Processing of Ahimsa silk (Peace Silk) in the textile industries

Excerpt: SILK fibre is the most beautiful natural fibre to be found by the human civilization.It was founded in China. In India it is produced in Karnataka,Assam

SILK fibre is the most beautiful natural fibre to be found by the human civilization.It was founded in China. In India it is produced in Karnataka,Assam. 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. Mulberry Silk is produced from the silkworm, Bombyx mori which solely feeds on the leaves of mulberry plant. This larvae secretes a liquid secretion which solidifies when it comes in contact of the air and forms a cocoon. This cocoon is further used as a raw silk. To take out the silk these cocoons are boiled in heated water and are killed. So after prolonged research a new method has been invented in which the silk larvae are not killed and the cocoons are taken out without. The production of the silk through process is called Ahimsa Peace Silk. As it is a nonviolent process a name synonym with Mahatma Gandhi. Kusuma Rajaiah, a government officer from India's Andhra Pradesh state, applied the theories behind the ahimsa way of life to the making of silk and found that it was possible to create silk without killing the creatures that created it. Rajaiah has won the patent for producing the "Ahimsa" silk. Ahimsa is a religious concept which advocates non-violence and a respect for all life.

Unlike the usual process in which silkworms are boiled to death, in Ahimsa silk, each worm is allowed to escape the cocoon, after which the thread is spun. For instance, Rajaiah purchases live cocoons from farmers and keeps them in a bamboo basket. After a two-week wait, worms pierce the cocoons to emerge as moths.

It is from this broken cocoon that silk is extracted. It is a time consuming process, with the yield being considerably lesser than what one would get by the usual process.

It is this that makes the Ahimsa silk at least one-and-a-half-times more expensive than traditional silk. For example, a saree which costs 2400 rupees to produce using regular silk, will cost 4000 rupees when made with Ahimsa silk. Rajaiah says his inspiration is Mahatma. He gave a message to the Indian silk industry that if silk can be produced without killing silkworms, it would be better.

Rajaiah says he started giving a serious thought to "Ahimsa" silk when in the 1990s. Janaki Venkatraman, wife of the former President, asked if she could get a silk saree that is made without killing silk worms. Yarn for a silk saree is usually produced by throwing live cocoons of silkworm into boiling water. A single saree needs upto 50,000 cocoons. Rajaiah allows the moth to escape from the cocoon by waiting for 7-10 days and then uses the shells to produce yarn. He started deploying this process in 1992 and has hence been supported by a larger community of people interested in the welfare and rights of animals and non-humans.

It might be noted that a company in Oregon, Peace Silk, already uses this technique.

Processing Method

The production of the silk through process is called Ahimsa Peace Silk. The saris are woven through a complicated process, an eco-friendly process of manufacturing mulberry silk yarn.

The process of creating ahimsa silk begins in one of two ways: either the pupa is allowed to hatch and the leftover cocoon is then used to create silk, or the cocoon may be cut open, achieving much the same result but often saving the resultant material from contamination by urine from the hatching moth.

While Bombyx mori are the preferred species for creating ahimsa silk, there are a few other types of species that fall under the category of ahimsa silk, which is defined not necessarily by the species of the moth involved but by the methods for harvesting the cocoon. The other types of silkworm that are used for this process are a subspecies of the ailanthus silkmoth and several types of tussah or tasar moths: the Chinese tussah moth, the Indian tasar moth, and the muga moth.

The subspecies of the ailanthus silkmoth, Samia cynthia ricini, eats the leaves of the castor bean or cassava leaves. It is also known as the eri silkmoth. Eri silk is made from the cocoons of these particular insects and is also produced using less violent methods than the normal heat treating, but the quality of eri silk is often seen as inferior to that of the silk created by the offspring of the Bombyx mori moth.

Ahimsa silk may also be manufactured from tasar and tussah silks, leaving the moths to their own designs.

Qualities of Ahimsa Silk

Ahimsa silk is almost like the regular silk having the same qualities. However, its lustre is little less but, more soft compared to the regular silk. The main qualities of ahimsa silk are derived from the ideals surrounding the concept of ahimsa. This allows the silk to be manufactured without harm to the beings that created it. These ideals appeal to religions like Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism whose followers forego all injury to other forms of life. Non-violent lifestyle proponents have more recently found peace silk to be in keeping with their way of life. These arguments while valid for many other reasons have not been conclusively proven to affect the actual physical structure of the cloth itself.

From a purely economic standpoint, it is difficult to make the argument for peace silk as it requires 10 extra days in the process to let the larvae grow and the moths to hatch out of the cocoons. In contrast, the less humane process takes about 15 minutes. At this later stage the cocoon yields one-sixth of the filament. This inflates the cost of nonviolent silk, which is priced at roughly 6,000 rupees (US$92) per kilogram—about twice the price of the regular kind.

The silk moths best suited for the production of ahimsa silk are the Eri Silk Moth ( Philosamia ricini). These feed on the castor plant in contrast to the conventional mulberry feeding silk moth. Other species that are being used for Ahimsa Peace Silk are the Tassar moths (both tropical and temperate- Antheraea mylitta and Antiheraea proylei) and the Muga Silk Moth ( Antheraea assamensis). These are wild and semi wild silks. Therefore, after this process a silk is produced without killing of silkworms so all consumers who care for the environment and respect the right of life for all the living beings can wear this product with a clear conscience and enjoy the soft and luxurious feel of spun silk.

While ahimsa silk may lack the shine of regular silk, it is comfortable to wear. It's also wrinkle free and has a better fall. Now a days it is very much in demand and large range of products are available in the market. Ahimsa Peace Silk creates unique products that appeal to the demand of environmentally conscious and non violent clientele all over the world. It provides an alternative for discerning and aware consumers to make their choices in such a way that even as they buy silk they are able to accord the respect that our fellow living beings on the earth deserve from us. Products Developed from Ahimsa Silk A huge range of products are developed from ahimsa silk such as Shawls, stoles, scarves, ties, saris, made-ups, furnishing fabrics, knitwear, 'modern' traditional Indian items, casual wear, dress materials, apparel fabrics, rugs and other diversified products etc. All these items are made of pure ahimsa silk fiber or blends. Dyes used are natural dyes as well as chemical . The product are tested in the laboratories for its durability, content and colour fastness. Reputed designers and professionals working in this field have provided the groups with the latest design inputs. This constant interactive process between the weavers and designers has resulted in the production of a wide range of Ahimsa silk. Traditional designs have been revived and adapted to current trends to cater to this new market. So one can say that it is a great revolution in the fied of silk production as lot many celebrity people have started using ahimsa silk fabric.

Countries like Germany, Israel, UK, U.S. and Europe are all potential customers of ahimsa silk. Garments produced using this silk fabric is imported by well know designers of the world who create apparels for celebrities and famous personalities. It is a matter of pride that designers have chosen ahimsa silk to create apparels for celebrities and the royal families.

Further in contrast to the sericulture practice, uncultivated silk is also called ahimsa silk. The silk obtained from wild is also taken only after the silk moth has flown away from the cocoon. As a result long and unbroken silk is not obtained from the cocoons. Hence, wild silk is also called ahimsa silk as silkworms are not killed. Muga, Tasar and Eri are the products of wild silk in India.

Author Details

Dr. N. N. Mahapatra

Business Head ( Dyes )

Shree Pushkar Chemicals & Fertilisers Ltd. Goregaon (E), Mumbai - 400 063, India