The World War II seems to have changed the destiny of many. The dawdling silk industry of Kashmir, for example got a lifeline during the WW-II as the demand for Kashmiri silk suddenly increased. The price of silk, which was hovering under Rs. 4 per lbs for a long while (down from Rs. 12.62 before the Great Depression to Rs. 3.94 in 1934-35) got a boost during this period. The price of the silk increased to Rs. 9 per lb around 1944-45. The demand for silk from India increased due to the high quality of the product manufactured by the silk industry of Kashmir.
The origin of the silk industry of Kashmir, which has been well documented as far the quality and the development is concerned, does not clearly indicate the origin of this textile. Whether, it was home grown or it came from China is not documented in clear terms. However, for academic interest the most interesting aspect of silk industry in Kashmir is the fact that the famous Chinese traveller Heium Tsiang who during a pilgrimage to India during 630-43 A.D. praised the silk textile of Kashmir. According to him the mulberry tree was grown in Kashmir, but its fruits were not consumed by the Kashmiris in those days.
A peek into the history of this industry shows that the industry always required the attention of the rulers and the governments. Going into the leafs of the Kashmir’s textile history, the silk textiles which over a period of time had started to languish was revived by King Bad Shah to its former glory. With the annexation of Kashmir by the Mughal Mirza Hyder in 1540, the silk industry continued to produce the quality product. However, after Mughals (1585-1750) the industry again fell into neglect as royal patronage by the Afghans (1750-1842), which was much required was not given. In the absence of sound and efficient organization, it over a period stagnated. Credit for its revival and reorganization, however, can be given to Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1851-85).
During the rule of Maharaja Partap Singh (1905-1925), the silk industry of Kashmir under-went a drastic change and was exposed to modern and scientific approach.
Going back in time, in 1870, Mr. N. Mukerjee was appointed as Director to head the production of silk in Kashmir and two Filatures with 470 reels were set up at Ragu Nath Pura (Naseem Bagh) and Cherapura near Srinagar. About one hundred and twenty seven houses for rearing cocoons were built and the rearers were given special encouragement for rearing of cocoons. While the industry was showed signs of progress, pebrine, a silk-worm disease caused great devastation in 1878 to silk worms.
In 1892 the Industry was organized on modern lines as a State Enterprise and Sir Walter Lawrence was put in charge of the industry. In 1903, Mr. Thomas Wardle, an eminent English sericulturist made a detailed survey of the industry and suggested various lines of improvement. Accordingly, machinery was purchased from Italy and a factory was set up at Rambagh in Srinagar. By 1907, ten Filatures were set up. The industry offered employment to 60,000 people and silk worth £100,000 was produced. In spite of the great damage caused to the factory by fires in 1907 and 1913, the profits of the Kashmiri Silk industry increased from Rs. 3.6 lakh in 1902 to Rs. 12.5 lakh in 1919.
It is important to state that in the year 1908, for the first time reeling of silk was done by using hydro-electric power.
The Sericulture Department earned substantial profits immediately after the First World War. But the boom was short lived. The stiff competition with China and European markets drastically lowered the prices of silk and deprived the Indian silk of its overseas markets. The Great Depression further accelerated the decline.
The demand for silk generated during the WW-II resulted in profits for the Sericulture Department of the State. The Rajbagh Silk Weaving Factory, which was set up in 1937 was in full bloom. By 1942, Kashmir had the largest Silk Factory in the World. The factory was producing the finest silk in India, which was sold throughout the British Empire. The production of cocoons was boosted to 40,000 mds by 1940. The quality of silk improved and was comparable to the ‘Classical’ of Italy and “Petit exta” of France.
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