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Original Articles Home > Acta Via Serica > Archives > Original Articles
Title Silk and Cotton Textiles, the Principal Maritime Trade Commodities of Ancient India
Author Duraiswamy Dayalan
Volume Vol. 6 No. 2
Pages pp. 91~116 (all 26 pages)
Publication Date December, 2021
Keyword Cotton, Silk, Textile, Maritime Trade, Harappan, seaport
Abstract India has had a rich and diverse textile tradition since the 3rd millennium BCE. The origin of Indian textiles can be traced back to the Harappan period. Owing to the hot and humid climate in most parts of India, cotton has remained India’s favourite choice of fabric for normal use. Thus, India is supposed to be the first nation to have grown, woven, and patterned cotton fabrics. Moreover, India is one of the leading cotton-growing countries in the world. The earliest occurrence of cotton thread in India is roughly datable to 4000 BCE and of dyed fabrics to about 2500 BCE. Large numbers of needles and spindle-whorls found in Harappa and other early historic sites in India reveal the prosperous state of textile production and its trade in the early period. The textile producers used a wide range of skills to process raw materials and make regionally idiosyncratic dyes, weaves, prints, and embroideries. Additionally, the silk from wild indigenous forms of silkworms was known in the Indian sub-continent roughly contemporary with the earliest clear archaeological evidence for silk in China. The analysis of thread fragments found inside a copper bangle and ornament from Harappa and steatite beads from Chanhu-daro, have yielded silk fibers dating to 2500–2000 BCE. Apart from other products, cotton and silk textiles were important export materials from India right from the Harappan period. Actually, the sea-borne trade had played an important role in the economic growth and prosperity of the Harappan civilization. Several ancient seaports in the entire coastline of India played a vital role in the maritime trade during the Harappan period and cotton and silk textiles of Indian origin have been found in various countries. The contemporary writings and epigraphy have also attested to the vast maritime trade network of India and the export of textile materials. The paper discusses in detail the origin and development of cotton and silk textile production in India through the ages and its role in maritime trade networks.
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