Sericulture in Bangladesh

While the textile industry produces an amazing array of artificial, natural and blended fabrics, many would agree that nothing beats the luxurious texture of pure silk, a product with a long history that remains popular today. The history of silk farming, known as sericulture, is said to have started in China some 5,000 or more years ago. The history of silk production in Bangladesh, which is closely linked with India dating back to the 1st century, has been part of the nation of Bangladesh since its independence in 1971. Today, Rajshahi, located near the border of India, remains the top sericulture region of Bangladesh. The climate in this area is perfectly suited to growing mulberry trees, without which sericulture would not be possible, as the Bombyx mori silkworm feeds exclusively on mulberry leaves.

The production of silk is a fascinating process that starts with the tiny silkworm larvae feeding on mulberry leaves. As the silkworm grows, it molts, shedding its skin four times before starting to spin a silken cocoon around itself by secreting a dense fluid from its structural glands in an unbroken fibroin protein filament fiber. The fibers are cemented together with the secretion of a gummy substance called sericin. To free the silken filaments from their sericin bonding, the cocoons are placed in hot water in a process aptly referred to as degumming. Unfortunately this method also kills the silkworm pupae. Some cocoons are set aside to allow the silk moth to emerge, whereupon she will lay thousands of eggs before dying. Larvae hatch from the eggs, and the cycle continues. Interestingly, this process of harvesting was criticized by Mahatma Gandhi who adhered to the principles of not harming any living thing, and continues to be criticized by animal welfare groups, including the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The harvesting of wild silk, also referred to as ‘peace silk’, is done after the moths have left the cocoon by cutting through the threads. Because wild silk threads are not one continuous filament, such as those produced in cultivated silkworms, it is reportedly more difficult to work with. Nonetheless, it is considered to be the more humane sericulture option, if not the most profitable.

Once the glue has been removed from the filaments, it is ready to be wound, woven and transformed into beautiful textiles that are sheer luxury to the touch. Visitors may want to buy a pure silk scarf or garment to take home as a memento of their time spent in Bangladesh.