American historian Will Durant (1885-1981) has remarked: "Textiles were
woven with an artistry never since excelled; from the days of Caesar to
our own the fabrics of India have been prized by all the world. From
homespun khaddar to complex brocades flaming with gold, from picturesque
pyjamas to the invisibly-seamed shawls of Kashmir, every garment woven
in India has a beauty that comes only of a very ancient, and now almost
(source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage - By Will Durant
MJF Books.1935 p. 585).
From the scrap of indigo dyed `ikat woven cloth found in a Pharaoh's
tomb pointing to 5,000-year-old trade connections with India, to an
England-bound East India Company Shipman's meticulous record of "bales
of muslin stuffs and Masulipatnam Palampores" is testimony to the
widespread popularity of the textiles of India. In fact, by the 18th
Century, Indian mulls and "cashmeres" were much sought after fashion
wear in the courts of Europe.
India's textile tradition is an elegant legacy perfectly preserved over
millennia. The extraordinary range of Indian textiles reflects the
cutural richness and adaptability from the royal courts of the Mauryas.
Ceremonial cloth and sacred heirloom, Coromandel coast, India,
The textiles of Indonesia have, across time, also incorporated and
integrated Hindu's symbols such as the Garuda, the naga, the lotus, the
elephant, the "mandala diagrams"
For more refer to chapter on Greater India: Suvarnabhumi and Sacred
The royalty and artistocracy of South East Asian ruling kingdom too
favoured the flamboyant gold shot woven cottons and silks of India, the
gossammar thin muslin, the intricate weaves and motifs which embellished
textiles. The genesis of the lasting impact on South East Asia of Indian
culture perhaps lies in the "Greater India" Hindu kingdoms of Khamboja,
Champa, Annam Srivijaya and Madajahit, which flourished in (modern day)
Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines and lasted from Second
Century A.D. to the 15th Century. Founded by merchant princes from South
India and perhaps even Orissa and Bengal, these kingdoms had well
organised cities with temples (Angkor Vat being the most famous of all),
priests, rituals, artisans and brisk trade with the mother country.
Along with trade came the religious myths and beliefs of India. Although
Islam and Buddhism were eventually to emerge as dominant religions in
the region, the deep impress of Hindu civilisation can be felt every
where. In the place names of many cities and the inclusion of Sanksrit
words in the local languages, in the pervasive influence of the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata in both classical and folk expressions of art,
particularly in Indonesia. The textiles of Indonesia have, across time,
also incorporated and integrated Hindu's symbols such as the Garuda, the
naga, the lotus, the elephant, the "mandala diagrams" and so on. In
fact, the country's textiles — from apparel to ritualistic hanging, ship
cloth and sacred religious cloth — demonstrate the remarkable exchane of
ideas, materials, designs and images resulting from Indonesia's Indian
(source: Textiles as History - By Pushpa Chari - hindu.com). for more
refer to chapter on Suvarnabhumi: Greater India).
Indians, even of the present day, are remarkable for their delicacy of
sense, especially their nicety of touch.
Indians were the first to perfect the art of weaving. Enchanting and
very fascinating in appeal, the traditional Indian textiles have a
romantic story that dates back several centuries. No other land enjoys
such a profusion of creative energies for the production of textiles as
the subcontinent of India. The interaction of peoples-invaders,
indigenous tribes, traders and explorers- has built a complex structure
legendary for its vitality and color.
William Ward has observed in his books:
“muslins are made which sell at a hundred roopees a piece. The ingenuity
of the Hindoos in this branch of manufacture is wonderful. Persons with
whom I have conversed on this subject say, that at two places in Bengal,
Sonar-ga and Vikrum-pooru, muslins are made by a few families so
exceedingly fine, that four months are required to weave one piece,
which sells at four or five hundred roopees. When this muslin is laid on
the grass, and the dew has fallen upon it, it is no longer discernible.”
"...the making of chintz appears to be an original art in India, long
since invented, and brought to so great a pitch of excellency, that the
ingenuity of artists in Europe has hitherto added little
(source: A View of the History, Literature, and Mythology of the Hindoos
- By William Ward volume I p 127 and 130 London 1822).
