Textile Technology (तन्तुकार्यम्)

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Most historians of pre-British India agree that India of that time was not only an agricultural, but also an industrial society. And a survey of Indian technologies cannot be complete without some discussion of textiles, the great industrial enterprise of pre-British India. Up to 1800, India was the world’s leading producer and exporter of textiles. This production was almost entirely based on techniques that could be operated at the level of the individual or the family. Spinning of yarn was an activity in which perhaps whole of India participated. According to an observer from Manchester, Arno Pearse, who in 1930 visited India to study its cotton industry, there were probably 5 crore spinning wheels (charkhas) intermittently at work even then. And this simple small wheel was so efficient that till the early decades of the 19th century, a widowed mother could still maintain a whole family in reasonable manner by spinning on the charkha for a few hours a day. Weaving was a relatively more specialised activity. However, the number of those belonging to the weaver castes was smaller in comparison to those from the cultivating castes. Early 19th century data for certain districts of South India indicate that each district had around 20,000 looms. Arno Pearse in 1930 estimated the number of handlooms operating in India to be in the vicinity of 20 lakhs.[1]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

The term textile is derived from the Latin word 'texere' which means, 'to weave'. It refers to woven (i.e. interlaced warp-weft) fabrics. And 'fabric' is a generic term for all fibrous constructions.[2]

According to documented research, there were vast regions of India which specialised in specific types of fabrics. Each of these areas developed techniques of weaving, bleaching, dyeing and painting etc., which were indigenous to the region, and also had its own characteristic designs, motifs and symbols. For example, in Western India alone, Sironj in Rajasthan and Burhanpur in Khandesh were major centres of cotton painting; cheap printed cottons came from Ahmedabad; woollens including the extra-ordinary Cashmere Shawls were produced in Kashmir; true silks were worked as patolas at Patan in Gujarat and so on. These dispersed and diverse techniques were so optimised that textile produced in Britain through the technologies of industrial revolution could hardly match the Indian textiles in quality or price.[1]

Use of Ethnology to Document Technology

The absence of substantial material remains need not be a deterrent in the documentation of a traditional technology. Since material artifacts and a living craft tradition are both subject to an inner logic which shapes the nature of innovation accepted and the norms which guide selectivity in obsolescence, a wide data base of ethnological evidence which lends itself to selective usage can be used to identify the constituents of a tradition which existed at a remote period of time in India.

Accordingly, in the book 'History of Technology in India', Lotika Varadarajan and Krishna Amin document the history of Indian Textile Technology with the help of the vibrancy of craft tradition both in terms of techniques, processes, tools and implements as well as that of hereditary skills transmitted across generations.

This article that is largely based on the above mentioned chapter of the book 'History of Technology in India' explores the development in the area of textile technology by delving into 3 of it's major components ie.

  1. Fibre.
  2. Natural dye.
  3. Loom structure.[2]


The Yajnavalkya Smrti and the Mahabharata are known to mention bark cloth worn by ascetics known as Valkala. Both these texts refer to a bark cloth, potti in usage in the districts of Ganjam in Orissa and Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. However, it is not clear if this has been confused with the woven bast fibre, pata (पाट) which, according to Professor R.S. Singh is derived from a plant of the Malvaceae family, the fabric being called Patu (पाटु).

This confusion is a result of a common terminology, pat/patta/putta for silk as well as jute. B. N. Singh has demonstrated that patta can be taken as a reference to a cloth woven from a variety of bast fibres. Initially it was derived from plants of the Malvaceae, shifting later to the Hibiscus cannibinus grouping. However, after the 4th century A. D. the term patta was imbued with the connotation of silk. It is possible that the Bengali term pat for Jute was coined because of the glossy appearance of the fibre.

That apart, it is also noted that in South India, bark of Antiaris toxicara (Upas tree) is soaked and beaten into cloth.

