Silken strands of history

Silken strands of history


Silken strands of history

The Indian silk industry was centred in Mysore by the first decade of the 20th century. Indeed, the origin and growth of sericulture in South India may be traced back to the experimentation and promotion by both Tipu Sultan and the East India Company, finds Mukund V Kirsur.

Silk and sericulture, as most of us know are not new to India. It has intermingled with the tradition and culture of Indians. Since its discovery, it has enjoyed patronage by aristocrats and commoners alike. Though there are several references to silk in our ancient literature, historians credit its origin to China. All along its history, this “Queen of Textiles” has witnessed several ups and downs, but has never lost her charm!

By the first decade of the 20th century, the silk industry was almost centred in the Mysore province. The origin and growth of sericulture in South India may be traced back as a result of official experimentation and promotion, both by Tipu Sultan in the state of Mysore and by the East India Company in the Madras Presidency, thanks to the efforts of Dr Anderson — the then physician general of the East India Company. Much earlier, in 1710, the East India Company had introduced a new race of mulberry silkworm in Bengal. This is probably the first record of research and development of sericulture in India.

While the Company’s efforts turned futile and their experimentation abandoned in 1798, the Mysore silk industry was systematically organised and developed by Tipu Sultan between 1780 and 1790. The support continued during the Wodeyars’ reign and the industry flourished during the regime of His Highness Krishnaraja Wodeyar III and the then Regent and Chief Minister Purnayya. In Bangalore, A Chatterton, an Italian expert and the Director of Industries of Mysore State had commenced experimental silk reeling and erected a filature on Italian lines. J N Tata, noted industrialist and philanthropist, had started a silk farm in Bangalore in 1896 by obtaining the services of a Japanese couple. The then Dewan of Mysore, R Sheshadri Iyer encouraged Tata in his endeavours. Some of the educated youths were also trained in sericulture, including seed production on Japanese methods, and the Tata Silk Farm flourished.

During 1911, the Agricultural Committee of the Economic Conference of Mysore deliberated sericulture as one of the subjects under the chairmanship of Sir M Visvesvaraya, who invited Mr Gorio, the Italian consul-general in Bombay to tour the State and offer his advice to develop sericulture. On his advice, one Signor Washington Mari was appointed in 1913 as the sericulture expert. Mari tried to introduce Italian methods of rearing by substituting Mysore silkworm either with an Italian or a hybrid. As early as 1914, a silk farm was established at Channapatna under the supervision of Mari to produce disease-free silkworm seeds. In March 1914, twelve breeds of silkworm were imported from Italy.

After a grand success in producing the golden yellow Chinese races in 1915, the Italian expert along with V M Appadorai Mudaliar — a senior sericultural inspector, successfully prepared a hybrid between the Mysore race and the exotic races. Chawki rearing was developed in the same year. Mari started the renovation of the rearing rooms, rearing appliances etc. One of the parts, the epprouvette — a device to measure the denier of the silk yarn, was devised by Mudaliar. After a year of contract, Mari left Mysore for his country.

 A couple of years later, i.e. during 1916, the services of Mari were once again sought, this time as the first director of sericulture in Mysore. After a year of contract, Mari left Mysore but the method of silkworm breeding to improve the indigenous race adopting Italian method continued. In 1918, after Mari’s departure, a distinguished Mysore Civil Service officer Navarathna Rama Rao took over as the superintendent and later was made the director of sericulture of the Mysore Sericulture Department. The concept of Disease Free Layings (dfl) was introduced during his time. The cellular method of seed preparation evolved by Louis Pasture was introduced for the first time in the history of Mysore state silk industry to the rearers of silkworm.

In 1919, the services of Yonimura, a Japanese expert were sought. Graduates were recruited and trained under him. The hybrid layings prepared were distributed among the sericulturists. This was the first revolutionary step in the history of sericulture. A separate unit was established by the government under the guidance of Yonimura to whom goes the credit of evolving high yielding varieties, modern methods of grainage and silk farm works and hybridisation between multivoltine and bivoltine silkworm races.

Meanwhile, a non-official organisation representing sericultural interest was set up by the Mysore State in 1927. The Mysore Silk Association, sponsored by the state government helped organise a number of sericultural conferences in the State. The first sericultural conference was held in 1928 at Channapatna.

There was a steep slump in the silk market in 1928 owing to large-scale import of raw silk from China and Japan. The depression in the raw silk trade remained unabated, in the Mysore province also. To protect the Indian silk industry, the first Tariff Board inquiry began in 1934-35.

The Second World War gripped the world in 1939. Silk, considered valuable for parachutes, ropes and other war materials, was given a fillip by the Indian Government which organised a Silk Conference at Delhi in 1942 to boost silk production under the Filature Expansion Scheme. Three such schemes were launched during this period.

Silk industry in Mysore and elsewhere witnessed a rapid rise during the war period for mainly because firstly, its acute demand as war material, especially for parachutes and secondly, import of foreign silk was totally sealed. In the absence of competition and aggravated demand from the government, the area under mulberry in Mysore State jumped from 25,000 acres in 1937-38 to about 80,000 by the end of 1945-46.

The production of raw silk rose from 5,000 lbs. in 1937 to about three lakh lbs. in 1945! But after the war ended, this boom crashed abruptly as there was no demand for parachute silk any more. Italian silk was also dumped in the market.

The Indian government constituted a panel on March 8, 1945 headed by Navaratna Rama Rao to study and suggest remedial measures. In 1946, the panel recommended for the setting up of a government-supported organisation to take care of the development of the silk industry. In 1948, Independent India accepted the recommendations and enacted the Central Silk Board Act. Thus, the Central Silk Board came into existence in April, 1949. After the reorganisation of states in 1956, the sericultural areas of Kollegal, which were under the Madras presidency, merged with Mysore state and the sericultural activity of the Mysore state increased enormously.

A boon to the industry

To impart the skills of silkworm rearing to sericulturists in South India, an All India Sericultural Training Institute (AISTI) was established in 1958 by the Central Silk Board (CSB) at Mysore. It was merely a training institute. The establishment process of CSR&TI commenced when CSB took over CSRI, Channapatna in 1961. Later, during 1965, the All India Sericultural Training Institute (AISTI), Mysore got merged into Central Sericultural Research Institute (CSRI) to become Central Sericultural Research & Training Institute, Mysore. The rest is history.

Over the years, the institute has grown into a full-fledged centre of excellence and internationally acclaimed premier research and training institute for tropical sericulture.

With the commendable support extended by the institute, the southern states today contribute the lion’s share (over 90 per cent ) of the total silk produced in the country.

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