Albrecht Weber (1825-1901) says: “The skill of the Indians in the
production of delicate woven fabrics, in the mixing of colors, the
working of metals and precious stones, the preparation of essences and
in all manner of technical arts, has from early times enjoyed a
James A. B. Scherer, author of Cotton as World Power, "India is the
original home of cotton. Cotton cloth was first seen in Europe when the
soldiers of Alexander brought some of it back, as a curiosity, in the
4th century before Christ. All India was clothed with it then, as today;
some of the ancient textiles being so delicate and beautiful as to give
rise to the poetic description, "webs of the woven wind."
(source: Cotton as World Power - By James A. B. Scherer).
Cotton was indigenous to India and from her soil its knowledge and
cultivation spread to the rest of the world. The name of this plant has
been borrowed by all the nations of antiquity from India. thus Sanskrit
'Karpasa' (Kapas in Hindi) became 'Kapas' in Hebrew and 'Carposos' in
Greek and Latin. Handspun, hand-made Indian muslins are still the pride
of India. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in Indian muslins 2000 years
Next to agriculture, cotton and cotton goods constituted the principal
industry in the Indian sub-continent, as did the woolen industry in
England. Up to 1800, no country produced a greater abundance or variety
of textiles in the world. In 1700 itself, India was the largest exporter
of textiles in the world. Wrote Andre Dubois:
“With such simple tools the patient Hindus, thanks to his industry, can
produce specimens of work which are often not to be distinguished from
those imported at great expense from foreign countries.”
From the Roman times till their decline in the 19th century, the main
textile areas on the subcontinent had been the same:
“They are described in the Periplus of the 1st century A.D. in much the
same terms as they were described by travelers of the 17th and 18th
centuries. These main areas were three: South India, comprising the
Coromandel (Cholamandal) Coast as it used to be known, stretching from
the Krishna Delta to Point Calimere; and North-east India including
Bengal, Orissa and the Gangetic Valley.”
From Abbe de Guyon, in the middle of the 18th century, we have the
following account of Ahmedabad in western India:
“People of all nations, and all kinds of mercantile goods throughout
Asia are to be found at Ahmedabad. Brocades of gold and silver, carpets
with flowers of gold, though not so good as the Persian velvet, satins,
and taffeta of all colors, stuffs of silk, linen and cotton and
calicoes, are all manufactured here.”
Surat “an emporium of foreign commerce”, manufactured the “finest Indian
brocades, the richest silk stuffs of all kinds, calicoes and muslins”.
“Painted and printed calicoes constituted the most important class of
Indian fabric exported from Surat in the 17th century. They covered a
wide range of quality, the best and the more expensive being painted
rather than printed…In the former case, dyes and mordants were applied
to the cloth, not with a wood-block, but free-hand with brush. Thus,
each painted design had the character of individual drawing with the
human and sensuous touch, instead of being limited to the repeat pattern
imposed by the print-block. Sometimes painting and printing techniques
were combined, but the finest decorative calicoes from both western
India and the Coromandel Coast were of the painted kind.”
Within another fifty years, this entire picture would be of a great deal
reversed. In England and the Continent, the textile industries were
being revolutionized through the study and close imitation of the work
of Asian craftsmen. And later, these improvements, harnessed to the
machine, would turn the tide of events.
Muslins of the finest sort
These are the muslins of the Dacca district, the most delicate of all
the fabric of India, an ancient test of which was for the piece to be
drawn through a finger-ring. Ventus textiles, or nebula, were names
under which the Romans knew of them. They are mentioned in the
Institutes of Manu, in a way to show the organization of the industry:
“let a weaver who has received 10 palas of cotton thread give them back
increased to eleven, by the rice-water and the like used in weaving; he
who does otherwise shall pay a fine of 10 panas.”
17th century, French traveler, Tavernier tells of a Persian ambassador
who took his sovereign, on returning home from India, “a coconut of the
size of an ostrich’s egg, enriched with precious stones; and when it was
opened a turban was drawn from it 60 cubits in length, and of a muslin
so fine that you would scarcely know that you had it in your hand.”