However, overall, the fibres used in India can be accommodated within the categories of,

  1. Bast
  2. Wool
  3. Silk
  4. Cotton

This survey excludes bark cloth and also, felt or namda (नांदा), which is non-woven and therefore, may be classified as a fabric rather than a textile.[2]

Bast Fibres

The term bast fibre covers the category of strong ligneous fibres separated by the process of retting from certain parts of plant tissue. The most important among them include

  1. Flax
  2. Hemp
  3. Jute
  4. Ramie

For the proper utilisation of such fibres, the precise point at which further decomposition has to be arrested has to be accurately guaged. Fibres may be either woven into clothing or be diverted to the manufacture of cordage and meeting.

Flax Fibres

Linen, referred to as Kshauma in early texts, is obtained from the plant Linum usimtissimum. The plant is called Uma (उमा) in the Charaka Samhita while Panini uses the term Kshuma and atasi. Uma and Kshuma had the connotation of linen while atasi had that of linseed oil. Linum usitatissimum was not indigenous to India and in antiquity it was cultivated in Egypt, Europe and Northern India. The attempt to popularise that plant for its flax fibre failed in this country, but as a source of linseed oil it was extensively cultivated.

Flax fibres are long, lustrous, strong, and can stand up to high tension. They are smooth, hard faced, inelastic and resistant to abrasion. They are also good heat conductors and readily absorb water.

On the loom, warp ends can be set closely together as they are marginally affected by rubbing of adjacent warps when there is a change in shed. Individual fibres of good quality flax can be so delicate as to be close to being invisible, and very fine gossamer thin fabrics can be woven from such fibre. When flax is grown for fibre the seeds are sewn close together so that the stems grow straight and there are a minimum number of branches.

The earliest references to Kshauma in the sense of linen garments occur in

  • The Maitrayani samhita (3.6.7)

यज्ञस्य वै सृष्टस्योल्बमन्वलंबत तद्वासः क्षौमं अभवत्, तस्मात् क्षौमेण दीक्षयन्ति यज्ञस्य सयोनित्वाय...[3]

yajñasya vai sr̥ṣṭasyōlbamanvalaṁbata tadvāsaḥ kṣaumaṁ abhavat, tasmāt kṣaumēṇa dīkṣayanti yajñasya sayōnitvāya...

  • The Taittiriya samhita (6.1.1-3).

अन्तरत एव मेध्यो भवति वाससा दीक्षयति सौम्यं वै क्षौमं देवतया सोमम् एष देवताम् उपैति यो दीक्षते सोमस्य तनूर् असि तनुवम् मे पाहीत्य् आह स्वाम् एव देवताम् उपैति ।[4]

antarata ēva mēdhyō bhavati vāsasā dīkṣayati saumyaṁ vai kṣaumaṁ dēvatayā sōmam ēṣa dēvatām upaiti yō dīkṣatē sōmasya tanūr asi tanuvam mē pāhīty āha svām ēva dēvatām upaiti ।

Domestic production could not have been sufficient at all times to meet the demand and supplies that must have been drawn from other sectors. Circa B.C. 600, the Phoenicians were distributing Egyptian linen in the Mediterranean region. Since there is indication of the Phoenician network penetrating into Babylonia it would not unreasonable to surmise that Egyptian linen was vended in India through a distribution system linking Western India to Babylonia through the Persian seaways. When the Roman market impinged on the Erythraean Sea, Egyptian linen was exported to India through intermediaries in Roman trade in payment for spices. However, by the 12th century, flax as an agricultural crop in Egypt declined.

It is to be noted that predominant demand appears to have been for fine quality linen and in the Amarakosha, Kshauma is regarded as synonymous with dukula. In course of time, it was identified with the silk and between the 12th and 16th centuries A.D. its original meaning began to be forgotten.

