Welcome to the research guide for India's textile arts, a tradition that dates back to 6000 BC. Use this guide to find books and online resources for information on the textile tradition.
The Indian textile tradition dates back thousands of years to the Indus Valley civilization. The creative genius of the handmade, vibrantly colored, and brilliantly decorated fabrics produced by India's artisans is extraordinary, from production techniques to dye processes and embroidering. Rahul Jain, a textile researcher and historian, states, "The textiles of the Indian subcontinent have captivated the world for more than two thousand years. No other region has been home to a greater variety of fibre, fabric, and patterning technique. Indian craftspeople created magnificent woven, embroidered, and resist-patterned textiles, as well as cloths painted or printed with dyes and pigments" (Rapture: The Art of Indian Textiles, p. 10). The Indian subcontinent as a whole is rich in natural resources for dyestuffs and textile fibres, such as turmeric, indigo, pashmina, and wild silks, which allowed the artisans to develop the unparalleled textile craftsmanship that has continued to the present day.
While textiles are, of course, a fundamental need, Indian cultures have always valued textile production as a ceremonial art form, as well, and cloth continues to play an important role in many aspects of religious and secular customs in India. For instance, textiles have always played a dominant role in the tradition of gift-giving. In fact, even as hand-weaving skills began to diminish in the mid-nineteenth century, the significance of textile gift-giving persevered and is still an integral part of Indian culture today. Also, despite industrialization, millions of people in India still adopt traditional ways of producing cloth by hand, making hand-weaving one of the largest economic industries in India, which demonstrates the enduring tradition and its significance to the people of India.
Study of Indian textile arts is an invaluable way to better understand the history of the cultures and traditions of different regions in India and to realize the significance of the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Indian textile tradition. See the bibliography page for a more in-depth introduction to Indian textiles.