Nusrat Jahan Nipa, Lecturer, Uttara University
Research guideline professor: Liu Xhian
(Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, Hangzhou, China)
Rajshahi silk is the name given to the silk products produced in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. It is famous because it is a high-quality fabric used for clothing, especially for saris. In 2021, it was given Geographical indication status as a product of Bangladesh.
Records date the beginning of silk production in the region to the 13th century. It was then known as Bengal silk or Ganges silk. The government of Pakistan started silk production in Rajshahi in 1952. The Rajshahi Silk Factory was a state owned factory which was founded in 1961. In 1978 it was handed over to the Bangladesh Sericulture Development Board. Since then, it has been making a loss. It was closed down on 30 November 2002. Before 2002300 tonnes of strings were produced by this factory. In 2011 it was only 50 tonnes. In 2011 the former finance minister of Bangladesh, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, expressed interest in reopening the Rajshahi silk factory but the Privatisation Commission refused on the grounds that it was a loss making concern.
Rajshahi silk is like all other kinds of silk made from the cocoons of silkworms. The very thin fibers resulting from this process are covered with sericin, a special protein. There are mainly three varieties of silks:
- Mulberry silk
- Eri silk (Endi silk) and
- Tassar silk.
Among these varieties, Mulberry silk is the finest and is therefore the most valuable.
Clothes like Saris made out of Rajshahi silk are highly popular all over Bangladesh. Rajshahi silk is also sold as fabric to designers and is available in different colours and designs.
In 2011 there were seven silk factories and the Bangladesh Sericulture Research and Training Institute in Rajshahi. Most of the silk of Bangladesh is produced by the region’s sericulture. Approximately 100,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in this sector. Rajshahi Silk Industry and Factory Labourers’ Union represent the workers in the silk industry.
|Founding||Pakistan Government through the Rajshahi silk factory||1961|
|Types||3 major types||Mulverry, Endi, Tassar|
|Elements||Momme weight of silk fabric||silkworm Bombyx mori|
|Facts||Kings and queens have adorned themselves with the garb considering it as one of their finest possessions along with shimmering gold and luxurious stones.||A young Chinese Empress Leizu accidentally made the first thread of silk|
The Mythology of Bengal Silk
‘With time, dedication and passion the mulberry leaves become a stunning silk gown’ – Chinese Proverb. Silk has been a material of sophistication since the medieval ages. Kings and queens have adorned themselves with the garb considering it as one of their finest possessions along with shimmering gold and luxurious stones.
Being mentioned in so many poems, being the muse of the romantics, silk has a reputation to live up to. Everything, from the culturing to the fineness of the finished fabric, has an interesting story to tell.
The connotation of silk has also been borrowed into many metaphors. ‘Smooth as silk’, for instance, refers to any activity that has been undertaken, or will occur, very smoothly – a testament to the cloth’s fineness. Meanwhile, ‘Zuo jian zi fu’ in Chinese means to spin a cocoon around oneself, to enmesh oneself in a web of one’s own spinning: to fall in one’s own trap.
And such was the economic importance of the fabric that it paved the legendary Silk Road. Of course, silk was not the only commodity that travelled through the route – different goods, cultures and even maladies commuted to and fro. But the name reflects the enormous importance and popularity of silk.
The exquisiteness of silk has an unparalleled charm; the way silk feels on the skin and the way silk clings to a contour. Alluring and splendid, it has always been a favourite; and has had secured a special place in the wardrobe.
The History of Silk in Rajshahi
Silk is a very fine portentous filament fiber. This soft fiber is made from silk warm which scientific name bombyx mori lives through eating mulberry leaves. These warm makes cocoons during their life which made with gummy substance sericin and it is a protein. Silk fiber was first found in China and afterwards it spreads worldwide, even in Bangladesh. Production process of silk fiber is known as sericulture and it is divided into two parts ‘mulberry cultivation’ and ‘silk warm’. In silk industry it is mentioned as two types of silk, one is mulberry type and another is non mulberry type. Non mulberry type silk is again divided into three sub categories. They are Tassar, Eri and Muga. In our country mulberry type silk is produced mostly. Silk is a protein fiber composed of fibroin, sericin, fats & waxes and mineral salts as a little part
There is no any clear-cut information about growing of silk industry in our country but Silk has a long glorious history in Bangladesh. After partition in 1947, majority of these industry listed into India except only 10 percent left in Bangladesh. In this time only two sericulture nurseries were established in Rajshahi zones with only 2000 manpower. In the view of expanding these industries and make cash Bangladesh Sericulture Board (BSB) was established in Feb, 1978 in the silk city Rajshahi. Also, a silk research institute was also established in this city. Now Rajshahi is renowned for making cloths from silk (from raw silk, hard silk, spun silk) fiber which is much demand full across the whole country as well as abroad.
