Sericulture is an agro-based industry. It involves rearing of silkworms for the production of raw silk, which is the yarn obtained out of cocoons spun by certain species of insects. The major activities of sericulture comprises of food-plant cultivation to feed the silkworms which spin silk cocoons and reeling the cocoons for unwinding the silk filament for value added benefits such as processing and weaving. Man is always inquisitive for silk products. SILK – The Queen of Textiles, spells luxury, elegance, class and comfort. Mankind has always loved this shimmering fibre of unparalleled grandeur from the moment Chinese Empress Shiling Ti discovered it in her tea cup. It withstood many a daunting challenges from other natural and artificial fibres and yet, remained the undisputed Queen of Textiles since centuries. Exquisite qualities like the natural sheen, inherent affinity for dyes and vibrant colours, high absorbance, light weight, resilience and excellent drape etc. have made silk, the irresistible and inevitable companion of the eve, all over the world.
Chemically speaking, silk is made of proteins secreted in the fluid state by a caterpillar, popularly known as ‘silkworm’. These silkworms feed on the selected food plants and spin cocoons as a ‘protective shell’ to perpetuate the life. Silkworm has four stages in its life cycle viz., egg, caterpillar, pupa and moth. Man interferes this life cycle at the cocoon stage to obtain the silk, a continuous filament of commercial importance, used in weaving of the dream fabric. Silk is a high value but low volume product accounting for only 0.2 % of world’s total textile production.
Silk production is regarded as an important tool for economic development of a country as it is a labour intensive and high income generating industry that churns out value added products of economic importance. The developing countries rely on it for employment generation, especially in rural sector and also as a means to earn the foreign exchange Geographically, Asia is the main producer of silk in the world and produces over 95% of the total global output. Though there are over 40 countries on the world map of silk, bulk of it is produced in China and India, followed by Japan, Brazil and Korea. China is the leading supplier of silk to the world with an annual production of 104000 MT in 2011(79.1%).
India is the second largest producer of silk with 23060 MT in 2011-12 (17.54%) and also the largest consumer of silk in the world. It has a strong tradition and culture bound domestic market of silk. In India, mulberry silk is produced mainly in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal, while the non-mulberry silks are produced in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa and north-eastern states. Except mulberry, other varieties of silks are generally termed as non-mulberry silks. India has the unique distinction of producing all these commercial varieties of silk.
Mulberry: The bulk of the commercial silk produced in the world comes from this variety and often silk generally refers to mulberry silk. Mulberry silk comes from the silkworm, Bombyx mori L. which solely feeds on the leaves of mulberry plant. These silkworms are completely domesticated and reared indoors. In India, the major mulberry silk producing states are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir which together accounts for 92 % of country’s total mulberry raw silk production.
Tasar: Tasar (Tussah) is copperish colour, coarse silk mainly used for furnishings and interiors. It is less lustrous than mulberry silk, but has its own feel and appeal. Tasar silk is generated by the silkworm, Antheraea mylitta which mainly thrive on the food plants Asan and Arjun. The rearings are conducted in nature on the trees in the open. In India, tasar silk is mainly produced in the states of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa, besides Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Tasar culture is the main stay for many a tribal community in India.
Oak Tasar: It is a finer variety of tasar generated by the silkworm, Antheraea proyeli J. in India which feed on natural food plants of oak, found in abundance in the sub-Himalayan belt of India covering the states of Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya and Jammu & Kashmir. China is the major producer of oak tasar in the world and this comes from another silkworm which is known as Antheraea pernyi.
Eri: Also known as Endi or Errandi, Eri is a multivoltine silk spun from open-ended cocoons, unlike other varieties of silk. Eri silk is the product of the domesticated silkworm, Philosamia ricini that feeds mainly on castor leaves. Ericulture is a household activity practiced mainly for protein rich pupae, a delicacy for the tribal. Resultantly, the eri cocoons are open-mouthed and are spun. The silk is used indigenously for preparation of chaddars (wraps) for own use by these tribals. In India, this culture is practiced mainly in the north-eastern states and Assam. It is also found in Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa.
Muga: This golden yellow colour silk is prerogative of India and the pride of Assam state. It is obtained from semi-domesticated multivoltine silkworm, Antheraea assamensis. These silkworms feed on the aromatic leaves of Som and Soalu plants and are reared on trees similar to that of tasar. Muga culture is specific to the state of Assam and an integral part of the tradition and culture of that state. The muga silk, an high value product is used in products like sarees, mekhalas, chaddars, etc [Curtsey Central Silk Board, Bangalore].