Hemp Fibres

Hemp receives mention in the Shatapatha Brahmana as 'shana'. This fibre, which is inelastic and crushes easily, is derived for purposes of weaving from the bark of

  • Cannabis sativa : The oldest hempen fragment from Cannabis sativa, dated to circa B.C. 800, has been found at Gordion in Asia Minor. Though Cannabis sativa, characterised as true hemp, is indigenous to all parts of India, as a source of fibre, it has been utilised only in Nepal.
  • Crotalaria juncea : The most popular source for hemp in India has been the bark of Crotalaria juncea (Konkani hemp) called in Sanskrit as shana and in Bengali as son. It is an annual plant cultivated in all parts of South Asia. The fibre in Bengal is whiter than that of Maharashtra because of the more rigorous processes of cleaning adopted. The history of shana pre-dates that of jute in India. The term gunny, carrying the connotation of jute in modern times, was derived from the term goni, a coarse cloth originally made from shana.
  • Hibiscus cannabinus : In the case of Hibiscus cannaibinus called as mesta pat in Bengal, ambaree or ambadi in Maharashtra and Palungoo in Madras, the bark has been utilised for its fibre, while the leaves have served as a comestible. An alternative term adopted in Bombay for ambaree was Deccani hemp to distinguish it from Crotalaria juncea or Konkani hemp. In the hilly areas of the region known earlier as the Circars in present day Andhra Pradesh, this plant was called Hibiscus collinus, the vernacular term being kanda gang. In the present times, it is called Hibiscus eriocarpus.

In central India, Verrier Elwin records that the Bondas, Gadabas and Parengas spin fibre from the bark of Calotropis gigantea. This is arka in Sanskrit, ak in Hindi and akado in Gujarati. This is mixed with cotton and woven on simple looms. Both fibres can be dyed. This cloth is called Keranga cloth. The Bonds and the Gadaba being associated with the Korapat District and the Dudma Falls respectively in Orissa, samples of Keranga cloth are displayed in the Department of Anthropology, Utkal University, Bhubaneshwar wherein the loom is a simple frame loom.

It is of interest that in Bengal and Orissa, there is living memory of a cheaper variant of the silken ritual garment, called patta vastra. These are said to have been woven of a mixture of silk and hemp or of hemp alone. In Maharashtra a similar garment exists, referred to as mugata. In present times, with the help of modern technology, rayon patta vastra are being fashioned.

Jute Fibre

Jute fibre is obtained from Corchorus olitorius and Corchorus capsularis. These plants are native to various parts of India and have been exploited in the pre-industrial period. Corchorus is called putta in Sanskrit and Pat in Bengali. It is to be noted here that the terms pat/patta/putta were used for both silk as well as jute. This common terminology led to some confusion which has been discussed in the initial section of this article. The reddish variety was called bun (wild) pat in Bengal. Woven material was called tat. The term for coarser cloths used for making bags was choti while saris were referred to as megila. The fibre from the bark of Corchorus capsularis, called ghi-nalita pat in Bengal, was diverted to the manufacture of gunny bags and cordage. Other terms that are used for this fibre include narcha and nalita.

Thomas Wardle makes a reference which may have a bearing on earlier usages. Bark of the twigs of a small bush widespread both in its cultivated and wild form in the hotter areas of India, called Ulatkambal in Bengali, Abroma augusta, Linn. Sterculiaceae, yielded a lustrous, and soft fibre, akin to hemp and jute but distinct from both. It was much valued as it could be used as a substitute for silk.

The technology for the separation of jute fibre was simple. When the crop was ripe, it was cut down close to the roots. Separate bundles of the stems were made and these were left to steep in the water of some adjoining ditch. The bundles were weighted down with mud. The process of decomposition was carefully watched, the bark being tested from time to time by scratching the surface with the fingernail. At the next stage the separated fibres would be vigorously beaten for cleaning.

Ramie Fibre

The last major group among bast fibres has been associated with the plant Boehmeria nivea, commonly referred to as ramie or China grass. Regional variations in nomenclature were schou-ma in Chinese Pooh in Nepal, Rhea in Assamese, Kankhura in Bengali and ramie in Malay.

Though Schou-me is equated with China grass, Royle describes this as Urtica nivea. Hamilton and Robinson concur with Royle and define its usage as exclusive to that of rope making. According to W. Robinson, it was another species of Urtica called ban khua in local parlance, which was used in weaving.