The activity of silk farming, known as sericulture, involves raising silkworms for the production of silk. Research reveals that silk production started in China as far back as 5000 BCE, later spreading to other countries. The majority of Bangladeshi silk products are produced in Rajshahi, with three main types being available – eri silk, mulberry silk and tassar silk. Mulberry silk is considered to be of the highest quality, while eri silk is seen as the most humane. With the production of mulberry silk, the cocoon is placed in hot water with the silkworm pupae still inside, thereby killing it, while with eri silk, the cocoon is used after the adult has emerged.
Reviving Rajshahi silk
Rajshahi silk remains a highly prized cloth in the modern era even though it first emerged thousands of years ago. Silk is called the queen of fabric. In the Mughal era, Rajshahi’s silk industry was very prominent. However, with time, it was forgotten. In the past few years, the industry was struggling. But now the silk industry of Rajshahi is seeing good business prospects, fuelled by attractive designs.
Among silk products, Rajshahi silk sarees boast a place of pride in Bangladesh, just like muslin and jamdani. Bangladeshi silk products have always been very famous all over the world. Now, colourful and gorgeous silk panjabis and salwar kameezes with artistic designs are attracting more and more customers.
Silk manufacturers like Sopura Silk, Usha Silk, Rajshahi Silk Fashion, Amena Silk and Mohananda Silk are now drawing potential buyers with their attractive designs. Since time immemorial, they have been using dresses made from this soft and luxurious fabric on special occasions.
Woven and designed by local artisans with new designs, the fabrics are now gaining high demand from among the customers. Varieties of silk clothing like bolaka karchupi, sui-suta katan, koti silk, joyashri, silk katan, water katan, jamdani katan, borkatan, dupiana and jhorna katan are drawing potential buyers like magnets. As demand increases during festivals, products made of Rajshahi silk, especially sarees and panjabis, become very much coveted. “Now people in our country purchase sophisticated and luxurious gifts and opt for silk products like sarees or panjabis,” said Ashraf Ali, director of Sopura Silk. He also said renowned boutique shops purchase silk fabrics to make products that help their businesses flourish.
Sopura Silk has two showrooms in the capital’s Gulshan and Dhanmondi. Their silk sarees are in high demand, with prices ranging from Tk. 2,000 to Tk. 12,000, while panjabis range from Tk. 3,000 to Tk. 6,000 as their products are made of pure silk, he added.
A salesperson of Kori Silk’s showroom in the capital’s Dhanmondi area said silk saris were in high demand, with prices ranging from Tk. 3,500 to Tk. 15,000. On the other hand, panjabis at Usha Silk were being sold at Tk. 1,900 to Tk. 6,500 per piece.
Aarong, one of the retail chains in Bangladesh operating under BRAC, sources silk from Rajshahi and then weaves beautiful clothing and home decor items with the help of the silk weaving artisans of Bangladesh. “But silk businessmen are facing an acute shortage of raw materials because exporter countries like India and China want to sell us their finished products instead of raw materials. Besides, they have increased the supply rate of the products,” Ashraf Ali added.
Bangladesh will not get raw materials from China and India after five years because of the growing demand in these countries, he added. He requested the government to take steps to sustain the silk industry.
Bangladesh Reshom Shilpa Owners’ Association president Liakat Ali said the government should come forward to save the silk industry of the country as it has huge prospects. He added, “It is only possible to save the silk industry of the country by spreading silk farming among marginal farmers at the grassroots level.”
He said, “Normally, silk worth Tk. 1 to Tk. 1.5 crore is sold a month but goods more than Tk. 7 crore have been sold this month, thanks to the growing demand for the product in the country. It is possible to do well in this industry and earn more currency through planned cultivation by the government.”
The potential of silk production in Bangladesh remained unrealised till the end of the last century. Production declined dramatically over 1995 as a result of further decrease in tariffs on imported silk, followed by devastating floods in 1998, while the sericulture industry in Bangladesh largely became stagnant. Private organisations continued producing silk merchandise, but largely depended on more reliable imported silk. In 1998, the government established the Silk Development Project (SDP), within which the Bangladesh Silk Foundation (BSF) was created, to revive the silk sub-sector once again into a forward-looking industry.