India is a land of traditions that go thousands of years back. From Ayurveda to Yoga and festivals, even buttons, exhibit Her glorious culture, and a splendour that my country really is!
Amongst the many spectacular factors that help India stand out from the western countries is the way Indians dressed – back in time. So, when we talk about Indian attire, there is no way that we wouldn’t talk about the exuberance that flow from the oldest Indian fabric used for weaving attires – handloom!
Before the Britishers took over our beautiful country, Indians wore attired made only from handloom fabric.
So, yes, the history and heritage of Indian handloom goes way back in time and in this article, we shall throw some light on the rich history of Indian handloom.
What is handloom?
Handloom was originally a variety of wooden frames used by artisans to weave fabrics out of them. The fabrics usually came from natural fibre including cotton, wool, jute, silk, etc. The procedure involved spinning the yarn followed by coloring to weaving the fabric on the loom – the final product came to be known as handloom.
The history of Indian handloom – Early Days
The history of Indian handloom takes us back to the Indus Valley civilization, when the first evidence of the fabric came up. Ancient India was the only producer of raw cotton and even exported the same to other countries, including Rome, China, and European nations.
In fact, back in the time, every village in the country has its own weavers who spent hours in making attires like saree and dhoti to fulfil the clothing needs of the villagers. The beauty of the time was that the Indian handloom, in its beginning, was the purest material and the same showed when people wore it.
The history of Indian handloom – The Gandhian Era
Even though India enjoyed a golden phase of handloom heritage, its popularity went down once British took over the country. In order to increase the consumption and production of the yarn, Britishers used violence and coercion on the workers and weavers.
The machine-made imported yarn made it difficult for the poor workers to keep up with the production, and thus, led to the downfall of the fabric. Most workers started working for the middlemen and traders, and the authenticity of Indian handloom shook to the core.
However, during the Gandhian era, the age of handlooms was revived through Swadeshi Movement, where Mahatma Gandhi re-introduced the spinning wheel or ‘charkha’ to continue the production of khadi products.
Since every Indian was involved in spinning the ‘charkha,’ the economy of the country saw a massive upgrade! People burnt the imported clothes and wore khadi everywhere, which even led to closing of mills in Manchester.
The history of Indian handloom – Post Independence
Even after India earned Her independence, textile industry continued to bloom and different weaving styles and fabrics were introduced. Even though, handloom didn’t rise exactly as high as it did before British colonisation, it was still widely used.
The beauty of Indian handloom today
Today, the cost of natural fibre is blowing by leaps and bounds because most people are not interested in buying the same these days.
Most Indians prefer cheaper fabric and don’t really connect with the rich heritage of Indian handlooms. Khadi products, today, have a high cost, in comparison to other materials, and thus, not many regular people in India can afford to buy the fabric.
Even so, the beauty of Indian handloom is unmatchable and still boasts of rich tradition and glorious past of our country. Even though the original Indian handloom cannot compete with the poly-mixed products that are way cheaper, the timelessness of handloom will always carry the hard work and skills of Indian craftsman from the past.
It is all right to say that the popularity of Indian handloom is only vanishing since the time we earned independence. The beautiful handloom deserves a place in the present as much as it did in the past. So, let’s work our bit to bring the true Indian attire back into business.
Blob - The beauty of Indian handloom is such that goes back to the Indus Valley civilization, and even though, it faces tough competition from the poly-mix fibre today, the fabric has withheld a place of its own.
If you want to learn about the rich tradition and culture of India, start from the country's first attire - Handloom