Antheraea assamensis (Helfer)
Muga silk is only produced in Assam in northeastern India, where it has been cultivated for many centuries. The silkmoth is Antheraea assamensis (Helfer). The caterpillars feed on trees in the laurel family (Lauraceae) including ones in the genera Litsea, Machilus, Cinnamomum, and Actinodaphne. They also are known to use trees in other families, including some in the magnolia family, like Michelia. Lampe (2010, page 274) reared larvae in Germany on beech (Fagus sylvatica). The insect ranges in sub-Himalayan India, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Burma, and southern China. As our illustrations show, the silk is a beautiful golden color, and consequently it is never dyed. It has great cultural value in Assam and is highly esteemed all over India. Saris made of muga silk are quite costly and are highly prized by their owners. Most of the muga weaving takes place in the Assamese village of Sualkuchi. We illustrate here a piece of fabric from there. Mekhala chaddars and scarves are worn by women on special occasions, and many of these are beautifully embroidered or brocaded in traditional colors (red, yellow, green) with traditional motifs, as can be seen on the choli (blouse) we show here. Some wrappers are also composed of spun silk, which has a golden brownish color, but not the brilliant gold color of the reeled cloth. The dhoti shown here is the most diaphanous wild silk textile we have seen. It would be worn only on very special occasions.
Recent articles in magazines about muga silk by McLaughlin (2009) and Balasubramaniam (2010) offer a lot of photographs and current information. The standard reference on muga silk was a small book by Chowdhury (1981), but Phukan (2010) has now provided an extremely comprehensive and well-presented treatise on the industry. Although it contains no illustrations, Phukan’s book gives many details on sericulture, history, processing, marketing, and socio-economics of muga silk, as well as discussions about preserving this heritage industry and its future prospects. Unfortunately, a lot of the textiles sold as muga are actually counterfeit. Reeled tussah, tasar, and mulberry silks maybe dyed or tinted a golden color, and the results look like muga but they do not have the same coarse feel that reeled muga fabrics possess (Phukan 2010, page 119). Items marketed as muga by the Italian firm Anichini are genuine.
Description: Fabric of muga silk (Antheraea assamensis) handwoven in Sualkuchi, Assam. The threads are reeled silk. Purchased in Guwahati, Assam, by textile authority Lenore Blackwood (Sydney, Australia) in January 2005.
Production Location:Sualkuchi, Assam, India
Description: Man's ceremonial waistcloth, called a dhoti, of muga silk (Antheraea assamensis) from Sonidan, Meghalaya, Composed primarily of reeled silk from the outer portions of cocoons. The dark bands are spun silk from the inner portions of the cocoons. All threads are natural colored in the whole piece. Received directly from India, 2009.
Production Location: Sonidan, Meghalaya, India
Measurement: 50cm x 204cm
Description: A choli (woman's blouse) composed of reeled muga silk (Antheraea assamensis) from Assam, India. Probably hand-loomed. It is new and unstitched. Color patterns made by discontinuous weft brocading. Received 2009 by mail order.
Production Location: Assam, India
Balasubramaniam, C. 2010. Golden Silk: The Pride of Assam - Literally the Queen of Silks. British Patchwork & Quilting, Issue 192: 60–63.
Chowdhury, S. N. 1981. Muga Silk Industry. Directorate of Sericulture & Weaving, Gauhati, Assam. v 178 pp., 46 figures.
McLaughlin, T. 2009. Dying for Gold. Wild Fibers 6(3): 40–53.
Phukan, R. 2010. Muga Silk: Problems and Prospects of Muga Silk Industry of Assam, India.
VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, GmbH, Saarbrücken. 146 pp.