The history of cotton spinning in India goes back to remote antiquity,
being associated with Vedic gods and goddesses who are described and
pictured as wearing woven garments. The patterns of such garments,
showing great skill in both woven and tinted design are abundantly
reproduced from early temples.
(source: Periplus of the Erythrean Sea - W.H. Schoff p. 256).
Country after country tells the same tale in Europe. P. R. Schwartz and
R. de Micheauieux, in their book, A century of French fabrics:
1850-1950, state that in France:
“the term indiennes (chintz) is found in Marseilles inventories since at
least 1580, and on 22 June, 1648, a card-maker and engraver of this too
was associated with the dyeing of cloth to make indiennes”. The
imitation printing of these chintz was banned in due course, but the
indiennes continued to grow in popularity, “despite the heavier fines
imposed, the ripping off by the police of the offending print dresses
from the backs of women walking in the streets and the destroying of
stocks of garments”.
Once the ban was lifted (1759), the designers began to introduce designs
at first based solely upon Indian patterns. The same may be observed in
Germany, where in order to protect the home industry, Fredrick William I
banned the wearing, importing or selling of any kind of printed or
painted calicoes. Again these laws were flouted and in 1743, print works
were established in various parts of the country, imitation printing
being officially permitted in 1752. Textile workers in Italy, from the
late 17th century to about 1855 had their earlier patterns based on
indiennes. More obvious is the case of the Netherlands:
“The Dutch merchants and explorers were some of the first to bring back
the painted and printed Coromondel clothes from the East during the
early 17th century…and Dutch textile printers attempted to imitate the
brilliantly colored Indian cotton which were not only fast to water but
became more beautiful and brilliant when washed. Their first attempts
with the oil or water colors long used in Europe, that either smelt
badly or would not wash, bore no comparison with the Eastern cloths
printed or painted with mordant dyes and indigo.
The first European print works was founded in Amersfoot in Holland in
1678 and attempted to use Indian methods.”
Success came after nearly 70 years, when Dutch printers succeeded in
copying the sheer Indian cottons by using copper plates. The first
Spanish calico print works started by the Esteban Canals in Barcelona in
1738, copied indiennes and used the imported Eastern textiles as a
source of pattern. Switzerland repeats the story, and in the United
States too, the earliest evidence of textile printing shows Eastern
influences in the patterns. It has not been any different with the
circulation of ideas in Europe. Literature-wise, three large documents
found in European libraries are representative, having been written with
the express purpose of informing Europeans about Indian processes and
techniques. The letters of Jesuit, Coeurdoux, for example, were sent out
in 1742 and 1747. The earlier letter begins typically:
“I have not forgotten that in several of your letters you have urged me
to acquaint you with the discoveries I might make in this part of
India,…..Recently, with a little leisure, I have used it to find out the
way in which Indians make these beautiful cloths, which form part of the
trade of whose Companies established to extend commerce, and which,
crossing the widest seas, come from the ends of Europe into these
distant climes to search for such things.”
(source: Decolonizing History: Technology and Culture in India, China
and the West 1492 to the Present Day - By Claude Alvares p.55-67).
Though the British had initially been drawn to India by the spice trade,
textiles soon became the major export. Using handlooms and spindles and
building on more than 5,000 year history of weaving, Indian artisans
created such fine fabrics that one 19th century Briton characterized
them as "the work of fairies or insects rather than of men."
From yarn described as the "web of the woven wind." Bengali weavers
produced delicate cotton muslins so sheer that they were named "running
water" and "evening dew." Silk brocades from the city of Benares in
northern India glittered with threads of gold or silver. In Kashmir,
enormous shawls - so finely woven that they could be drawn through a
ring - were made from the inner fleece of a rare mountain goat, which
left its hairs behind when it rubbed against shrubs on Himalayan peaks.
