Muslin: History of Pride and Sorrow

Muslin: History of Pride and Sorrow

Muslin is a word that has enchanted the world for the 17th and 18th century for its properties as well as craftsmanship. A pride of Bengal and a worthy opponent of royal clothes all over the world has a rich history. Let us explore today the breathtaking history and the extinction of the world’s finest cloth.

Origin of The Word “Muslin”

The origin of the word Muslin is unclear. Some say the word muslin comes from Mosul, an ancient trading center in Iraq. Again, some think that the word muslin is associated with Musalipattam, the one-time headquarters of a European trading company in southern India.

This word isn’t originated from Persian, Bangla or Sanskrit. Probably the clothes that the Europeans imported from Mosul and the clothes that were brought from other countries of the East through Mosul were called muslin. Then the finest cloth made in Dhaka was called muslin or should say Dhakai Muslin.

Some should say that It’s unclear who gave the name again some would say that it was definitely the Europeans who gave this name. Whoever gave the name, they may be didn’t think that one day this cloth will uphold a whole sub-continent or will be written with the history of pride and agony.

Royal “Muslin” History

When we talk about muslin, Mughal Empire’s name always popped out of history. While in the time of Mughal period the muslin clothing received royal patronage and it ensured another crucial quality certification from the people. Also, the announcement of Dhaka as the capital of Muslin made the trading of muslin to spread far from China to the Middle Eastern Country. The quality, the semitransparent look, the finest touch of craftsmanship attracted people from all over the world. Muslin was widely used to made gown or accessories in European countries.

The tradition of the textile industry in Bengal is quite ancient. At one time Bengal’s cotton cloth was exported to Rome and China. It is mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geography, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, and in the descriptions of ancient Chinese travellers.

In 1851, Dhaka muslin became the dominant language in a huge exhibition in London and attracted a large number of visitors. British newspapers and magazines praised the excellence and delicacy of Dhaka muslin cloth.

A rich woman is wearing a muslin dress which expresses elegance and royalty. Muslin history: Fashionnovation

Picture: Muslin as Royalty

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Mughal Bengal emerged as the foremost muslin exporter in the world, with Mughal Dhaka as the capital of the worldwide muslin trade.

Dhakai “Muslin”

The special environment of Dhaka, specially the bank of the river Brahmaputra was perfect to grow the “Phuti” Cotton. A cotton plant from which the cotton fiber was collected to make Dhakai Muslin. Quality of soil, level of moisture and other environmental factors also contributed to the growth of legendary cotton plant.

The threads that were produced from this cotton plant are both soft and strong. Craftsman weaved them by hand into the amazingly fine and beautiful muslin fabrics. Special skills were evolved over the ages and then passed down through the generations. These were used in the spinning and weaving of the amazing muslin fabric.

A picture of Dhakai Muslin.

Dhakai Muslin.

As we are talking about that time when the total Indian subcontinent was under the rule of royalty, The maslin or “Malmal” was not only a type of cloth but it was produced with different count and different fineness. Some type of Muslins are:

  • Malbus Khas Used in Mughal royal family. 1 yard in length 10 yards in width. Weight lifting.
  • Malmal Khas The new muslin that was made for the kings after the Malbus Khas was discontinued in the 18th century.
  • Sarkar-i-Ala Nawab – Subedar used to use it. 1 yard in length 10 yards in width. Weight lifting 10.
  • Ab-e-Rowan was clear as clear water
  • Jhuna The women of the Mughal harem used to wear these clothes. It was also used by women of aristocratic families. The dancers used to dance while wearing clothes made from it.
  • Shabnam so fine that if it was dried on the grass in the morning, it could not be distinguished from dew.
  • Badan Khas used to enhance the beauty of the body of the wearer. Was particularly comfortable. Its weaving would not have been denser.

As mentioned before, muslin is a semi-transparent fabric, sometimes it was considered with fog for its dense look.

History of Agony

Muslin suffered a great loss when people were turning their attention to the machine-made cheap clothing. But not only one cause made the cloth to extinct from the world. So what were the agonies? Why did it extinct?

Cheap “industrial Cloth” vs Royal “Muslin”

During British colonial rule, the muslin industry was made down by various colonial policies, which supported imports of industrially manufactured textiles from Britain. These clothes were cheaper than the Muslin.

With the establishment of the East India Company’s monopoly over the trade of Bengal after the “Battle of Palashi, 1757”, the trade of other European companies and traders belonging to other nationals practically came to a stop.

Pay Tax!

A heavy duty of 75 percent was imposed on the export of cotton from Bengal which ultimately leads to the decline of muslin trade in Bengal because the traders suffered from loss.

Payment for Muslin with blood

Those families who used to made Muslin had to face the cruelty of the government because of the master craftsmanship. Their thumbs were cut off so that they couldn’t pass down the skill to other generation. But some says that the hands of the weavers were not British, but they cut off their own fingers so that the work of weaving would no longer have to be done.
Though the second one don’t have any historical mention but the first one was mentioned by William Bolts.

Thus the history was written and the muslin was extinct and the finest cloth that Bengal could produce was jamdani.

But after a lot of effort, the world again felt the softness of muslin with the revival of Muslin with the help of the Government and some people who wholeheartedly tried to revive the golden past, the glory, The Muslin.

Let’s hear that some other day! Till then stay safe and keep others safe around you!

By Team Bucolic Bohemian,

Umme Memory Mim
Textile Fashion and Design (2018-1-6-012)

Sabiha Moon Taha
Textile Fashion and Design (2019-1-6-006)

Md. Mahmud Hosen
Fabric Engineering (2020-1-2-006)



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History of Silk

You can also read our another article written on the history of pattern and motif!

