The state of Assam is located in the region of the Seven Sister States – the Indian states that connect to the rest of India by only a West Bengali strip of land. The state has a long history that dates back to the Stone Age, and has even appeared in the 7th century Hindu text, Kalika Purana. Assam became apart of British India after the First Anglo-Burmese War of the mid 1820s.
Apart from the beloved fragrant Assam tea produced in the state, Assam boasts rich biodiversity and UNESCO wildlife sanctuaries with thousands of species of orchids and the conservation of tigers, numerous species of birds, the Asian elephant and even endangered species such as the single-horned Indian rhinoceros and golden langur primate. The state also has a rich tradition of crafts that is still maintained even after two millennia. Bamboo craft, metal work, the making of musical instruments, jewellery making and cotton weaving are some of the most prominent crafts that continue to prosper today.
The many number of cottage handloom industries in Sualkuchi have even earned the town the nickname of ‘Manchester of Assam’. Since the 17th century, the state has also been well known for its cotton and wild silk production – particularly golden Muga silk, silver Pat mulberry silk and Eri silk – are produced in Sualkuchi, the textile capital of Assam. Khadi fabric, woven from hemp and cotton or silk, is a popular fabric from Assam that is iconic in the Swadeshi movement for independence and has associations with Mahatma Gandhi’s movement of empowering rural India, promoting Khadi weaving as self-reliant industry for rural artisans of the handicraft. Today, up to 74% of households engage in handloom weaving with the semi-automatic fly shuttle loom.
Another handicraft favourite from Assam is its aari embroidery with 12th century Mughal roots. This fine threadwork makes use of beads and threads in chain stitches to create opulent motifs. The textile industry of Assam surged during the Second World War, and today, Khadi fabric and aari embroidery have penetrated the fashion industrythroughout the world.