Desi Libaas; Swadeshi Ahsaas (Episode 2)

(Brief History of the Indian Handloom Industry Seen Through the Rare Books)

Celebrate this National Handloom Week with a NINE Episode Story Series on ‘Charkha from Local to Global’

To celebrate our country’s 5,000-year-old tradition of hand-woven fabrics, is no doubt a matter of pride for every Indian. And what better way to celebrate through the pages of the great books written on the Indian Handloom Industry and peek into the illustrious history (and the present) of the Indian handloom and textile industry.

In episode 1 of this 9-episode series, we discussed about the invaluable collection of books available in the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, Maharashtra. We discussed about John William Kaye and John Forbes Watson’s books, ‘The Textile Manufactures and the Costumes of the People of India’ by John Forbes Watson  And a book edited by Frederic Shoberl – ‘The World in Miniatures – Hindoostan’ (1822-27) that contains a description of the religion, manners, customs, trades, arts, sciences, literature, diversions, etc. of the ‘Hindoos’.

Another important book is this league is, ‘The Costume of Hindostan’ by Balthazar Solvyns. Francois Balthazar Solvyns was a Flemish Artist who lived in Calcutta from 1791 to 1803. According to Hardgrave, R.L. (2002), “Solvyns provided a prototype for the genre of ‘Company School’ paintings of occupations, done by Indian artists for the British that became popular in the early 19th century.  He can be considered as a predecessor to the later depictions of Indian natives by European artists as his influence is clearly visible in the ethnographic portraits of Indians produced by European artists in the latter half of 19th century.”

In 1794, Solvyns created ethnographic portraits of Indians are a visual archive of everyday life in Calcutta in the 18th century and was published in 12 parts in 1799. Solvyns’ this collection of ethnographic portraits of Indians depicted Indian lifestyle.

These ethnographic portraits of Indians are a visual archive of everyday life in Calcutta in the 18th century. The collection was published in 12 parts in 1799. However, as the luck would have it, this project turned out be non-viable, solely due to financial constraints.

In 1804, Solvyns married an English lady in France and using his wife’s resources, he prepared new etchings and produced a work with 288 new plates titled ‘Les Hindous’.

Hardgrave, R.L. (2002) explains that in ‘Les Hindous’ Solvyns mentions that “Indians have not been represented accurately by European scholars who have written a lot about India’s history and geography”.

The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum proudly houses the collection of these rare books that include the first and the third volume of ‘Les Hindous‘.

Later, in 1807 Edward Orme published a pirated copy titled “The Costumes of Hindostan” in which he reproduced 60 select drawings by Solvyns and the text was provided in both, English and French. These drawings were modified and coloured in pastel shades for mass appeal. The illustrations of the artisans depict a craftsman at work in the centre of the page.

In 1868 came a six-volume series titled ‘The People of India: A series of Photographic Illustrations with Descriptive Letterpress of The Races and Tribes of Hindustan‘ which was the ‘fruit’ of the increased popularity of fields like anthropology and ethnology.

‘The People of India: A series of Photographic Illustrations with Descriptive Letterpress of The Races and Tribes of Hindustan’ was a culmination of the efforts put in to capture large-scale impact of the Revolt of 1857 that had created an atmosphere of suspicion of the local inhabitants among the British administrators. Such was its scope and penetration that the Government of India issued a memorandum requesting local governments to collect photographs of the indigenous people under their jurisdiction.

In the early 1880s, the officials of the Government of India inaugurated ‘The Journal of Indian Art and Industry’ . The main objective behind coming up with this journal was to preserve and encourage Indian arts and manufactures. John Lockwood Kipling, editor, and Sir George Birdwood, Curator of the Museum from 1858 to 1868, were among the major contributors to the Journal.

The Journal published essays on Indian art manufactures and traditions written by several experts between 1884-1912 were often accompanied by photo and chromo-lithographic illustrations by W.H. Griggs and John Lockwood Kipling. This image given below is taken from Vol III, Issue 25.

W.H. Griggs published around seventeen volumes of the Journal before the end of World War I. The library of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum has a collection of Journal of Art volumes published in the years 1884 to 1914.

In my next episode of this NINE Episode Story Series on ‘Charkha from Local to Global’ on the Brief History of the Indian Handloom Industry Seen Through the Rare Books, I will discuss about Typical Pictures of Indian Natives’, the book that was first published by the Times of India Press.

To be Continued…

Shalini Verma image

About the Author

Prof. (Dr) Shalini Verma ‘LIFOHOLIC’ is a communication professor-consultant, a body language expert, an author-columnist, actor-model-screenwriter and Co-founder – Books33 & SamvaadShaalaa. Dr. Verma hails from Motihari, East Champaran, the LAND OF SATYAGRAHA (Satyagrah is a Sanskrit word which means“insistence on truth”), in Bihar. She may be reached at: [email protected]

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