Muslin is not just a fabric. It is inextricably linked to our history and heritage. There is no way to separate it from our national life. That is why a section of Bangladeshi researchers researched almost six years to revive this traditional fabric.
An exhibition of Dhaka’s muslin was held in London in 1850. Then 170 years after this exhibition, the same traditional muslin saree was woven in Bangladesh. The rare fabric muslin has now secured recognition of Geographical Indication (GI) as a product of Bangladesh.
India also produces muslin but the quality of Bangladeshi muslin is exceptional. The research team has already woven six muslin sarees and presented one of these to the prime minister Sheikh Hasina. The venture has not been an easy one.
From the beginning
While visiting the Ministry of Textiles and Jute in 2014, prime minister Sheikh Hasina asked the ministry to revive the tradition of muslin. Accordingly, a seven-member team headed by the chairman of Bangladesh Handloom Board, was formed.
The others in the committee were professor of the Botany department of Rajshahi University Md Monzur Hossain, Professor of Bangladesh Textile University Shah Alimuzzaman, additional director of Bangladesh Cotton Development Board (BCDB) Md Aktharuzzaman, general manager of Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation Mahbub-Ul-Alam and deputy manager of BCDB ASM Golam Mostafa. The senior instructor of the Handloom Board Md Monzurul Islam was made member secretary.
Later for the sake of further research, another seven members were added. They are professor of Dhaka University Bulbon Osman, Professor of the Botany department of Rajshahi University M Firoz Alam, planning officer of BCDB Ayub Ali and research officer of Bangladesh Sericulture Research and Training Institute Md Abdul Alim.
They didn’t have any sample of muslin and so their first challenge was to find a source of the particular karpas cotton to produce yarn.
They launched a project headed by the professor of Botany department of Rajshahi University Md Monzur Hossain while directed by the planning officer of BCDB Md Ayub Ali.
In search of karpas
Md Monzur Hossain said, the main task of his team was to match the muslin yarn’s DNA with the DNA of 'phuti karpas' plant. But they had neither a sample of muslin fabric nor of a 'phuti karpas' plant.
They only had a set of books written by Swedish researcher Carl Linnaeus, titled ‘Species Plantarum,’ and Abdul Karim titled ‘Dhakai Muslim’.
In 'Species Plantarum', researcher Carl Linnaeus mentioned the 'phuti karpas' as suitable for producing cotton. Linnaeus also said that this type of plant used to be cultivated in Bangladesh.
Professor Monzur said they collected different types of cotton from several wild areas in the country order for their research.
To find out the plant, they first hired a student of the Fine Arts department of Rajshahi University to draw a picture of 'phuti karpas' plant. And then the picture was printed to the national dailies, showed on Bangladesh Television (BTV) and also televised on the TV news.
Finally the research team found the 'phuti karpas' in Gazipur, Bagerhat, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram and Rangamati districts.
After that they collected some samples of cotton, seeds, leafs, flowers and branches of the plant. And they found out a connection between drawing picture and a tree in Kapasia of Gazipur. Then the team cultivated the plant in the fields of the botany department of Rajshahi University.
From Kolkata to London
With a view to collecting muslin, the team published an advertisement in Prothom Alo on 11 December 2016. After that they got a good number of samples, but these were not the original traditional muslin. Then they sought assistance from National Museum to get this fabric.
But the National Museum also failed to provide them the sample of muslin. Later, they went to the Indian National Museum in search of a muslin saree. But this time also their attempts were in vain. When the prime minister of this, she asked them to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She said she had seen muslin at that museum. In 2017, a four-member team rushed to the London in 2017 and collected the muslin samples with some vital information.
Researchers said a total of 350 muslin sarees have preserved in Victoria and Albert Museum from where they collected a sample saree that was woven in 1710.
Finally muslin woven
The committee's member secretary Monzurul Islam said, "We got two weavers in Narayanganj - Rubel Mia and Md Ibrahim - who could weave the muslin saree. We arranged some technical training sessions for them."
He said, "The finally wove a muslin saree following the design of the saree made in 1710. Now the price of a length of this traditional fabric is Tk 360,000. But the price will gradually lessen.’
Monzurul added, "We have woven six sarees. One of these has been presented to the prime minister Sheikh Hasina."
Project director Ayub Ali said, "We will able to launch the muslin saree in the market for everyone in the next two years."
The concerned authorities said, "The government gave us Tk 131 million (Tk 13 crore 10 lakh) for this project. But we spent only Tk 45 million (Tk four and half crore) in six years. The rest of the funding was sent back to the government fund."
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by NH Sajjad