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The story of KHADI

Maheen Khan
Fashion designer,

Early Period
Khadi or khaddar is a material that involves the spinning of cotton manually by hand into yarns for the production of handwoven cotton weaves.

In 5000 BC, during the Vedic period, tributes were paid to hand-spun, hand-woven khadi that was admired for its quality and magnificence. During such times a spinning wheel was a precious gift in wedding ceremonies.

In Ramayana and Mahabharata there is clear mention of the finesse and artistry of cotton fabrics and the applications of gold embroidery. In ancient times around 2500 BC in the Indus valley Mohanjodaro civilization there is ecidence of the existence of hand-spun fabrics and its significance in the historic period.

In primeval times khadi was regarded as a fabric that belonged to the Indian Subcontinent. During the invasion of Alexander the Great around 327 BC Sindon and Gangetika fabrics are known to be consequentially plundered as prized spoils of war.

The precious fabrics of Bengal are clearly visualised on the plaques of Chandraketugarh and Mahasthangarh. During later periods in 6th century AD Huen Tsang of China described the fine yarns traded in the manner of precious metals and Marco Polo in 12th century AD describes fabrics in the region to be as fine as the spider's web.

Romans were great aficionados of Bengal khadi muslins and imported vast amounts of fabrics and the Mughal period saw the crowning moment in quality and production of such treasured fabrics.

During the industrial revolution Indian fabrics were widely used in England. It is with the invention of the steam engine and the spinning machine that we found the rise of the British enthusiasm in the textile industry.

Indian Calico fabrics were very popular in England and upper class ladies were also known as “Calico Madams”. In the year 1700 AD the British government banned the import of cotton fabrics from India. It was a futile effort and not completely worthwhile and as a result the English began a mission to destroy Indian textiles and pressed on and compelled the import of textile machineries to India.

In 1920 through the implementation of the 'Calico Act' the British government once again initiated an act to destroy the local textile industry.

Self-Rule Movement
The Indian economy had reached its rock bottom and the worst affected were the artisans and its weavers. In the year 1891 Indian National Congress promulgated their views to the general public of India to exercise their rights to only buy Indian products. It was the commencement of the national uprising for self-rule.

In 1905 the civil disobedience reached its pinnacle with a symbolic public burning of the British made textiles. In 1915 with the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi civic defiance found further momentum with a renewed spirit.

Mahatma Gandhi became an iconic promoter of khadi. 'The All India Spinners Association' was founded in the year 1919. The formation of this organisation further supported and validated the movement and with this the establishment of self-rule was set in motion. In order to lend force and confirm the khadi drive Mahatma Gandhi stated, “Every revolution of the wheel spins peace, goodwill and love.”

The tradition of the handspun, handwoven fabric consequently worked as a catalyst both ideologically and practically to resolve the dire basic needs of the Indians. The success of self-rule and the revival of khadi are intermittently locked together. Over a million textile artisans were reinstated with work giving a boost to their spirit and lifestyle.

It should be noted that the invaluable reverence to the artistry of the master weavers again found a rejuvenated ethos and character in India. Once more people of India rejected mill-finished cloth and embraced the varied yards of khadi that were far more appealing to the masses. It significantly succeeded to support the movement.

Gandhi visits Noakhali
On 29 January, 1946 Mahatma Gandhi visited Noakhali with a “Peace Mission”. It was soon after the riots that had caused a great extent of upheaval and violence within the community.

Gandhi stayed in Noakhali for four months and spread the word of non-violence. He urged the people to live in a peaceful coexistence. He was staying in Jayag and he was well received by people of all sects. They extended their support to him especially Barrister Hemanta Kumar Ghosh who donated a large amount of funds to Gandhi for the development and peaceful harmony of the area. The 'Ambika Kalinga Charitable Trust' was formed.

Together with the Gandhi Camp the Trust continued to support development initiatives in the locality. The partition of India brought about onerous conditions for the Gandhians and most were forced to leave for India.

The efforts of the Trust more or less came to a standstill and the few members who remained were persecuted and jailed. The non-secular Pakistan government discouraged and dampened all Gandhian philosophical activities. It was only after the independence of Bangladesh that Charu Chowdhury was able to reorganise the Trust's activities.