Further more, Forbes Royle notes that circa, 1855 Rhea was not a commercial crop in Assam. It was grown around their homes by Dooms, members of the fisherman caste, and used by them for their needs. The preparation of fibre was a tedious process. Despite the silkiness of individual filaments, the inherent stiffness of the fibre made it difficult to twist, making its spinning an arduous process.

In Darjeeling, Dehra Dun and other places in North India, a related plant, Boehmeria puya Royle, was grown, puya fabric being woven from this fibre. While, the fibres derived from Boehmeria salicifolia and' Boehmeria utilis were used for making rope. These references to ramie as identified above, make it clear that the woven material could not have been of very high quality.

However, in the Ramayana, ramie or nettle cloth receives high praise for its fineness and beauty. Samples of ramie in Japanese collections are also of a high quality. The above reference may be taken to imply Urtica heterophylla, the Horoo surat of Assam, the Nilgiri nettle of South India and herpah of Bhutan. This plant, the bark of which yields an abundance of fine, white glossy silk-like fibres, grows in Burma, Assam, the Himalayan foothills up to Dehra Dun, Southern Konkan, Karnataka and coastal Kerala. The nettle cloth mentioned in the Ramayana may have been derived from the fibre of this plant. Varrier Elwin noted that among the tribal groups of the North-East, the Monpas, Sherdukpens and Idu Mishmi wove fibres derived from Boehmeria nivea and other of nettle origin into a cloth which was made into jackets. These were so strong and stiff that they could serve as a kind of armour.

In his seventeenth century diary, Streynsham Master refers to a textile called herba which he equates with tasar (a wild silk); while an eighteenth century French commercial dictionary mentions a bast fibre called simply ecorce d'arbre (bark of tree), said to stand midway between silk and hemp in its attributes. It was mixed with silk to weave the cloth variety called gingham. In view of the affinity between Rhea and fibres such as wool and silk pointed out by G.Watt, this fibre noted by the Europeans may be taken as a variant of Boehmeria nivea. It could equally well be associated with Ulatkambal, mentioned by Thomas Wardle.[2]


Woollen fabrics have a tradition as old as that of bast fibres in India. Panini refers to the category of woolen garments as aurna/aurnak. By the opening years of the Christian era not only was sheep’s wool differentiated from that of the goat but even in the latter category, a line was drawn between the fibres derived from the domesticated variety and its wild counterpart. The properties of wool had a bearing on its usage as a fibre. Wool is elastic and its fibres have a rough surface. This is caused by an external layer of microscopic overlapping scales. Wool can absorb 30% of its own weight as moisture, and when wet it generates heat. It can be stretched 30% beyond its normal dimension and still spring back to its original configuration when released. It is wrinkle resistant and has high powers of insulation. It is for this reason that desert dwellers wear wool to keep the heat out. These properties explain why wool was accorded a high ritual status in early texts.

Unlike flax, wool requires little preparation for spinning. It can be spun directly after carding. However, for high quality items like Kani Pashmina it was scoured and graded prior to carding and spinning operations. Since wool possessed a natural fatty material washing was essential prior to dyeing. When placed on the loom warp ends had to be spaced to prevent or minimise the tendency to catch, cling or lock together on contact. However, once positioned safely wool keeps in place and this has favoured its usage in tapestry weaving.

It is therefore, not surprising to note the double interlock a variant within the tapestry reportoire, developing in relation to Kani Pashmina in Kashmir.

Owing to geographical and environmental factors, wool, over the major portion of India, is of inferior quality. Apart from Kashmir, Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat and centres in Western Rajasthan have developed items of variegated design in polychrome hues using rough quality sheeps’ wool. In areas of low to deficient rainfall in Northern India, the camel is an important domesticated animal, but the hair of the Indian one- humped dromedary, unlike that of the Bactrian two-humped animal, is not altogether suitable for weaving. The Meghwal Community in Rajasthan weave a floor covering in which the warp is hand spun goat hair, and the weft, camel hair.[2]


