Manchester of the East

Sualkuchi, the expensive village of silk weavers and traders is often referred to as Manchester of the East.
Manchester of the East

Hrishikesh Sarma

(The writer can be reached at

Assamese women are born weavers, they can weave fairy-tales in their cloth —Mahatma Gandhi

Sualkuchi, the expensive village of silk weavers and traders is often referred to as Manchester of the East. It was established 370 years ago as a model of the modern-day export promotion zone, but sericulture began flourishing here in the 4th century B.C. when it was called Swarnakuchi (golden zone). The name is attributable to muga (derived from the worm Antheraea assama) or the gold-hued silk peculiar to Assam.

Sualkuchi is often referred to as the Manchester of the East. Sualkuchi is a small hamlet in Assam with many cottage industries of handlooms, which is situated at 35 km from Guwahati located in the north banks of the Brahmaputra. The village in Assam that is known to produce golden threads as it produces one of the best quality silks that is found only in Assam known as Muga Golden Silk. Every house in Sualkuchi has silk factories with traditional bamboo looms.

Silk is known as Golden. As Muga silk is the golden colour silk that is found only in Assam from a silk worm which feeds on leaves which needs as many as thousands of cocoons for waving a single Mekhela (Assamese traditional attire) which is labour extensive. This organic silk is also Ahimsa silks as these are produced by cocoons of the silk worms without killing a single worm. This silk is very soft and organic which is good for our health. Silk industry is a very old and traditional cottage industry of India which plays an important role in the socio-economic development of the rural people. It is only next to agriculture in terms of employment generation potential. Being an industry and run on cottage lines, it extends non-farm employment opportunities to all members of the family. The silk industry helps the rural artisans in generating sustainable income for their livelihood.

Gandhiji found a special place in his heart the moment he reached there on January 9, 1946. Having run a massive campaign in favour of khadi, he discovered in Sualkuchi how the Assamese have been weaving khadi, paat, muga and endi fabrics the way he always wanted people to. There was an exhibition where two weavers, one of them being Late Rajen Deka, a goldsmith made a statue. He tried his hand at spinning some yarn too, after which he addressed a prayer meeting attended by about forty thousand men and women, both Hindu and Muslims. While he was told that women in Assam sang sweetly during their work, including when they are spinning or weaving, Gandhiji noticed that some women had not joined the bhajan that was being sung in the prayer meeting.

The silk industry in India is quite famous from time immemorial. With the analysing the human culture, civilization, customs, traditions, legends and some festivals we can able to know about the history of silk industry. India has a glorious tradition of silk industry along with its civilization. Veda, the oldest scripture in the world mentioned about the silk and silk moth. Silk was mentioned not only in Veda, but also in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata etc.

The history of silk industry in Assam dates back to the Koutilya's Arthasastra. Silk weaving is attached to the heart of the Assamese women folk. In the past, every family in Assam had at least one handloom to meet the domestic requirements. Silk weaving is the traditional and age-old cottage industry of Assam. Irrespective of caste and social status, each and every Assamese woman knew the art of weaving. In the State Sualkuchi of the Kamrup district is a place of great significance from the point of view of silk weaving on handloom.

The silk industry of Sualkuchi is considered as 'silk town' for its contribution to the industry and in fact it constitutes the centre of silk industry in Assam. People from different parts of the world are fascinated by the clothes produced from muga and mulberry silk by the Sualkuchi weavers. At present 17,000 looms are engaged in the Sualkuchi silk weaving industry. Among these looms, 7,000 muga looms and other 10,000 are mulberry looms. Among the 17,000 weavers, 12,056 weavers are migrated from different places of the state. Male weavers are approximately 6,000 and other 11,000 are female weavers. Total quantity of silk fabric production per annum is 31 lakhs square metre. The silk town had provided direct employment to 17,000 weavers, 8,000 helpers, and it also provided indirect part time employment as yam winders, muga reelers, and on management. Therefore the Sualkuchi silk industry can generate employment to nearly 34,000 people.

In Sualkuchi silk weaving industry, 70 per cent weavers are female weavers. So it is an important aspect of the industry that women folk played the pivotal role in developing the rural economy. It has also provided some source of livelihood to the economically weaker sections of the society - the schedule caste, and the scheduled tribes. The contribution of Sualkuchi silk town to the socio-cultural life of the Assamese people is another source of significance. From ecological point of view also, silk industry is very important. As silk industry is dependent on plant varieties, it may maintain the environmental degradation by expanding areas of green covers the earth.

Assam Tourism Development Corporation is giving special emphasis on this place as this is the only place in Northeast India where muga silk is available which is also known as golden. Chairman Shri Jayanta Malla Baruah and Vice-Chairman Navadeep Kalita have visited the place and have taken many steps regarding the development of Sualkuchi Silk industry. Assam Tourism has made Silk Yarn Centre so that tourists from different place can come and see the process, not only this they have done a lot.

The Sualkuchi silk handloom industry is surviving because of the hard work and dedications of the weavers. Both government and people of Assam should give more importance so that we can promote our identity in different parts of the World, by keeping Gandji's ideology. Let's celebrate 151st birthday of Mahatma Gandhi by remembering his ideology and working on it. 

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