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Monday, 26 April 2010


SILK is one of the most mysterious creations of Mother Nature. Its history is as often said, “Shrouded in mystery and legend.” Both Indian and Chinese versions of history exist. There are references of the fabric in ancient scriptures of both the countries. However it is generally believed that silk found its origins in China, more than four thousand years ago. The Chinese legend says that it was the teen aged Chinese empress “Hsi-Ling-Chi” of the yellow emperor “Huang Te” who brought the secrets of silk to light. Historic relics unearthed from China support this legend. The Chinese still worship the empress as the “Silk Goddess”.

For many centuries Chinese kept the art of silk making a close guarded secret and tantalised the whole world with the ‘heavenly fabric’. ‘Anyone who tried to smuggle either silkworm eggs or mulberry seeds was bound to meet death penalty’. No wonder even learned Roman like Pliny the Elder fancied silk as “the hair of sea-sheep”. Emperor Justinian of Byzantium (Istanbul) employed two monks to smuggle out silkworms from China in 550 AD. They accomplished the task by hiding live specimens inside hollow canes. By 1000BC the Chinese silk products became so popular that they started export, mainly through caravans on foot and camel back. Later this caravan tract came to be known as SILK ROAD.

Through Silk Road, silk travelled from China to almost every part of the world. In return wools, gold and silver went to China. It is to be born in mind that this happened in a time when most parts of the globe remained un touched by man and those touched lay un connected. Today man has acquired the Godly attribute of ‘omnipresence’ by means of internet and other gadgets. A look back to 3000 BC reveals the fact that it is not the gadgets that work wonders but human imagination, courage and will power. Let us see how the Silk Road progressed, what did it do for man and what is its present state.

After the demise of Huang Te, the Yellow emperor, China was ruled ‘Han Dynasty’. It was during Han Dynasty, silk industry reached its Zenith in China and Silk Road originated. The road started from Shanghai on the Pacific Ocean and traversed along the Great wall through ‘Sian’. Sian, then a cosmopolitan Chinese city had a population of two million and excelled as a trade centre. At the mouth of the ‘Taklimakan desert’, the road split into two, each branch binding the sides of the desert. Collin Thubron, who re- traced the silk road in 1989 says “the desert is one of the most dangerous voids on earth. You enter and never return”. The two branches re united at Kashagar- the last great oasis within China. Even now Kashagar is a hotspot of trade between Pakistan and China. It is interesting to note that the trade route even linked Kashmir, then a great trading centre. From Kashagar the road rose into the Russian Pamir, again splitting into two. One branch lead to Samarkand and the other to Afghanistan. Once again they reunited near the frontiers of Iran. After travelling through Baghdad, Damascus and Istanbul, the road broke on the shores of Adriatic ocean. The goods were then shipped across to Rome. Subway followed from Rome to Genoa and Cadiz in Spain, where the road ended. From Shanghai to Cadiz the Silk Road measured nearly 12800 km. It remained the longest man-made road on earth during the 2000 years of its use.

Apart from its role in international trade, the Silk Road has tremendous historic significance. It is the first connecting link between the west and the east. It facilitated spread and amalgamation of various cultures, caused rise and fall of empires and created new countries and civilisations. The most important contribution however was to the growth and spread of various religions. Indian pilgrims travelling Silk Road introduced Buddhism to China. It also helped spread of Judaism, Islam and Christianity across Asia. To quote the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “literary records do not reveal much about the process but the comparatively abundant information surrounding the birth of Islam in Arabia [AD 610-32] casts much light on the sort of religious exchanges that might have occurred in caravan camps and round innumerable campfires where strangers met telling tales and expounding divergent beliefs”.

With the gradual decline of Roman Empire in Asia and the rise of Arabian power, the Silk Road became increasingly unsafe and untraveled. With the opening of a sea route between Europe and India the importance of the land route declined. In the 13th and 14th centuries t was revived under Mongols and Marco polo used the road to travel to China. The road now partially exists in the form of a paved highway, connecting Pakistan and China. The old road has inspired a United Nations plan for a trans-Asian highway. An oil pipeline 3017 km. Long is constructed along the Silk Road from China to Kazakhstan.

The humble silkworm too has travelled much. From the Chinese queen’s tender bosom the creature has been smuggled out, transported across great mountains and seas and across a variety of climates, cultures and civilizations. Now China has lost its monopoly, for no knowledge could be kept secret for long. Knowledge is nobody’s property. It is for the good of the whole mankind.


Roxelle said...

I am a researcher who studies group Bombyx mori in Brazil. We have advances in genetic study of the silkworm.
I congratulate you for this blog, I really appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Please send me a few eggs of a large variety of silk worm, also some literature on that variety.
Alfredo Coelho
Quinta do Barreiro
2580-377 Alenquer


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