The silk tradition in India is a very early one and by the time of the compilation of the Arthashastra there had emerged a clear sense of the distinction between Indian and Chinese silk, and, within India, there was an association between the colour and the quality of local bi- and multi-voltine cocoons of Bombyx mori (mulberry feeding moth), and that spun from the cocoon of the multi-voltine Atticus ricini (Eri). Wild silk is reeled from Antherea mylitta (Tasar), Antherea assamensis and Saiumia assama (Muga). While Eri is obtained from the cocoons of the moth Philosamia cynthia. This distinction between domesticated and will silk is based on whether the worm can be reared under controlled conditions or not, i.e. whether the worm is fed indoors or left to find its nutriment and complete its life cycle outdoors. Bengal and Assam have been the traditional centres for mulberry silk. Muga and Eri are restricted to Assam, while Tasar has been produced in Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

Mulberry silk has a tradition of being woven even in areas ignorant of its cultivation, but the weaving of wild silk has tended to be more localised being generally restricted to the actual regions where the raw material was produced.[2]


The cradle of cotton cultivation appears to have been the Northwestern part of South Asia. There seems to have been two species,

  1. Gossypium arboreum
  2. Gossypium horbaceum

Three samples of cotton, dated circa B.C. 1760 have been found in Mohenjodaro. Two items constitute the base fibre for string but there is also a small 34 count cotton woven fragment comprising 60 ends and 20 picks per inch. A portion of one of the strings tested showed that the cotton was of the G.arboreum variety. Both varieties existed in their perennial forms in areas with adequate water and warm temperature. The appearance of the annual variety of G.herbaceum, which could be diffused over a larger area is dated circa late 6th early 7th centuries A.D. and its earliest appearance is associated with the Turfan region of Sinkiang. It soon became the predominent species in India as well. The highest achievement in the area of textiles in India are associated with manipulation of this fibre.[2]

Indian Predelictions in colour and levels attained in Dye Technology

By and large, Early Indian predelictions in colour tended towards a sober palate. The range of colour in cotton dyeing was based on:

  • Blue and Black from Indigofera tinctoria
  • Black from iron acetate or a ferrugenous earth from Kutch called Khayo
  • Red from either Rubia cordifolia, Morinda citrifolia or Ventilago madraspatana
  • Yellow from Curcuma longa (turmeric), Punica granatam (pomegranate rind) or Mangifera indica (mango bark extract)

Different shades could be obtained by combining individual dyeing procedures.

Tanning and mordanting were very important pre-dyeing operations for cotton. In Egypt mordanting in linen was practiced but the importance of tanning for fixing of the mordant was mastered in India. There is some variation in methods of dyeing and dyes used in the range of fibres such as silk and wool. In the case of silk, efficient degumming is essential for success in subsequent dyeing operations. Generally, the yarn rather than the woven fabric has been dyed.

Techniques of patterning achieved through variation in colour are associated with the practice of ikat, plangi, painting or block printing. Batik as practiced in Indonesia involving usage of cold dyes is alien to the Indian tradition. However, in Mundhra, Kutch, there is a tradition of resist dyeing in which the resist paste, minia, is made of a mixture of top soil of goats pens which includes goats droppings, gugul local incense resin, olibanum, Fuller’s earth and gum made into paste consistency which withstands hot dyeing. The colour palette comprised red, white and black. The earliest methods of dye patterning were accomplished by resisting through knotting of either the yarn as in ikat, or the finished product, as in plangi/bandhani, prior to processes of colouration. Fabrics could also be dye-patterned either by means of painting, or by stamping of mordant and resist with wooden blocks, the end product was called Kalamkari or Cit. A variation of block printing restricted to silk guaze was the clamp resist method practiced in Gujarat. Tie & dye may be practiced on wool, silk and cotton. In India painting and stamping has tended to predominate on cotton.[2]

Indian Loom Technology

Fig. 1. Pitloom: Horizontal counter balance pit loom with shafts and treadles. This loom is positioned within the living accomodation of the weaver and therefore, allows for integration with other domestic activities and pasttimes. Note the narrow reed. This loom is used for weaving tribal loin cloths. Weaver, Sri Rama Bhai Wanker, Chota Udepur, Gujarat. Courtesy: INSA.[5]
Fig. 2. Shed Formation: In order to create a shed, the suspended heddle shaft is slightly lifted. A flat stick is inserted in the small shed formed. This stick is then turned on its side to get a wider opening. The counter shed is formed by taking out the flat stick and bringing the shed rod closer to the heddle shaft. Although there is a continuous warp, usually the full warp is stretched out horizontally. Courtesy: INSA.[6]

The loom has been defined by Dorothy Burnham as,

“any device for weaving on which the warp may be arranged and openings for the passage of the weft formed through it by a shedding mechanism.”

