Cotton - A natural fibre with magical powers
Author - Divyashree Thacker
Cotton is truly a miracle fibre: it has been spun, woven, and dyed since ancient times, and it is still the most widely used fibre for cloth today. There is almost nothing that cotton can’t be turned into: clothes, bedding, tabletop, furniture, even art.
The first people in Eurasia to grow cotton for clothing, sheets, and towels were the Harappan people, an early civilisation, who migrated from Africa to what is now modern Pakistan, but then the subcontinent of India.
We owe our earliest information about cotton to a series of famous Indian poems written in 600 BC called the Rigveda—one of the most sacred texts of Hinduism. These poems were sung and recited publicly for hundreds of years until they were transcribed into Sanskrit circa 1000 AD.
The rise of Mahatma Gandhi empowered the people of India. Gandhi and his followers were angered by the laws that sent local Indian cotton back to Britain to be milled into cloth, and then sent back to India in which the people were forced to purchase British loomed cotton rather than hand woven khadi. Gandhi saw the revival of local village economies as the key to India's spiritual and economic regeneration and he envisioned homespun khadi as the catalyst for economic independence. He built his strategy around the revival of traditional craftsmanship and skills that would feed local demand with local production.
As part of Gandhi’s policies of civil disobedience and non-cooperation, he encouraged people to boycott British goods, specifically cotton textiles, and encouraged Indians to use homespun and woven khadi.
In India, he adopted the charka or spinning wheel as the symbol of his principle of self-sufficiency.
In 1921, Gandhi launched the movement for all Indians to spin their own cloth or purchase only hand-spun Indian cloth. In protest against the colonial practice of milling Indian-grown cotton in Britain before selling it back to India, Gandhi took to his handloom and wove his own clothes, urging others to follow suit. Soon villagers across India were making their own cloth as a political statement. This ‘cottage’ industry became a staple of the country’s rural economy. Khadi became the fabric of the freedom struggle. The khadi people made in home workshops and small-scale factories supplemented the small incomes they earned toiling in the fields.
Gandhi used khadi as the uniform for the first Non Cooperation movement and the Gandhi cap symbolized the Indo-British battle over the looms of Manchester and a bid for a modern Indian identity.
India grows a large variety of cotton over a range of climatic and edaphic conditions from the sub-montane tract in the extreme north of Punjab to the Tinnevelly district of Tamil Nadu in the extreme south of India; Generally speaking it is an arid region crop and thrives best where rainfall is less than 75 cm.
The soil is no less important. The sticky black cotton soil of Deccan Trap with greater moisture retaining capacity is ideal for cotton cultivation. In India cotton is considered long-staple when the fibre is 2.2 cm and above; it is medium staple, when the tearing length of fibre varies between 22 cm and 1.7 cm, if the length of fibre is below 1.7 cm it is classed as short staple variety.
The Cotton Textile Industry is not a basic industry like iron and steel industry but it forms the largest single industry in India.
Every year the Cotton Textile Industry produces 30% – 35% of the total industrial products in the country. In a developing country like India, the Cotton Textile Industry is very important, for it has to meet the demand for clothes of the Indians and exports too. The Cotton Textile Industry contributes nearly 30% of the value of exports, and employs more than 55 million labours.
Some parts of India, viz., western and southern region are largely dependent on this industry. Besides, many people are engaged in either cotton production, or the garment industry, many factories produce the machines required for the cotton textile industry etc. Thus the Cotton Textile Industry is very important to India’s economy, directly or indirectly. The Cotton Textile Industry is a very important industry in India that started in India in 1818 at Ghusuri near Kolkata but it closed down shortly due to shortage of raw materials.
It really started in 1859 at Mumbai when a textile mill was set up producing cotton cloth.
With regard to cotton acreage, India is second to none in the world, but in total output she ranks a poor fourth; India contributes only 10% of the world production. Cotton holds the first position among the commercial crops in India if its manufacturing aspect is also taken into consideration.
In modern, independent India, the cotton industry could, once again, compete on the world market. There is a still great diversity in the traditions and methods used to produce Indian cotton.
Weavers often work in close family structures where ancient skills are passed from generation to generation and there is a great pride in the work, the fibre and the rich history surrounding even the most simple cotton fabric.