Indian chintz - calico that was hand painted or printed by artisans-was
renowned for brilliant colors that seemed to improve with repeated
A rage for Indian fabric swept across Britain, causing a serious drain
of gold and silver from the West. "From the greatest gallants to the
meanest Cook Maids, nothing was thought to fit to adorn their persons as
the Fabric from India," grumped an English politician in 1681. Despite
stiff import duties, Indian textiles threatened England's own
manufacturers. "Europe bleedth to enrich Asia," complained another 17th
century Englishman. An act of Parliament in 1700 made it illegal to wear
or use Indian fabrics in Great Britain, but clandestine trade flourished
A little century later, however, the tide turned. Britain's restrictive
economic policies, combined with the Industrial Revolution, spelled doom
for India's textile industry. England produced and flooded the market
with - inexpensive machine made textiles. The result was tragic. - "The
bones of weavers," said one 19th century observer, were left "bleaching
on the plains of Hindustan."
(source: What Life Was Like in the Jewel of the Crown: British India AD
1600-1905 - By The Editors of Time-Life Books. p. 91-93).
The quality of the textile goods were fine and delicate. Marco Polo
remarked of the elegant and light buckrams manufactured in several parts
of the Deccan: "These are the most delicate buckrams and of the highest
price; in sooth they look like the tissue of spider's web. there can be
no king or queen in the world but might be glad to wear them."
(source: India Through The Ages: History, Art Culture and Religion - By
G. Kuppuram p. 574).
Toile - India's design inspired the style
In medieval and early modern France, people [of rank and wealth] wore
fabrics such as silk and velvet that were rarely printed. During the
sixteenth century, Portuguese navigators opened the trade routes to
India and introduced Europe to Indian painted cottons. By the end of the
seventeenth century, the Indiennes - brightly printed Indian cotton
fabrics that were lighter than velvet, and washable - were famous and
widely used for clothing.
In 1686 Colbert's mercantilist and protectionist policies forbade the
import of foreign fabrics, with highly prejudicial results for the
French fabric industry. This embargo lasted for 73 years, but it was
unable to stop the success of the Indiennes.
Although we think of it as French, toile's founding father was Francis
Nixon of Ireland, who, inspired by printed fabrics from India, created
the first toile fabric in 1752. His techniques quickly spread to England
and then France -- the country that gave the style its name and assured
its place in design history.
The mother of all toiles is Toile de Jouy -- the brain-child of
Christophe Philippe Oberkampf who established a manufactory for printed
cottons in Jouy-en-Josas (a town near Versailles) in 1760. The idea was
to emulate the printed cottons of India while keeping the process (and
profits) at home in France. And it was an unbridled success. In 1806,
the Emperor and Empress, Napoleon and Josephine, one day surprised
Oberkampf with a visit to the factory, nor did Napoleon fail to ask a
thousand questions after his usual manner. So pleased was the Emperor
that he made of Oberkampf a member of the Legion of Honor, supplying him
with the decoration which he detached from his own coat. Napoleon came
again—this time with the new Empress, Marie Louise.
Chintz - printed cotton fabric from India: a printed or stained calico
fabric made in India. Early 17th century. Earlier chints , from chint
“calico cloth,” from Hindi chīṭ “stain,” from Sanskrit citra
The painted cloths from India were rich in color, and full of ancient
tradition in design. The manner of making them was intricate, requiring
not only talent but infinite patience and the employment of several
arts. And these charming exotics that were spread before those lovely
ladies of Europe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century, are the
ancestors of the mountains of chintz that fill our shops today.
Palampores, or bed covers, they called the oblongs from India, and at
this time the most favored design for these was the Tree of Life, a
straying meander of slender branches all aflower with blooms of many
kinds, the tree-trunk small and planted in a pyramid of rocks. But its
exquisite tones and shades were impossible to describe, also the
symbolism of the border which reaches back to far antiquity. In France
as in England the first imported cottons from India arrived in the
second half of the Seventeenth Century and awakened at once the desire
for possession in the breast of every person of wealth or social
consequence. The more they bought, the more the returning ships brought
to them. And the greater the consumption of this artistic novelty, the
less was the demand for French silks and woolens.