The predominant loom in India has been the pitloom of the horizontal counter-balance treadle type (Refer Fig.1). Broadly speaking, on the basis of ethnological evidence, the evolution of the Indian loom could be postulated as follows:

  • At the first stage, the loom may have had shed sticks and heddles (Refer Fig.2).
  • Next came the introduction of the reed that maintained even spacing and tension and served to comb the warp ends in course of weaving; As also the shaft, treadle and, perhaps, the barrell dobby (Refer Fig.3).
Fig. 3. Barrel dobby mechanism: The loom used for weaving Karvathi Kati dhoti. Photographed at Suraj Mela, 1987. Courtesy: INSA.[7]
Fig. 4. Loin loom and loom parts: 1. Bamboo which serves the same purpose as the warp beam in a horizontal loom. 2. Thin bamboo rod which acts as a lease rod. 3. Bamboo shod stick. 4. Thin bamboo heddle stick which holds the yarn heddles. 5. Wooden beater. 6. Wooden rods which serve the same purpose as the cloth beam in a horizontal loom. 7. Leather back-strap. 8. The continuous warp. 9. The woven fabric. 10. Mat spread on the floor on which the weaver sits. Courtesy: INSA.[8]

The loin or body tension loom is used in the northeastern part of the country. It is a very early loom type used extensively in East and Southeast Asia in which the weaver regulates tension by moving backwards or forwards as required in course of weaving. This movement releases the warp threads and also facilitates the separation of the sheds (Refer Fig. 4, 5 & 6).

Fig. 5. Change of shed in loin loom 1: 1. Lease rod. 2. Bamboo shod stick. 3. Heddle rod. 4. Yarn to make the heddle. 5. Weft. Courtesy: INSA.[9]

The loom used for Patola (double ikat) weaving in Patan, Gujarat, receives support from above and the sides. It is bereft of a treadle mechanism. It is a single harness loom with provision for two sheds. Every alternative warp end is threaded through a half heddle. Thus the shedding arrangement is based upon the division of the warp ends into two units. The shed rod is used to form one shed and half heddles for the formation of the second. These groupings of odd and even ends interlace alternately in course of weaving. The weaving sword helps in extending each shed opening and is used for beating in the weft. The resultant weave is an even tabby (Refer Fig.7).

Fig. 6. Change of Shed in loin loom 2: 1. Lease rod. 2. Bamboo shod stick. 3. New position of the heddle rod. 4. Weft. Courtesy: INSA.[10]

Ornamentation on the loom can be achieved by introducing variations in color while maintaining a simple tabby weave (Refer to Fig.8 for structure of tabby weave).

Fig. 7. Patola Loom and parts: 1. Pole for fastening the loom. 2. Warp beam. 3. Ditto. 4. Stick. 5,6,7. Cross mechanism with indented stick. 8. Shed rod. 9. Pressure bar with handle. 10. Heddle rod mechanism and heddles. 11. Sword. 12. Breast beam. 13. Shuttle. Courtesy: INSA.[11]

Similar effects can be achieved by using double cloth techniques in which warp ends are manipulated at two or more levels by relevant shafts and heddles. An example of this technique may be found in the khes of Punjab. The item categorised as khes in Pakistan corresponds to the article in Fig. 9. In India, however, there appears to have been two categories, khes and majnu. Khes is a rough quality off-white or checked handloom material used as wrapper in Punjab. According to Sri D.N. Vij, Panipat Textile Handicrafts, Panipat, majnu is a double cloth with a patterning as shown in Fig. 9.

