The Muslin from Dhaka

Textiles from Bangladesh have traditionally been ranked among the best in the world. They form a major part of the nation’s exports and have been the livelihood of certain communities for generations. The muslin woven here has a special place of pride on the hearts of the Bangladeshis.

The best quality of cotton is grown here and for centuries the finest of muslin cloth has been woven around Dhaka. This is due not only because of the quality of cotton but the skilled spinning on special spinning wheels and weaving by the masters of the craft who have been plying the trade for generations.

Legend has it that the finest of muslin woven in Bangladesh is so soft and fine that an entire garment can pass through a signet ring! The fabric had such a high standing internationally even hundreds of years ago that it was believed to be used as shrouds for Egyptian Mummies. Apparently the best time to spin the yarn was in the early hours of the day or late afternoon, when the humidity and temperatures were just right. Most of the spinners were young nimble fingered girls with excellent vision, between the age of eighteen and thirty. These skilled artisans came from certain families around Dhaka and had spun the yarn for generations.

During the Mughal rule the weavers received a great deal of encouragement and royal patronage. The fabric woven for the King was exclusive and known as ‘mulmul khas’. It was of the finest quality and much superior to European cloth. ‘Abrawan’ or running water was the next best quality. This too is so fine that the Emperor Aurangzeb chastised his daughter for being immodestly clad! ‘Shabnam’ or evening dew was the third quality, the likes of which we rarely see today. Others down the line are ‘Circar Ali’ and ‘Tunzeb’.

The lesser fabrics were ‘Khassa’ or special, ‘Baft Hawa’ or woven air ‘Nyansook’ or soothing to the eyes and ‘Nilambari’ or blue skies. Other imaginative names were vapor, mist, nebula and woven winds. The romantic names conjure images of the finest of fabric, the likes of which none had ever seen.