Bangladeshi researchers have revived Dhaka muslin, a coveted handloom-based fine cotton fabric that now has a better chance of commercial production.
The British colonial rulers suppressed the production of the highly esteemed Mughal-era cloth, which could be passed through a finger ring, in order to promote their own machine-spun muslin and textiles in Indian and European markets.
The Dhaka muslin, named after the Bangladeshi city, was well-known throughout the world in the 17th and early 18th centuries, particularly in Europe.
Across the Indian subcontinent, many varieties of handloom-based muslin existed, but the Dhaka muslin was distinctive and valuable, according to Md. Monzur Hossain, a botany professor at the University of Rajshahi and the research team’s leader.
“The British quickly realised the value of Dhaka muslin. They began making their own muslin by importing vital components, cotton plants, and expert labour from Bengal, now Bangladesh, to Europe. “However, their machine-spun British fabrics were neither as profitable nor as beautiful as the Dhaka muslin,” Hossain explained.
Following that, British rulers imposed limitations on weavers, thus halting the manufacturing of Dhaka muslin.
He continued, “There was talk that British rulers in Dhaka hacked off the fingers of muslin weavers.”
According to historical archives, Mughal rulers heavily supported the production of Dhaka muslin during the pre-colonial Mughal era, which had faced hostile treatment during the British colonial era.
Muslin makes a valiant effort to return.
Mohsina Akter began working at the project four years ago as a spinner.
“It necessitates extreme patience and focus.” “To spin the fine thread through the wooden spinning wheels, your mind must be calm and quiet,” she explained.
“It was the most challenging task I’d ever had.” Spinning delicate cotton requires only the sensitive fingers of women. Spinners must undergo finger treatment, and only female spinners are capable of producing excellent yarn on wooden spinning wheels.”
It also necessitates ideal weather, since hot or unstable air can make producing fine cotton difficult, she explained.
“To weave 1 inch of cloth, it takes eight hours of nonstop labour.” If we lose focus, the yarn will rip and the entire task will be reversed.”
To resuscitate the Dhaka muslin, a research team lead by Hossain was organised. The researchers went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to examine and evaluate 30 genuine muslin samples.
“It took nearly six years of laborious labour to resuscitate something we had never touched or seen before,” he told the Anadolu Agency.
First, we advertised around the country to see whether anyone had a sample or knew anything about Dhaka muslin and Phuti karpas, a Gossypium arboreum cotton type.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to locate any Dhaka muslin specimens.”
Meanwhile, we marketed several known photographs of the cotton plant, which is required to weave the Dhaka muslin.
Later, they received 39 samples of cotton plants from various locations, including Gazipur District in the Kapasia subdistrict near Dhaka, and luckily, one sample’s DNA matched 96 percent of the time, according to Hossain.
We initially only trained six workers in spinning during the training process. We now have 172 spinners and 22 pairs of weavers, according to Mohammad Ayub Ali, the director of the muslin resurrection initiative.
We trained workers from adjacent Jamdani saree companies since Jamdani is fine cotton manufactured in a same manner to muslin, he explained
“We established a Dhaka muslin project near the Shitalakshya River, where the lost muslin industry was established,” Ali, who is also a senior official of the state-owned Bangladesh Handloom Board, said.
The ‘billion-dollar brand’ of precious muslin
“A beautiful Dhaka muslin woven cloth needs a great deal of time and work. As a result, it is expensive, and it is unlikely to be reduced very soon. It would assist if we can include new textile technologies into the process,” Hossain remarked.
There had been 14 independent professional groups involved in creating Dhaka muslin products, including one dedicated only to spinning yarn, weaving, and cotton plant farming, and if such professional groups are established, the cost and effort for producing Dhaka muslin items will be reduced.
“However, the handmade technique and the peculiarity of muslin are still highly prized,” Hossain continued, noting that “a single saree costs 360,000 takas (about $4,145).”
“The Dhaka muslin already has a large international market.” We had to visit and meet textile industry representatives from a variety of nations, and they expressed an interest in commercial production, claiming that the Dhaka muslin is now a billion-dollar brand.”
Officials from the government, on the other hand, claim that their goal is to bring the Dhaka market back to life completely.
“Any private initiative for commercial and mass production of the cotton plant will be much appreciated.” “The geographical indicator of muslin has already been secured by Bangladesh,” Ali said, referring to a symbol placed on products with a certain geographical origin.