It became therefore the pleasure and duty of domes-tic print weavers to
protest, and of the State to pass laws of prohibition. Between 1686 and
175o no less than thirty decrees were issued in France in restraint of
the use of printed cottons. But prohibition fails to exclude. There is a
naughtiness in human nature, a half-humorous rebellion that makes us
snatch at things denied. All the well planned restrictions of France
failed to abolish the use of printed cottons.
Indian prints were ever very high in price. All who appreciated could
not afford them. Thus it came that French textile workers set about
making an imitation to sell at low cost. The origin of chintz is a Hindu
word which signified colored or flowered—chint. In the time of Samuel
Pepys it was so spelled ("bought a chint for my wife"), and only later
was an s added which time changed to z.
and http://www.oldandsold.com/articles06/draperies-19.shtml and
Lord Elphinstone, speaking of Indian cotton cloth, says, "the beauty and
delicacy of which was so long admired, and which, in fineness of
texture, has never yet been approached in any country."
John Murray wrote in The History of India, p. 27: "Its fabrics, the most
beautiful that human art has anywhere produced, were sought by merchants
at the expense of the greatest toils and dangers."
Indian textile technology had a profound influence in Britain during the
industrial revolution, stimulating inventors there to devise methods to
attain similar results – the brightness and permanence of the colors,
the delicacy of the cotton yarn – with machines. The British had little
success in attaining the quality of hand-made Indian textiles. British
spinners showed little interest in how their Indian counterparts
achieved the high quality of their textiles and would have been
disappointed had they known. The secret was painstaking and laborious
(source: Lost Discoveries - Dick Teresi p. 354).
As regards to dyeing of fabrics, Lord Mountstuart Elphinstone says:
“”The brilliancy and permanence of many of the dyes have not yet been
equaled in Europe.” He adds: “the brilliancy of their dyes is remarked
on as well as their skill in manufactures and imitations of foreign
The Hindus were the earliest nation who discovered the art of extracting
colors from plants. The names by which several plants are known in
foreign countries bear testimony to this fact. Indigo is called after
India. Pliny used the word indico.
Bancroft gives much praise to the “natives of India for having so many
thousand years ago discovered means by which the colorable matter of the
plants might be extracted, exygenated and precipitated from all other
matters combined with it.” Even James Mill is constrained to say: “Among
the arts of the Hindus, that of printing and dyeing their clothes has
been celebrated; and the beauty and brilliancy, as well as durability of
the colors they produce, are worthy of particular praise.”
John Forbes Watson, in his work on the Textile Manufactures and Costumes
of People of India gives an interesting account of a series of
experiments made on both the European and the Indian muslins, to
determine their claims to superiority. The results were altogether in
favor of the Indian fabrics. He concluded: "However viewed therefore,
our manufacturers have something still to do. With all our machinery and
wondrous appliances we have hitherto been unable to produce a fabric
which, for fineness or utility, can equal the woven air of Dacca, the
product of arrangements, which appear rude and primitive, but which in
reality are admirably adapted for the purpose."
Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren (1760-1842) an Egyptologist says: "The
variety of cotton fabrics mentioned even by the author of Periplus as
articles of commerce is so great that we can hardly suppose the number
to have increased afterwards."
(source: Hindu Superiority - By Har Bilas Sarda p.397 – 404).
According to NY Times: "Considering that it is the country historically
credited with giving the world paisley, seersucker, calico, chintz,
cashmere, crewel and the entire technique of printing on cloth, it is
anybody's guess why India barely registers on the global map of
(source: Fashion From India, Beyond the Bangles - NY Times May 13 '
A charming folktale explains the origin of the Sari as follows:
"The Sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver. He
dreamt of Woman. The shimmer of her tears. The drape of her tumbling
hair. The colors of her many moods. The softness of her touch. All these
he wove together. He couldn't stop. He wove for many yards. And when he
was done, the story goes, he sat back and smiled and smiled and smiled".
