In ancient times, India held the monopoly in manufacturing cotton textiles. Fibre2Fashion looks at the country's global textile exports where India is still a force to reckon with.


For about 3,000 years from 1500 BC to 1500 AD, India had the monopoly in manufacturing cotton textiles.


India has a rich regional textile tradition. That can be traced as far back as the Indus Valley Civilisation. Records of ancient Indian textile traditions exist mostly in literature and in sculptures. So, there is archaeological evidence of cotton textile at Mohenjo Daro in the Indus Valley around 3000 BC. People used homespun cotton. Needles made of wood and bones have been found in Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. This signifies that cotton was being spun at home to make yarn and garments in those ancient times.


In the Rig Veda, there is evidence regarding Indian textiles and carpet weaving. Even the Ramayana and the Mahabharata mention different types of fabrics. Apparel worn by aristocrats is often mentioned in the Ramayana. However, the method of producing textiles differed from those used today. Cotton production and its trade linked the different regions of India. The country's silk was also popular. It was fashionable in Rome. During the Middle Ages, there was huge demand for Indian cotton textiles in east Asian and European markets. Indian textiles were more important to Dutch and the English than to the Portuguese.


With the advent of technology, there has been huge development in cotton production. Yet, traditional fabrics continue to be in demand. So, original concepts are being combined with innovation and technological developments. India is a major garment exporter. That has contributed to the economic development of the nation. Despite advancements in technology, in many areas the textile industry respects traditional methods. So, the government has put in place policies for the small scale sector. This in turn decentralises both traditional and modern aspects of fabric design.


For centuries, India has used traditional ways to manufacture cotton and garments. After agriculture, it is our textile industry which has provided vast employment opportunities for both skilled and unskilled labour. Hence, the textile industry can be considered the second in employment generation with over 36 million workers today.

Laying it out

In the 16th century, Mughal emperors brought carpet weaving to India. It is said that Babur was disappointed with the rugs he found in India. He missed the luxury of the Persian carpet. Yet, it was Akbar who, in 1520 AD, brought in carpet weavers from Persia to teach prisoners the art of weaving and designing carpets. Those carpets were made only for royalty to lay out in palaces or give as gifts. Since there was no shortage of money and labour, it often took around 15 years to finish a single carpet. The jails of Agra, Lahore and Bikaner became centres of carpet excellence.