Many centuries ago, muslin, an object of desire and a symbol of luxury, was one of the first export from the Indian Subcontinent to the world.
The Muslin name comes from Mussolo ‘Mosul’ (Mosul, Iraq, where European traders are said to have first encountered the cloth). Although this view has the fabric named after the city where Europeans first encountered it (Mosul), the fabric is believed to have originated in Dhakeshwari, now Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh.
In the prehistoric period, a mother goddess figurine from Indus valley civilization appears to be draped in a very thin tight tunic top compared to her skirt which exposes her bosoms which maybe a cloth like muslin.
Muslin is depicted frequently as early as 2nd century BC in chandraketugarh terracotta figurines from west Bengal. In fifth century Sigiriya painting depicts royal females draped in muslin. In the 9th century, an Arab merchant named Sulaiman made note of the material's origin in Bengal (known as Ruhmi in Arabic). Bengali muslin was traded throughout the Muslim world, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.
Renaldis Muslin Women - Source Wikimedia
The origins of East Indian muslin are more than a thousand years old. Hand woven from uncommonly delicate hand spun yarn, muslin was produced from a cotton plant that grew exclusively along the banks of a certain stretch of the Brahmaputra River.
Bengal’s muslins were exported to far off Rome under the name ‘textalis-ventalis’ – ‘woven air’ and other fancy names like ‘evening dew’ and ‘morning mist’. About 450 BC, Herodotus testified that in Inde “wild trees bore fleece as their fruit, out of which the Indians made their clothes”. The best quality muslins had such fineness that it was a very highly valued item which only the very few rich in Rome could afford.
Over time, this fabric fell by the wayside. Particularly during the British rule of India, muslin weaver became unable to compete with machine-made products and brutal British Policies.
In Current times, a revival of traditional weaving on Muslin is underway in various parts of Bengal, particularly around Krishnanagar and Kalna region.