Noted psychologist Carl Jung has waxed lyrical about the elegance of the
"It would be a loss to the whole world if the Indian woman should cease
to wear her native costume. India is practically the only civilized
country where one can see on living models how woman can and should
Couturier Valentino Garavani ( ? ) Italy’s most famous designer says:
‘‘I consider the sari deeply elegant—it is one of the most grounding
elements of what haute couture is all about,’’ he adds. ‘‘In India,
modernity and tradition can find a fine balance without erasing a unique
heritage. Homogeneity is never a good thing.’’
‘‘India’s heritage is one of the most fascinating and inspirational of
all,’’ he says. ‘‘My 2002 haute couture collection was entirely inspired
by India. But there have always been Indian themes running through all
my collections. It’s definitely a reference for my idea of beauty and
The discovery of several spindles, and a piece of cotton stuck to a
silver vase, revealed that the spinning and weaving of cotton was known
to the Harrappans, nearly five million years ago. References to weaving
are found in the Vedic literature on the method of spinning, the various
The foundations of the Indian textile trade with other countries began
as early as the second century BC. A hoard of block printed and
resist-dyed fabrics, mainly of Gujarati origin, found in the tombs of
Fostat, Egypt, are the proof of large scale Indian export of cotton
textiles to the Egypt in medieval times.
In the 13th century, Indian silk was used as barter for spices from the
western countries. Towards the end of the 17th century, the British East
India Company had begun exports of Indian silks and various other cotton
fabrics to other countries. These included the famous fine Muslin cloth
of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Painted and printed cottons or chintz was
extensively practiced between India, China, Java and the Philippines,
long before the arrival of the Europeans.
" India, undoubtedly the greatest exporter of textiles from 1600 to
1899, not only revolutionized European taste and fashion with its chintz
but struck at the very roots of economic stability. Chintz, which
captured the fabric market with ease in the 18th century, caused
hardship among weavers, provoked riots, and finally inspired satirical
poems about noble ladies who preferred exotic finery to honest, English
home-spun products. "
(source: Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to
Indian Art - By Partha Mitter p. 221 and I am inspired by India’s
Sir Charles Trevelyan, Finance Minister of India in the 1860s, was
anxious to see the disappearance of the Indian weaver as a class, a
development he thought best for both Britain and India: India would
benefit because the weaver, faced with competition from machine-made
goods, would be forced to give up his craft and turn to agriculture; the
increased labor supply would then raise output and England would benefit
since makers of cloth would be converted into consumers of Lancashire
(source: Decolonizing History: Technology and Culture in India, China
and the West 1492 to the Present Day - By Claude Alvares p. 152).
Paisley pattern stretches across millennia
The lacy teardrop pattern known as paisley is Indian in origin, but its
name derives from a town in southern Scotland. Paisley, which today is a
suburb west of Glasgow, was a major site for the manufacture of printed
cotton and wool in the 19th Century, according to the Paisley Museum in
Resembling a large comma, paisley is one of the most recognized patterns
in the world. The pattern can be traced back more than 2,000 years. The
design was copied from the costly silk and cotton Kashmir shawls brought
back by Scottish soldiers serving in India and later shipped by members
of the East India Company.
The explorer Marco Polo has said: " Embroidery is here produced with
more delicacy than anywhere in the world."
(source: India: Living Wisdom - By Richard Waterstone p. 116).
Printed “Paisley” in the 19th century
The word Cashmere, or Kashmir, has various connotations, all evoking
luxury. The cloth, known as cashmere, is woven from the winter coat of a
mountain goat found in the Kashmir region of India. When woven, the
woollen cloth is of an incomparable softness and refinement. The design
motif, known as Cashmere, or Paisley, was created by Indian weavers and
is easily definable by it's shape in the form of a teardrop.
Note: Just as Delftware (named for the town of Delft in The Netherlands)
blue and white pottery was inspired by Chinese porcelain, the lacey
teardrop pattern was inspired by India but was later named Paisley after
a town in Scotland.
The exquisite pashmina, whose history dates back to the days of
Mohenjadaro, the soft fine fabric draped around the statue of a woman
found at Mohenjadaro was probably pashmina from the valley. It was
popular amongst the Indian aristocracy The famous pashmina shawls of
Kashmir are made of the finest wool and have a luxuriant silky texture.