In 1975 it was renamed as the 'Gandhi Ashram Trust'. GAT has mainly gender sensitive programmes. Income generating activities include agro-based initiatives and the production of hand-spun khadi. This textile is produced with resolute and unbending conviction in its purest form keeping the tradition of khadi alive.

Comilla and khadi
The weaves of Comilla during the Mughal period were renowned as valuable textiles with distinctive characteristics. In 1890 the Tripura Gazetteer reported accounts on the textiles and the weavers of Comilla. The articles made clear reference to the high quality sari, dhoti, lungi and gamcha produced with locally spun yarns and weaves.

During the years of the selfrule movement and later with the independence of Bangladesh the spirit of khadi was driven with the winds of change. In Comilla the weaving centers were particularly developed in Moinamoti, Muradnagor, Gouripur and Chandina.

In 1921 Gandhi came to Chandina to inspire the local weavers and consequently a branch of 'Nikhil Bharat Tantubai Samity' was established here to self seed and proliferate the sale of goods to other major cities in India. The exceptional khadis were en route to Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

Subsequently after the language movement in 1952 Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan and Governor Firoz Khan Noon established 'The Khadi and Cottage Industry Association'. In 1957 Dr. Hamid Khan arranged to bring a khadi specialist from India to train and incorporate quality to the khadi. 400 'Ambar Charkas' were imported to assist the development efforts.

Simultaneously, Shoilan Guha took major steps to support the plight of the khadi industry in Chandina. His various initiatives and entrepreneurship energised the khadi production and large quantities were exported to Kolkata.

The state of khadi today
Khadi made its debut in Dhaka sometime in the beginning of 1973. It arrived in the markets of Malibagh and Sceince Laboratory and the inhabitants of the capital were reintroduced to the material. It received a passable attention as a budget fabric and was a futile attempt to stimulate the patriotic zeal associated with it.

Khadi as Dhaka Muslin could now only be reminiscent in the chapters of history. As late as the 1940's through the drives of the independence movement of India, considerable progress was made to revive khadi. It is regrettable that today we can no longer find the masterly expertise in the weaves of Bangladeshi khadi. The devious producers are using waste mill yarns to weave khadi. It is clearly unethical to label the product as khadi.

Bangladeshi designers and retailers alike have failed to restore and resurrect khadi production. We could not hoist khadi as the main sail of our rooted textile tradition rather it was knocked down to the ground and stumped to death.

In today's age of green planet and environment friendly products, could we imagine a land that is devoted to handspun handloom? Wouldn't it be a massive generation of employment to the millions here?

This universal craft can easily be a way forward towards our self-reliance again, but then why did the popularity of khadi get diminished after our independence? May be if we had tried to evaluate the requirements of ever changing demands of the market or expedite technology to develop fine products it may have seen new light.

It is important for us to invest in design development for the heritage weaves or teach our next generation about the legacy of our finest traditions as khadi has arrived and it is here to stay.

By Maheen Khan and Selim Ahmed
Model: Airin
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Make-up: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Maheen Khan


cosy comfort: Khadi

Winter no longer bites as it once used to. Truth be told, one hardly notices the casting of the winter spell followed by its shy disappearing act, making no significant mark on the level of the thermometer whatsoever.

However, fashionistas still eagerly await the arrival of winter. They love to dress up for the season and this is where Star Lifestyle suggests the revival of the khadi, the once ubiquitous winter wear, as the fabric of choice for Winter 2011.

Teaming up with famed designer Maheen Khan, Star Lifestyle suggests heating up with traditional khadi saris. Flip to our Centrefold, as Maheen Khan plays with your imagination with her range of saris, designed exclusively for the Star Lifestyle photoshoot. These designs, although not meant for her exclusive outlet, can offer you ideas for a warm winter, spiking the fashion-metre. This week Star Lifestyle retraces the volatile history of this heritage weave and calls for a revival of Bengal's past textile glory. Flip to our centre for more.

Model: Airin
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Make-up: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Maheen Khan


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