destroyed.

Generation after generation of inbreeding has taken away the moth's capacity to fly. After mating, the male moths are dumped into a basket and thrown out.

India produces four varieties of silks obtained from four types of moths. These are known as Mulberry, Tussar, Eri and Muga. Mulberry is also produced in other silk-producing countries: China, Japan, Russia, Italy, South Korea, etc. but Eri and Muga are produced in India only.

The other materials that look somewhat like silk are from man-made fibers known as artificial silk (art silk). Of these, rayon (viscose) is of vegetable origin; where as nylon and polyester (terrene) are petroleum products. Silk, once woven is known by different names depending on the weave, style, design and place where it is woven. Materials like boski, pure crepe, pure chiffon, pure gaji, pure georgette, khadi silk, matka silk, organza, and pure satin are 100% silk. Saris from Calcutta, Gadhwal, Madurai and Shantiniketan can be in 100% silk or 100% cotton.

Irkal saris from Narayan Peth (Andhra Pradesh) can be of 100% silk or part silk and part cotton yarn.

Venkatgiri saris may be in all cotton or part silk/cotton. Chanderi, Tissue, Poona, Ventakgiri and Maheshwari Saris of Madhya Pradesh have silk yarn in warp and cotton yarn in weft.

Manipuri Kota and Munga Kota have both silk and cotton yarn. Matka silk is also 100% pure silk. In this, the yarn in warp is the usual silk yarn, whereas the yarn in weft is obtained from the cocoons that are cut open by the moth to come out. Later these moths are crushed to death after they lay eggs.

Materials like crepe, chinon, chiffon, gaji, georgette, satin etc. can be made from man-made fiber called artificial silk. Cheaper quality of Tanchhoi can contain silk yarn in warp and artificial yarn in weft.

The Japanese and Indian materials known as "China Silk" (not Chinese Silk) is not pure silk but polyester.

Those who would like to know what yarn is used in particular materials, can test in the following way:

To identify silk, you must burn some yarn (a few from warp as well as weft). Since human hair also burns like silk, it will be easier to learn by burning a strand of hair. Take some fallen hair, hold it with a tweezer and burn it. See how it burns. When it stops burning, a very tiny (pinhead size) ash ball is formed. Take it between your fingers and rub it. Smell the powdered ash. The smell of burnt hair, silk, wool and leather will be the same and the way it will burn (to form an ash ball), will also be the same. If it is cotton or rayon yarn, it will burn in flames and will not form any ash ball nor will it smell like silk. If it is a petroleum product like nylon or polyester, it will burn forming a tiny, hard glass like ball.

100% Silk Materials: Boski, Pure crepe, Pure chiffon, Pure gaji, Pure georgette, Khadi silk, Organza, Pure satin, Raw silk, Matka silk and many more that we may not be aware of."