The Chandra goat from which the pashmina wool is extracted is found at a
height of 14,000 feet in Ladakh.
Benares - Fabled bazaars
From the earliest times traders passed this way on their way to
Pataliputra, to the time of the Muslim invaders, the British invaders,
and now the tourist invaders, the bazaars of Benares have dazzled the
imagination. In his famous description of Benares in the late 18th
century, Lord Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1800-59) is best known for
introducing English education in India. Macaulay was the first Law
Member of the Governor-General's Legislature, and was also known for his
notorious 1835 Minute, wrote:
"Commerce had as many pilgrims as religion. All along the shores of the
venerable stream lay fleets of vessels laden with rich merchandise. From
the looms of Benares went forth the most delicate silk adorned the balls
of St. James's and of Versailles; and in the bazaars, the muslins of
Bengal and the sabres of Oude were mingled with the jewels of Golconda
and the shawls of Cashmere."
(source: The Sacred City of the Hindus: in Ancient and Modern Times - By
M. A. Sherring p. 10).
Sir Edwin Arnold, (1832-1904) poet and scholar, principal of the British
government college at Pune, India. Although his interest in India was
primarily spiritual, he was nonetheless captured by the wares of
Benares. In his book, India Revisted, he describes the "dazzling flood
of gold and silk kincobs, embroidered cloths and scarves, cashmere
shawls of marvellous make, texture, and tints, slippers for princesses,
turbans for kings, and cholis glittering with gems and gold laces."
(source: India Revisted - By Edwin Arnold p. 220).
Blue Jeans originated in India
One of India's lasting contributions to Western life was the export of a
thick cotton cloth known as "Dungaree" which, in the sixteenth century
was sold near the Dongarii Fort in Bombay. Portuguese and Genoan sailors
used this durable blue broad cloth, dyed with indigo, for their
bellbottom sailing pants. Thus, blue jeans, originating in India, were
widely adopted by farmers, cowboys, working-class men, teen-agers,
suburban moms; almost everyone in the West has at least one pair of blue
jeans. They are the hallmark of American fashion and in vogue across the
According to Webster Dictionary: dungaree n. hindi dungri - 1. a coarse
cotton cloth; specif, blue denim. 2. work trousers or overalls made of
(source: Infinity Foundation).
History of Indigo
The word Indigo is derived from the Greek Indikon and the Latin Indicum,
meaning a substance from India. Evidence for the use of Indigo in India
before the medieval age is based on the writings of a trader in Egypt in
the first century A D. India was then the pivot of trade both Westwards
and Eastwards. Indians were highly accomplished in textile arts. As with
other subjects such as mathematics, much earlier on, knowledge from
India was dispersed through the trade route. Indigo, the last natural
dye, was a highly priced commodity on the "Silk route". From 1600
onwards, the documents of the East India Company mention the production
of indigo in India and its export. Gujarat and Sind were the major
sources then. From mid 17th century, Europeans arriving on India's East
Coast picked up finished textiles, cotton and silk, rather than the raw
material indigo. Indigo was a major dye used in these fabrics. In the
19th century, Bengal was the world's biggest producer of indigo in the
world! An Englishman in the Bengal Civil Service is said to have
commented, "Not a chest of indigo reached England without being stained
with human blood". Indigo was part of the national movement. Champaran
in Bihar witnessed indigo riots in 1868.
(source: The Colorful history of Indigo - chennaionline.com).
Distillation of Perfumes
The distillation of scents, perfumes and fragrant liquids and ointments
was one area where the knowledge of chemistry was applied in India since
ancient times. In fact the very word 'scent' which is of unexplained
origin according to the Oxford Dictionary, is possibly derived from the
Sanskrit term Sugandha which literally means 'good or aromatic paste'.
This word could have been transmitted to European languages through the
Greek langua which has borrowed (and lent) many words from Sanskrit.
