Eri silk is a Bodo legacy. Known for its elegant usability, natural sheen and beautiful texture, this silk is closely associated with the cultural ethos and traditions of Bodo society. The art of rearing the Eri silkworm, spinning and weaving has been an intrinsic part of the Bodo way of life large bundles of silkworms and yarn are common in Bodo courtyards. Young graphic designer Susovan Das remembers his grandfather draping a gorgeous Eri silk shawl before stepping out for any social occasion. Susovan&rsquos family has lived in Assam for over three generations. Even today, his grandfather&rsquos off-white Eri silk shawl is admired in the family, a graceful garment that distinguishes the older generation in these parts. No wonder any piece made with this heavy yet fluid silk is worthy of being an heirloom.
The Bodo Territorial Region is the largest producer of Eri raw silk in Assam, with over 44,000 families in nearly 1,700 villages practising some sericulture. A total of 7,750 acres of land is under silkworm food plants, half of which is grown with castor (and more recently tapioca) that the Eri silkworm feeds on. Samia ricini, the silkmoth that yields this beautiful yarn, feeds predominantly on the castor plant, taking its Latin name from the plant Ricinus communis. Even the common names ofEri, Endi or Errandi are derived from local names for the castor plant.
As if its beauty isn&rsquot reason enough, Eri silk is desirable for another compelling reason. Unlike other types of silk, which require the silkworm to be killed in its cocoon stage, Eri silk is cultivated after the moth naturally leaves the cocoon. For this reason, Eri silk is known as &lsquopeace silk&rsquo or &lsquoahimsa silk&rsquo. It has a unique appeal for those wanting to opt for ethically sourced textiles and against animal cruelty. Open-mouthed, these cocoons are then spun like wool. This process of an open-ended cocoon is unique to Eri silk.
In Kokrajhar, the Bodoland Silk Park offers a fine showcase of the silks of Bodoland. A centre to promote and facilitate sericulture, the Park has a cocoon bank, a spun mill, a printing unit and a pupae processing unit &ndash which provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of the silk-making process. One can also visit the weaving unit nearby or request a guided tour of the silk-rearing villages. The government has undertaken fresh initiatives to promote silk in the past few years. Recently, the foundation for an apparel and garment unit was laid under the &lsquoSoil to Silk&rsquo project at Bodoland Silk Park, Adabari, Kokrajhar.
The versatile yarn can be made into all sorts of garments shawls, stoles, saris, and even stitched clothing. It blends well with cotton, wool, jute and even mulberry silk to create exotic home furnishings and fabric. Easy to maintain, these garments can be washed as well. Dr Jogesh Deuri, Director of Sericulture, Bodoland Territorial Council, who has dedicated his life to promoting Bodo Silk, outlined these stunning attributes of Eri. It is interesting to notice that while undyed Eri silk is usually off-white, the cocoons of Kokrajhar are a unique reddish coppery hue caused by some unknown quirk of feed or climate.
Since it can be spun from coarse to very fine yarns, it yields a unique matte finish with a hint of natural sheen. Like good wine, Eri silk matures with age, its sheen and texture getting finer over the years. Interestingly, Eri silk is a thermal marvel, keeping you cool in summer and warm in the winter. This textile is hypoallergenic and is particularly suited to people with sensitive skin. Given the labour-intensive process, Eri yarn costs 1,500-2,000 INR for a metre of fabric.
The Eri silkmoth is a domesticated poly hybrid and does not exist on its own in nature. Derived from other Samia species, such as Samia canningi and Samia cynthia, this silkmoth has been bred in captivity for hundreds of years and is found only in some parts of the world, including the northwestern part of Assam.
Over the decades, sartorial customs and fashions may have changed in the north-east, with the traditional attires giving way to shirts, pants and jeans. However, in new avatars and ways, Eri silk is making a slow and sure comeback. This gorgeous and highly durable cloth deserves to find pride of place in any wardrobe.
Bodoland Silk Park, Adabari, Kokrajhar 783376, Phone 03661-271260 see www.dosbtc.org
Stoles, shawls, saris and garments from the stores at the park.
A small museum at the Silk Park showcases the beautiful possibilities of Eri Silk, ranging from clothes to side-products of sericulture like soap, lip balm, organic vinegar and gluten-free cassava flour.
Silkworm pupae fry, made with onions and green chillies, is considered a rare delicacy. It is a favourite dish among the Bodo people.
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