Fig. 8. Structure of tabby weave. Courtesy: INSA.[12]

The technique was ascribed by him to Multan.

Items similar in patterning and technique and dated between the 12th and 16th centuries in the Dumbarton Oaks, collection, U.S.A., have been assigned an Egyptian provenance. This corresponds to the period between the Ayyubid and Mamluk dynasties thus reinforcing a Near Eastern origin for the sub- category called majnu in India

However, the double cloth technique also appears to have enjoyed an indigenous base. This is evidenced in the Deccani double coloured Pitambar sari, a silken ritual garment in which each side of the sari presents a completely different colour field. However, the multiple cloths which evolved in the Near East have been absent in the Indian tradition.

Fig. 9. Samples of majnu. Courtesy: INSA.[13]

One of the characteristics of the Indian loom has been the intensive use of shafts and treadles to achieve extra warp and weft patterning. For extra warp however, an ingenious device, the barrel dobby is much in evidence today. The dobby was patented in England but its roots may well lie in shaft and peddle devices used in extra warp ornamentation as in the Paithani loom, Maharashtra.

Fig. 10: Shaft and Peddle attachments. Note narrow width of border, geometrical mirror, image motifs and bobbin used. Courtesy: INSA.[14]

For narrow weaving as in borders, Pagris, and for cross borders, looms with multiple shafts have proved popular solutions (Refer Fig.10-11). For weaving of newar and patti, used in providing the base on bed frames and for winding around the calves of persons having to stand for long periods, variations of the fixed heddle and looms with shafts have been used. Such looms are in operation to this day in Wadhwan, Gujarat. Tablet weaving (Refer Fig.12) is used as a finishing technique for dhablas, used as shawls or as body garments in Gujarat. It also appears to have been utilised in the weaving of tapes (Refer Fig. 13) used for tying bundles of manuscripts of a religious nature.

Fig. 12 Tablet weaving apparatus. Courtesy: INSA.[15]

Fabrics can also be ornamented by

  1. Jamdani: In Jamdani, which falls under the category' of Supplementary weft inlaid, pattern ends are manually lifted with the pattern weft and ground weft positioned within the same shed (Refer Fig. 14-15). Major centres of Jamdani have been Dhaka, Tanda, Uppada and Paithan.
  2. Slit: Slit tapestry (Refer Fig.16), an early technique associated with Coptic tapestry, is found in the panja dari (Refer Fig. 17)
  3. Single and Double interlock: Single and double interlock occur in Kani Pashmina to mention one example (Refer Fig. 18-19).
  4. Dovetail tapestry techniques: Refer Fig. 20. The prime example of dovetail tapestry is the Kulu and Kinnaur body wrapper of Himachal Pradesh.
Fig. 11 Manipulation of Peddles with the big toe of each foot. Courtesy: INSA.[16]

None of these methods of weaving involve usage of elaborate loom procedures. The investment is in terms of manual skill. In fact, the Jamdani and tapestry both pre-date the introduction of the Islamic repertoire in weaves.

Fig. 13 Tapes for tying manuscripts, possibly made in Varanasi acquired in A.D. 1885. It is double faced in reversible colour. Courtesy: INSA.[17]

In South India where garments follow the mode of the ground fabric being fashioned in one colour with borders of another, the interlock is found at junctions where two opposing weft coloured picks are united. Since three separate shuttles are used in this category of weaving, this is also called the three shuttle technique (Refer Fig.21).

Fig. 15. Lifting of warp ends for design area in Moirangphee fabric done through the Jamdani technique. Courtesy: INSA.[18]
Fig. 14. Structure of Jamdani fabric. 1. Warp, 2. Weft, 3. Supplementary weft. Courtesy: INSA.[19]

The major differentiation between the North and South Indian schema in ornamentation is that in the former there is greater reliance on weft patterning whereas in the latter there has been a greater orientation to warp ornamentation. This is reflected in loom typology. The ability to experiment with weft structures is associated with the development of the reed which ensures a more even separation of ends and maintenance of tension. The reed number is related to the count of the yarn, and this in turn, conforms to the structure of the fabric. Its presence on the loom would also facilitate the working of loom attachments such as multiple shafts and harnesses.