Other instances of such transmission are the English words like 'cotton'
which is derived from the Sanskrit Karpasa or the word 'sugar' derived
from the Sanskrit Sharkara, etc. Many present day perfumes had existed
in India since ancient times and perhaps had originated here. In ancient
times perfumes and fragrant ointments were of two typ viz., Teertha
(liquids) and Gandha (slurries or ointments). During the coronation
Kings or during any auspicious occasion person was sprinkled with
aromatic oils. Fragrant ointments based on sandalwood were applied
during ceremonial bathing. Even today during some festivals like Diwali
aromatic slurries and pastes are prepared out of a powder called
Sugandhi. Utne and are used during the ceremonial bath which is taken
during that festival. Even in other religious rites, Sandalwood, Ochre
and Camphor are traditionally used by Hindus.
Sandalwood: Since very early times Sandalwood and Sandalwood oil were
items of export. The Greek text of the 1st century A.D., Periplus
mentions sandalwood as one of the items being imported from India. The
word Sandal (wood) is derived from the Latin terms Santalum Album or
Santalacae. These terms used by the Romans to describe sandalwood were,
according to the Oxford Dictionary, derived from the Sanskrit term
Chandana, for sandalwood.
The Sandalwood tree is native to India and is found mainly in
South-western India in t he state of Karnataka. Sandalwood has been a
known item of export from India since ancient times. Authors of Sanskrit
texts on botany which in Sanskrit is called Vanaspati-Shastra had
classified Sandalwood into three types viz. white sandalwood Shrikanda
(which perhaps is an abbreviation of the term Shewta-Chandana ), the
second is yellow sandalwood or Pitta-Chandana and the last is red
sandalwood or RaktaChandana
The reference to Sandalwood in the Periplus is perhaps the earliest
available western reference to Sandalwood. It has been mentioned in
later times by Comas Indiwpleustes in the 6th century A.D. as Tzandana
and thereafter it is frequently referred to by Arab traders. Oil was
also extracted from Sandalwood. This oil which was a thick but refined
liquid was extracted in specially constructed oil mills called
Teyl-Peshani and Teylena-Lip. The oil extracted from these mills was a
thick, dark yellow liquid. Along with Sandalwood, the Sandalwood oil was
also an item of export from India during ancient times. Sandalwood oil
was mainly bought by the Romans between the 1st and 3rd centuries A.D.
Musk: Musk is also a fragrant substance which is secreted in the gland
by a male musk-deer. Musk is redish-brown in colour and is used as a
base for perfumes and also as an ingredient for soaps to give it a musky
smell. In Sanskrit, Musk is known as Muska which means the scortum i.e.
the pouch of skin containing the testicles of the deer. The English term
Musk originates from the Sanskrit term Muska according to the Oxford
The Sanskrit word Muska is perhaps derived from the words Maunsa or Masa
which means 'flesh'. In Sanskrit, other words used for musk are Kasturi,
Kastutrika and Mruga-Nabhi. The last term literally means 'a deer's
Spikenard: Spikenard was a costly aromatic ointment extracted since
ancient times from an Indian plant known in Sanskrit as Nardostachys
Jatamansi which perhaps means 'the braid of hair (Jataa) of (Narada).
The English word Spikenard is derived from the Greek term Nardostakhus
and the Latin term Spica Nardi; both the terms are derived from the
Sanskrit term Nardostachys Jatamansi. This plant has purplish-yellow
flower heads and is very rarely found. Its smell is quite pleasing and
hence it had been in great demand since ancient times.
In Sanskrit, other terms used to refer to this plant are, Jatila which
means 'difficult', Tapasvini which literally means 'concentration and
devotion'. These words used to describe Spikenard indicate that it was
very difficult to obtain and cultivate this plant. In India this herb
was available only in the Himalayas. Spikenard, which is aromatic and
bitter, yields on distillation a pleasant smelling oil.
In India, it had been used since ancient times as an aromatic adjunct in
the preparation of medicinal oils and was popularly believed to increase
the growth and blackness of hair. The Roman historian Pliny observes the
Spikenard was considered very precious in Rome and it was stored in
alabaster boxes by persons of eminence.
(source: Contribution of Ancient Hindu Society -