Bhagalpur is known as silk city as it is famous worldwide for its silk production. The silk industry in this city is hundreds of years old and a whole clan exists that has been producing silk for generations.
Bhagalpur Silk which was China’s best-guarded secret for centuries, has now become synonymous with Bhagalpur. Both Hindu and Buddhist texts have showered praise on the silk fabrics woven in ancient Champapuri, modern Bhagalpur where silk has been the mainstay of economy with hundreds of families associated with it for generation.
The other main production centres are the states of Karnataka, West Bengal Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Assam and to some extent, Jammu Kashmir.
Bhagalpur silk weavers, whose products are in demand in international markets as well, also use Chinese and Korean threads.
European traders in India often turned to Bhagalpur which was famous for trade on cloth that fetched high value in Europe.
In the last quarter of the 18th century CE, Bhagalpur was popular with the European indigo planters who acquired extensive landed properties. To Bishop Herber, who visited Bhagalpur in 1829, the city was one of the healthiest places in India.
When silk was first discovered, it was reserved exclusively for the use of the ruler. It was permitted only to the emperor, his close relations and the highest dignitaries. Within the palace, the emperor is believed to have worn a robe of white silk; outside, he, his principal wife and the heir to the throne wore yellow, the colour of the earth.
Gradually, however various classes of society began wearing tunics of silk, and the fabric of the classes became that of the masses.
Apart from being used for clothing and decoration, silk was quite quickly put to industrial use by the Chinese and it became one of the principal elements of the Chinese economy. Silk was used on musical instruments, fishing-line, bowstrings, bonds of all kinds and even rag paper the world’s first luxury paper.
Silk became a precious commodity, and it is believed that the silk trade actually started even before the Silk Road, the trade route of ancient Chinese civilisation, was officially opened in the second century BCE.
Mulberry, the cultivated silkworm, feeds on the leaves of the mulberry tree, mostly cultivated in Karnataka and Kashmir. This variety is also available with the weavers of Bhagalpur.
The famous Matka silk is obtained from waste Mulberry silk by way of hand spinning and without removing the gum. The cocoons required to produce Matka are found in Karnataka and Kashmir, but spinning is mostly some in the villages of Malda and Murshidabad districts in West Bengal and some parts of Bihar.
Muga belongs to the same family as Tussar. It is popular for its natural golden colour, glossary fine textures and durability. Muga silk is produced by an endemic species in the Brahmaputra valley and adjoining hills in the northeast region.