Fig. 16. Structure of slit tapestry as in Panja dari. Courtesy: INSA.[20]

The level at which major innovations to the loom begin to taper off is marked at the point when the harness attachment, associated with the drawloom, comes into existence. Functionally, the mechanism of the North, simplistically called the Banaras jala, and that of the South identified through the terms, jhungu and adai, are similar.

Fig. 17. Panja Dari. Courtesy: INSA.
Fig. 18. Structure of single weft interlock found, on occasion, in Kani Pashmina. Courtesy: INSA.[21]

However, there is a wide disparity if these are viewed from the points of view of origin and chronology.

  1. The Banaras Jala is derived from the Persian drawloom which achieved its specific identity under the Seljuks, A.D. 1038-1194. This would place the Banaras jala well within the medieval period.
  2. The lineage of the adai and jhungu (Refer Fig.22) on the other hand, can be traced to the Malay Kota Bahru and the Chinese Han dynasty derived Kuala Trengganu loom of Thailand. In adai, the weaver manipulates the extra warp ends by pulling jhungu, tassels attached to these ends above the loom. While a helper standing to the side of the loom operates the harness for elaborate weft ornamentation.[2]
Fig. 19. Structure of double interlock found in Kani Pashmina and Paithani borders on Pallus. Courtesy: INSA.[22]


Fig. 20. Structure of dovetailing. This is found in Panja dari weaves and border ornamentation of Kulu and Kinnaur weaves, Himachal Pradesh. Courtesy: INSA.[23]

In the absence of archaeological evidence and written records pertaining to textile technology, any attempt to trace the evolution of this technology during the ancient period has to be based on ethnographic evidence and craft tradition. Methodological problems arise which can be traced to the implicit dichotomy between historical evidence for which an established time frame and chronology are of prime importance, and ethnological evidence which cuts through the barrier of time and finds its anchorage in cultural modes. However, there is an innate logic in the latter which facilitates identification of false presumptions, bringing inferences made in this sphere into line with hard historical evidence. It is this methodology which has been adopted in this review aimed at tracing textile technology of the ancient period in India.[2]

Fig. 21. Structure of three shuttle weaving. Courtesy: INSA.[24]
Fig. 22. The Adai Loom. 1. Comber Board. 2. Harness. 3. Maileyers. 4. Varnish Healds. 5. Lingo. 6. Jungus. 7. Shafts. 8. Reed. 9. Cloth beam. 10. Warp beam. 11. Cross threads. 12. Cross border Jungus. 13. Pedals. Courtesy: INSA.[25]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dr. M.D. Srinivas & Dr. J.K. Bajaj, The Indian Tradition in Science and Technology: An Overview.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 A. K. Bag (1997), History of Technology in India (Vol.I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy.
  3. Maitrayani Samhita, Kanda 3, Prapathaka 6.
  4. Taittiriya Samhita, Kanda 6, Prapathaka 1.
  5. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.366, Fig.4.
  6. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.363, Fig.3b.
  7. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.363, Fig.5.
  8. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.368, Fig.6a.
  9. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.369, Fig.6b.i.
  10. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.369, Fig.6b.ii.
  11. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.371, Fig.7a.
  12. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, P.373, Fig.8.
  13. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.374. Fig.9b.
  14. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.374. Fig.11b.
  15. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.376. Fig.13.
  16. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.374. Fig.11c.
  17. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.377. Fig.14.
  18. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.378. Fig.15b.
  19. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.377. Fig.15a.
  20. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.378. Fig.16a.
  21. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.379. Fig.16b.
  22. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.379. Fig.16c.
  23. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.379. Fig.16d.
  24. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.382. Fig.20.
  25. A. K. Bag, History of Technology in India (Vol. I), New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, Lotika Varadarajan & Krishna Amin Patel, Textile Technology, p.382. Fig.21.