A fabric that embodies a worldview of the past as well as of the future, khadi is a symbol of Indian textile heritage
The clothes we wear have played an essential role throughout history. They reflect the personality of individuals and can be used as a marker of a group, community, family, region and even country. Indian culture is older than history. The building up and casting aside of different identities by means of clothes has been a recurring theme in it.
History yields some very interesting facts about khadi. Hand-spinning and hand-weaving have been known to Indians for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence, such as terracotta spindles (for spinning), bone tools (for weaving) and figurines wearing woven fabrics, indicate that Indus Valley Civilisation had a well-developed and flourishing tradition of textiles.
In fact, the famous stone sculpture found in Mohenjodaro (dubbed the Priest King by archaeologists) wears an elegant robe with decorative motifs and patterns that are still in use in modern Gujarat, Rajasthan and Sindh. However there is little information available about the actual mode of cultivation or method of spinning used by the Harappans.
Khadi is beyond a cloth
The fact that hand-spinning as well as hand-weaving were quite prevalent in prehistoric India is quite evident from the oldest Vedas and Manusmriti.
It was in the beginning of the seventeenth century that the English first set their foot in India as a company of traders. The Englishmen had never really actively propagated their dress earlier. However, a tendency was noticeable among the younger generation of disposing the flowing cuts of previous eras and adopting a new European style of trousers. Side by side with these changes in Indian fashions, English dresses were themselves being worn commonly. Moreover, When a country like India, with a rich heritage or well-founded traditions, has always been made the hunting ground of many opposing but tempting cultures, it puts on a hide of complacency which makes it insensitive to sudden shocks and incapable of quick reactions.4 The people then begin to suffer from a sort of an intellectual cowardice which keeps them torn between shyness and desire. They are drawn towards the new, but are afraid to relinquish the old.
Within this dilemma of the new and the old came khadi. However, as an effective and powerful symbol of freedom struggle, it came to its fore due to its association with M. K. Gandhi and the indispensable role that he played in elevating it to the status of a national cloth. This is also evident in khadi being the result of Gandhi’s own sartorial choices of transformation from that of an Englishman to that of one representing India.5 The choice of Khadi as a symbol was thus not the result of a whim. It was a well-thought-out decision of Gandhi. The key to Khadi becoming a successful tool for the freedom struggle lies in its uniqueness which picked up and re-crafted the then existing politico- economic critiques with its own distinctive qualities. It thus became a material to which people from diverse backgrounds could relate to. To put it simply, ‘khadi was the material embodiment of an ideal’ that represented freedom from colonialism on the one hand and a feeling of self-reliance and economic self-sufficiency on the other. It embodied the national integrity of all as well as acted as a marker for communal harmony and spiritual humility.
The fabric’s makeover in world of fashion
From Arvind Mills, Raymond and other branded textile manufacturers to the fraternity of fashion designers, the past few years have had a whole new set of suitors standing attendance to Brand Khadi.
Its identity — from a fabric favoured by politicians and a symbol of national pride to an embodiment of sustainable fashion and millennial values — is undergoing a massive change and the makeover is opening the door to a new world of consumers for the government-owned Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).
Khadi’s proponents are talking to a new audience, in a language and form that is giving the age-old yarn a contemporary twist.
Aamir Akhtar, CEO, Lifestyle Fabrics-Denim, Arvind Limited that buys substantive amounts of the fabric from KVIC said that interest has been gradually growing, in India and abroad.
“If we have the ‘khadi spirit’ in us, we would surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life. The ‘khadi spirit’ means infinite patience. For those who know anything about the production of khadi know how patiently the spinners and the weavers have to toil at their trade, and even so must we have patience while we are spinning the thread of Swaraj”, Gandhi says in a famous quote.