Excavated Ruins of Mohenjo Daro (Indus Valley Civilization)

Photo of excavated ruins of Mohenjo Daro; Over 5,000 years ago, citizens of the Indus Valley Civilization wove, wore, and traded in cotton – India’s most ancient cash crop (Source: Photographer Saqib Qayyum, Wikimedia Commons) 

Excavations in Mohenjo-Daro, the Indus Valley Civilization city of 3,000 B.C. have found traces of cotton preserved in vessels. Other historical records from the Middle East and Central Asia indicate that cotton was widely traded by India across the world well before the 1st century A.D. By the time British rule was established in India, India was the largest cotton-producing company in the world after the US. While cultivation was India’s forte, British colonial rule prevented any form of cotton weaving and finished cloth from Britain was forced upon Indian consumers. This provided the cornerstone for Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle for India’s independence. Gandhi was the original Khadi weaver. Every day, as a matter of principle and to set an example to the Indian people, Gandhi spun his own thread and wove his own apparel – a meagre loincloth – as an act of defiance against the British.

Gandhi Spinning Khadi Cotton at his Chakra

Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian nation, is associated all over the world with this image – of wearing a simple loincloth and sitting at his chakra every day to spin cotton yarn (Source: Wikimedia Commons) 

 Khadi cotton weaving has since continued with a devoted fervour among NGOs and cooperatives around India. However, the cotton and textile industry in India, has suffered dramatically since the 1980s, firstly due to strikes that stymied textile mills, and secondly due to indefatigable competition from China. Synthetic materials like polyester have also put cotton textile production on the back foot. Khadi handloom weaving – its unique quality, hand-crafted nature, and compelling story – is putting up a tough fight for survival in India today. Because of its legacy and association with Gandhi and the powerful source of employment and empowerment it provides rural weavers, Khadi is more popular in the Indian market than industrial woven cotton. 

Cotton Processing and Sorting in India

Formidable competition from China is making it difficult for India’s cotton textile industry to keep pace (Source: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; http://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/image/10736)

The Deccan Plateau is famed for its volcanic black soil and abundant monsoon rains that irrigate the land perfectly for cotton cultivation. Black, red, and soil rich in alluvium are generously spread across the South Indian Deccan state of Telengana which, as a result, can grow the longest staple cotton fibre variety in India. Its length, quality, and sheen render it the ideal cotton for apparel. The handloom cotton used by Sihasn was sourced by Blue Lotus, a Hyderabad-based enterprise that works with over 100 weavers and 25 spinners of cotton. Blue Lotus was the brainchild of social entrepreneur, Durgalakshmi Venkataswamy. She has ensured that the final woven handloom cotton cloth accesses the markets and has outlets for sales. Besides being a veritable source of employment for Telengana cotton weavers, Blue Lotus is committed to delivering strictly organic products; its weavers utilize only natural dyes on their woven cloths.

Cotton Picking’ and under image, provide the following heading: “In India, cotton picking, processing, spinning, and weaving is a major source of employment and empowerment (Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Claude Renault)”