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From Vedic era to modern fabrics: The fascinating journey of Indian textiles


From silk strands found in jewellery excavated from Harappa and Chanhu-daro, and a cotton fragment found attached to a metal tool in Mohenjo-daro, to modern synthetic fabrics, India’s journey in the field of textile is long and chequered. Interestingly the Sanskrit word for cotton is karpasa, which is related to the Latin carbasus and Greek karpos. While there are no doubts that cotton cloth was used in the Harappan times, the Vedas however do not make any direct references to cotton, though there are innumerable references to spinning, weaving, and designing of textiles (guna, dasa, tusa, tarka, etc).


Many needles and spindles found at the Harappan sites suggest that woven clothes were worn that were embroidered. The various temple sculptures and the Ajanta wall paintings give us a beautiful insight into the textile types in vogue at that time. The Ajanta frescoes depict the various musicians, dancers, servants, and aristocracy wearing separate lower and upper garments with patterns of resist tie and dye, brocade and ikat. There are also distinct differences between the clothes worn by the rich, the poor, and the priests.


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