An extract from a guest’s diary who visited Sualkuchi, a charming riverside hamlet that’s considered to be the most important centre of silk production and silk weaving (sericulture) in Assam.
After offering prayers at a temple atop the world’s smallest island, Umananda, on the Brahmaputra river, we made our way to Sualkuchi, a bustling village on the northern banks that’s known for its homegrown sericulture industry.
As our houseboat, M.V. Rudra Singha, drew closer to land, we were greeted with smiles and laughter by a group of school children, who spotted us on their return home from school. We hopped on e-rickshaws and rode through bucolic idyll to get to Sualkuchi, with our guide pointing out namghors - places of community-led worship for the Assamese people - that appeared nearly every few blocks.
Sualkuchi derives its name from the 'sualo' trees that grow here in abundance. It’s the leaves of the 'sualo' and 'som' trees on which the larvae of the silk moth feed on, we were told. Silk extracted from the cocoons of these silkworms is golden and glossy, and - for a long time - worn only by royalty. Moreover, the muga’s lustre increases with every wash and it’s so long-lasting that it outlives its owners by generations, making it a very suitable family heirloom.
We visited a sericulture farm where our guide explained the entire process of rearing silkworms and extraction of silk from the cocoons. The owner of the farm added, “Here, you won’t find any one particular factory; instead, every house acts as a unit and contributes to the production of silk fabrics.” And that was indeed the case as we discovered while walking into people’s homes, where entire families would work together, taking responsibility of each step of the production process. It was truly incredible to witness such a community-oriented industry at work.
We concluded our visit at a workshop where we learned that it takes at least 5 cocoons to obtain a single thread of the desired thickness that’s required for weaving a Muga silk mekhela-sador (Assam’s version of a sari). Weavers in the workshop used wooden shuttle looms to create beautiful designs bearing indigenous motifs borrowed from nature and Assamese culture - gos (a tree), lota phool (flowers and vines), bisoni (a hand fan) and luka paro (twin birds). Watching these young weavers deftly use such crude looms to then create some of the most intricate patternwork I’ve ever seen was a mind-blowing experience.