A Letter From Grandpa
By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:
Dr. Stanley Wolpert, professor of history at UCLA wrote in India:
“Ancient Indians were the first humans to spin and weave cotton into cloth that continues to provide our most comfortable summer attire.” Dr. James A.B. Scherer, author of Cotton as World Power writes: “India is the original home of cotton. Centuries passed before the new goods made any impression on England, whose people wore wool exclusively. When cotton goods did begin to come in, a fierce conflict ensued with wool, which was then styled, the flower and strength, the revenue and blood of England, — so important was it in the economic life of the people.” Will Durant wrote in Our Oriental Heritage: “The growing of cotton appears earlier in India than elsewhere; apparently it was used for cloth in Mohenjo-daro.” During the excavations at Mohenjo-daro a small fragment of cotton fabric and a small piece of cotton string in the neck of a silver vessel were recovered. The quality of both the fabric and the string leaves no doubt that a mature textile craft had existed in the Indus Valley civilization.”
Indus Valley civilization covered a huge swath of the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent. The Indus cotton industry was well developed and some methods used in cotton spinning and fabrication continued to be used until the modern Industrialization of India. Hundreds of years before the Christian era cotton textiles were woven in India with matchless skill, and their use spread to the Mediterranean countries. In the 1st century, Arab traders brought fine muslin and calico from India and sold it to Italy and Spain. The Moors introduced the cultivation of cotton into Spain in the 9th century. Fustians and Dimities were woven there and in the 14th century, in Venice and Milan, at first with a linen warp. Little cotton cloth was imported to England before the 15th century, although small amounts were obtained chiefly for candlewicks. By the 17th century the East India Company was bringing rare fabrics from India.
Cotton cloth was first seen in Europe when the soldiers of Alexander the Great, brought some of it back as a curiosity, in the fourth century before Christ. All India was clothed with it then, as today; some of the ancient textiles being so delicate and beautiful as to give rise to the poetic des-cription, webs of the woven wind. In our oldest reference to cotton Herodotus says, with pleasing ignorance: “Certain wild trees there (in India) bear wool instead of fruit, which in beauty and quality excels that of sheep; and the Indians make clothing from these trees. It was their wars in the Near East that acquainted the Romans with this tree-grown wool.” Arabian travelers in the ninth-century India reported that “in this country they make garments of such extraordinary perfection that nowhere else is their like to be seen — sewed and woven to such a degree of fineness, they may be drawn through a ring of moderate size.” The medieval Arabs took over the art from India, and their word quattan gave us our word cotton. The word quattan comes from Sanskrit word kantan meaning making a thread out of cotton ball. The name muslin was originally applied to fine cotton weaves made in Mosul from Indian models; calico was so called because it came (first in 1631) from Calicut, on the southwestern shores of India.
It is from this cotton that the perennial forms of East Asia, Africa, and the West have developed. Native Americans skillfully spun and wove cotton into fine garments and dyed tapestries, almost the same time as in Indus Valley. When South American cotton is studied scholars and scientists are thoroughly baffled. After a series of painstaking experiments, experts have agreed that one parent of the American cotton undoubtedly came from the Indus Valley area. Evidence of the Asian ancestry of American cotton is irrefutable.
— Grandpa’s blessing
Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org