Muslin: History of Pride and Sorrow

A Traditional Embroidery Art of Bengal-Nakshi Kantha

Nakshi Kantha is one of the most eminent and highly honoured folk arts of Bengal. The word Nakshi Kantha is deeply associated with the tradition of rural Bengal. In the rural houses of Bengal, women create these lushly embroidered quilts that have until recently gone unnoticed and unrecognized outside of the region. The people of this country have been using Nakshi Kantha for a very long time. These embroidered quilts have become an identity maker of the rural women, as they can find an opportunity to express desires, aspirations and sentiments through creative embroidered platform with the help of needles and threads.

History Behind Motifs of Nakshi Kantha

Although it is considered as a work of art for rural women, Nakshi Kantha art is associated with our socio-economic history and tradition. The life story of the kings, the battles, the myths, the love affairs of the men and women are mixed in every weaving of this art. Nakshi Kantha is a wonderful expression of the artistic mind of the women of the village. The embroidered surface of a Kantha contains a variety of folk motifs taken from the artisan’s locality. As the artisans are mostly from rural areas, the motifs are taken from nature, artisans everyday lives or something that they desire.

Kantha Motifs depicting Bengal culture

Bengal culture depicted on each motif.

Most of the motifs are selected mindfully and have their own meanings that carry semiotic importance as they represent an artisan’s self. Besides the multifarious motifs, the color, shape, texture, and size play important roles to convey the meaning and purpose of the craft.

Purpose & Uses

Different kinds of flowers, herbs, elephants, horses, birds, plows, boats, moon, stars, etc. are commonly noticed in these highly decorative artifact.This traditional art was practiced almost in every district of Bengal ; prominently in Rajshahi,Rangpur, Bogra, Pabna, Dinajpur, Kushtia, Faridpur, Jessore, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Cumilla and Sylhet.Because of the individuality of designs and stitches,kanthas are called by different names.Such as-

  • Barka stitch
  • Tejabi stitch
  • Bamboo leaf stitch
  • Kaito stitch
  • Bichha stitch etc.
Nakshi kantha design

Animal & Floral motif.

Hence,the utilization of Nakshi Kantha can be multifunctional-it can serve as a blanket, coverlet, baby quilt,or prayer mat,as well as many other purposes,both religious and secular. And so, there are differences in their names according to usages.For instance, Lepkantha for winter, Bayatan for use on pillows, Asantha Kantha for sitting, Dastarkhana used for food, Jainamaz kantha for prayers etc.

Reflection of an Artisans Mindset

The rainy season lasts for a long time in Bengal. When it rains cats and dogs, Bengali women are mostlty seen passing the leisure time by sewing kantha with needle thread in the betel nut chat.In making of kantha,it requires crafting skill as well as traditional knowledge,as the skill is transferred from generation to generation without receiving any institutional training. Occasionally,the artisans adopt it subconsciously through following their female family members as a part of their household activity.To create a story on the surface of the kantha, the rural women are seen working on it from dawn to dusk. With incomparable skill, they make various designs on this decorative surface.

Nakshi Kantha. Fashionnovation.

Beautiful Embroidery design. Courtesy:

For praising such amazing artifact and the dedication of the artisans,a dramatized bengali narritive named ‘Nakshi Kanthar Math’ was written by our very own ‘Palli Kabi’ Jasimuddin in 1929. After the publication of this narrative the word Nakshi Kantha became famous among the country people. We can surely recall some of the verses here-

“Spreading the embroidered quilt,

She works the lifelong night,

As if the quilt her poet were

Of her bereaved plight.

Many a joy,many a sorrow

Is written on its breast;

the story of Rupa’s life is there,

Line by line expressed.”

Beliefs & Chronicle Changes

Previously, the sentiments of the artisans were the key component to guide the process of making a Nakshi Kantha.

-The artisans’ religious belief used to be reflected in a traditional Kantha as well, depending on its intended use.

-Discarded clothes used to be the primary material for making Nakshi Kantha,as they were believed to remove the evil eye from newborn babies who were wrapped in them.

– In the rural areas, it was once a custom to give kantha to the bride at weddings as a token of love. In the evolution of time, Nakshi Kantha is no longer used for everyday use.

Though previously Kanthas were used to represent love and care for dear ones,in its present form it has assisted the artisans to empower themselves by using their traditional skills for commercial manufacturing of Nakshi Kantha. The multiple functions and meanings of these handcrafted textiles have not only allowed them to contribute to household use but also have furnished their place in history and now in the contemporary world, as they have moved into public spaces like art galleries, museums, exhibitions, and craft shops, as well as gaining a new role in personal use and even in works of literature.

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Nakshi kantha made by rural women

Rural women are making Nakshi Kantha together. Courtesy: Heifer International.

Conveying Tradition through Nakshi Kantha

Nakshi Kantha is very popular as a memento, and it is a medium through which recipients can stay attached to their origins. As there is no specific design for Nakshi Kantha sewing, one can pour ones heart out through this folkart. Many people with Bengali roots who live in different parts of the world have at least one Nakshi Kantha in their collection. Isn’t that great? At the same time, artisans have now come to see the making of Nakshi Kantha as a way of achieving economic independency. Due to its extraordinary aesthetics, it has already crossed the roadmap from a domestic craft to an extremely valued fashion object.

By Team Saturnine,

Mentor: Tanvir Ahamed Fahad; Id:2018-1-6-026

Leader: Atkia Faiza; Id:2019-1-6-020

Executive: Md. Asaduzzaman Ovi; Id:2020-1-6-020

Dept: Textile Fashion & Design



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