An Introduction to Tussar Silk :
If you go for sari shopping, no matter what the occasion might be, you can’t resist wanting to see a variety of silk saris. It is perhaps because of its unmatched sheen, lustre, breathability and comfort, that silk tends to be one of the most chosen and loved fabrics worn in India. A very common name amongst the family of silk apart from the Mulberry, Erik, Sea and Muga is that of the Tussar, a category of silk found in India. Tussar is a wild silk which is also referred to as Tushar, Tussore, Tasar, Tussur, or Tusser in the different regions of India. Belonging to the genus Antheraea, Tussar moths do not feed on mulberry leaves which are believed to be the most common silkworm food. In India, Tussar is produced in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, making India the second-largest producer of Tussar silk in the world.
While the state of Jharkhand produces the largest chunk of Tussar in India, the silk produced in the Bhagalpur and the Banka district of Bihar has its own popularity. Amongst the natives of these districts, Bhagalpuri silk and Tussar are synonymous words that go hand in hand. Surprisingly, apart from the handloom industry, Tussar silk is also a very common additive used for making soaps. The soaps that are with Tussar are believed to be relatively more luxurious and slippery.
There has been a long going discussion about whether Tussar is a type of ‘Ahimsa Silk’ or not? In order to understand that, first, let us know what exactly do we mean when we say the term “Ahimsa silk” and the factor that differentiates it from the conventional silk production process.
‘Ahimsa’ & ‘Ahimsa Silk’ :
The word ‘Ahimsa’ meaning nonviolence has originated from the Sanskrit language in which ‘Hinsa’ is described as violence and thus adding the prefix ‘a’ to it, makes it the complete opposite of its literal meaning. The word ‘Ahimsa’ has also been used extensively by Mahatma Gandhi. Moreover, It was with the advent of Gandhi, that the notion, principle and the ideology of Ahimsa gained attention and the support of fellow Indians. Though, unlike the word Ahimsa, the term ‘Ahimsa Silk’ got commercialised and popularized in the early 2000s when Kusuma Rajaiah, a graduate from The Indian Institute of Handloom Technology and a believer of Gandhi’s notion of Ahimsa combined different perspectives and heuristics to come up with a method to produce silk without killing the silkworms and thus making it a cruelty-free process. He had been researching about the methods from the early 1990s but it was finally in the year 2002, that he could patent his hard work. Today, it is because of Kusuma Rajaiah’s research, hard work and efforts that we are able to produce silk with non-violent procedures and techniques.
The reality of Violent & Non-Violent Silk :
The major difference between violent and non-violent silk lies in the way it is produced.
In the conventional process of producing silk, Sericulture, the silkworms are fed and after they have moulted a couple of times, they spin to form a cocoon. These cocoons are then straight away boiled and further processed, killing the larvae inside whereas Ahimsa Silk allows the larvae to come out of the cocoon naturally at its moth stage, post which, the entire process of producing silk takes place. The cocoon that is left behind is then boiled and processed, unlike the traditional way.
Though, there have been several discussions that even though the production of Ahimsa silk is cruelty-free and completely harmless, still, there are many limitations and inhumane activities performed during the entire process. For example, some of the silk producers that claim to use non-violent methods, inadequately feed the silkworms or often force the silkworms to prematurely hatch their cocoons with the help of fire. In such conditions, though the method is referred to as cruelty-free or Ahimsak, it somehow hinders the living cycle and the god-gifted life of the silkworms in one way or the other. Furthermore, the larvae that are forced to hatch prematurely emerge in a ‘deformed’ and a ‘deficient’ state due to which they are unable to fly and left to die.
Is Tussar, a type of Ahimsa Silk?
While Tussar is popularly referred to and sold as “peace silk” or “cruelty-free silk”, it must be noted that Ahimsa silk production is just an alternative and a morale way for producing silk. The final call upon whether to let the silkworms live or die always resides with the producer. Since there is no obligation to produce silk in a humane or Amhisak way, it is wrongfully attributed that Tussar is purely a cruelty-free natural fabric. Thus, the blunt reality of the former is that Tussar may or may not be cruelty-free depending upon the way it is produced. As a matter of fact, the choice of method is not only restricted to Tussar but to all other categories such as Eri, Muga, and Mulberry as well.