Though the word doesn’t
sound as romantic as the meaning, sericulture refers to
production of silk. The history of silk has it roots decades
back. However, silk was an unknown thing for the West for
long. The Natural History by Pliny in 70 BC reads, "
silk was obtained by removing down from the leaves with the
help of water…" – a very clear evidence of
ignorance about silk.
Perhaps the secret of silk is the
safest guarded one in history.
As the Chinese legend goes,
Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih , the wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor
initiated silkworm rearing. She also invented the loom.
Considering the reign of Yellow Emperor, China can proudly
boast of silk rearing from 3000BC. However, the
archeological finds trace the origin of sericulture even
Initially, silk was a royal
luxury and hence reserved exclusively for the ruler. Only
the Emperor, his close relations and his dignitaries of the
highest rank were authorized for the use of silk.
Supposedly, the Emperor wore a robe of White silk with in
the palace. Outside he, the Empress and the heir to the
throne wore Yellow Silk.
Later, silk reached out to
the various strata of society. Primarily used for clothing
and decoration, silk was also put to industrial use by
Chinese. Quite naturally, silk started influencing Chinese
economy. Silk was used for fishing-lines, musical
instruments, bowstrings, bonds of all kinds, and rag paper.
Eventually the common people also started wearing silk
Han Dynasty saw the seizure
of silk as an industrial material. Owing to the absolute
value in it, farmers paid their taxes in grain and silk.
Silk began to be used for paying government servants and
also for rewarding subjects for their outstanding services.
The basic unit for measurement of silk was Length, that is,
the lengths of silk took over pounds of gold. Before long it
became a currency used in trade with foreign countries.
More On Silk Worms
Silk Moths are found in many
indigenous varieties across the world. The species found in
China is Bombyx mori. This is a blind, flightless moth with
a life span of around nine to ten days. During its life
span, it lays around 500 eggs in four to six days. The eggs
are really minute. However, from one ounce of eggs around
30,000 worms will be hatched. They feed voraciously on
Mulberry leaves. The original wild ancestor of the
cultivated species of today is Bombyx mandarina Moore that
lives on white mulberry tree. Rarely found in other
countries, this unique moth of China produces threads with
smoother, finer and rounder filaments than that of other
silk moths. Perhaps the evolution of Bombyx mori to the
present state; a moth which has lost its power to fly, only
capable of mating and producing eggs for the next generation
of silk producers, could be attributed to thousands of years
Producing silk is a lengthy
process that demands constant close monitoring of the
minutest details. To ensure quality of silk, two conditions
need to be met– prevent the moth from hatching out and
perfect the diet on which the silkworms should feed.
Hatching of the eggs happens
at 77 degrees. The baby worms are voracious eaters of
mulberry leaves and multiplies its weight by 10,000 times
within a month. The silkworms feed until they have stored up
enough energy to enter the cocoon stage. When it is time to
build their cocoons, the worms produce a jelly-like
substance in their silk glands, which hardens on contact
with air. The cocoon of a silk worm looks like puffy white
balls. After eight or nine days in the cocoon stage, it is
time to unwind the cocoon.
Firstly, the worms are killed
- either steamed or baked. The cocoons, on dipping in hot
water loosen the tightly woven filaments. These filaments
are unwound onto a spool. The filament in each cocoon is
between 600 and 900 meters long. To make one thread, five to
eight filaments are twisted together. Finally the silk
threads are woven into cloth or used for embroidery work.
Spring was considered the
Silk-raising season and the Empress herself inaugurated it.
The technique and process of sericulture were safe guarded
secrets and closely controlled by Chinese authorities.
Anyone who revealed the secrets or smuggled the silkworm
eggs or cocoons outside of China were given capital
However, the secret reached
rest of the world some how. Sericulture reached Korea around
200 BC, with Chinese immigrants .It also reached the west
soon. One of the most heard stories is that a prince of
present Hetian courted and won a Chinese princess who
smuggled out silkworm eggs. Later, the secret reached
Byzantium also, resulting in silk industry in the Middle
East. The Persians too mastered the art of silk weaving.
Gradually, Silk Industry became wide spread in Europe.
Silk can be considered as a
remarkable invention of mankind to such an extend that most
of the ladies could not conceive a world without it.