Sensuous and beautiful, durable and strong, this golden yellow silk of Assam is used in saris and traditional Assamese attire, ‘mekhla chaddar’. Assam’s golden silk is from a caterpillar, Antheraea assama that feeds on the leaves of Som and Soalu trees.
Silkworms and silk: Silkworm eggs (popularly known as seeds) are laid out on the Som and Soalu leaves to hatch out into caterpillars about 2mm long. They grow rapidly, eat voraciously and end up about 30 mm long after four to five weeks. During this time, they change skins four times.
After the final skin change straw frames are provided in which silkworms make its cocoon. Cocoon making takes further eight days. Man interferes this life cycle at the cocoon stage to obtain the silk, a continuous filament of commercial importance, used in weaving silk, the dream fabric.
These silk worms yield a beautiful golden thread that is much sought after for its colour and sheen. It takes the silkworm another three to four days to transform into a pupa and another 15 days for the moth to emerge, but this is not allowed to take place for all.
Muga silk is named after Assamese word "Muga" which indicates the amber (brown) colour of cocoon. It is popular for its natural golden colour, glossy fine texture and durability. Muga silk is hardy in character. It endures for years and improves with each washing.
Design and Color: Trees, creepers, leaves, flowers, peacocks, birds and animals in stylized forms, as well as traditional tribal motifs are woven or embroidered onto the muga silk fabric. The rich, golden fabric is resplendent in traditional colors like red, green and black and newer entrees such as yellow, blue, beige, silver, copper pink and brown. Wedding saris are adorned with gold and silver thread work. The looms are narrow; so, the borders are woven separately and then stitched on, which is another facet special to the Assamese Muga sari.
Legend: Muga was worn only by Ahom kings and noble families of Assam for six hundred years. It was unknown to the outer world until 1662 when Jean Joseph Tavernier, a French explorer, traveled through Assam.
Cost: A good Assamese Muga silk saree could cost anywhere between Rs 8,000-Rs 20,000 or above.
by Chandana Banerjee