Patent on the AHIMSA SILK
(article from the Hindustan Times - August 20, 2006)


Weave of peace:
Pioneer spins, moths fly free
RASHMI Saksena


THE WEAVE has been redefined after 60 years of Independence. Mahatma Gandhi spun “non-violence” in khadi on his homegrown wooden charka.

Kusuma Rajaiah — a handloom technologist with the Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society — is spinning Ahimsa on silk. The fabric, unlike the conventional silk, is spun without killing the silkworm inside the mulberry cocoon.

Rajaiah was awarded a patent for the Ahimsa silk this June.

The process, which “does not involve slaughter of any living organism”, allows the moth to fly away before boiling cocoons for reeling silk. Rajaiah had to wait for four years to get his brand patented under the Intellectual Property Rights on eco friendly method of manufacturing mulberry silk (Bombyx Mori) yarn.

He is now per haps the only one in the world with the right to produce, sell and import silk woven in this “innovative” method.

Soon after getting a patent, Rajaiah pooled in Rs 2 lakh to buy 40 kg of cocoons. In a month’s time, he hopes to produce 3,000 to 4,000 metres of silk without killing a single moth. He is waiting for the registration of ‘Ahimsa silk’.

Rajaiah works from home in Hyderabad and manages to fill up 15 huge baskets on an average everyday. It takes 10 days for the moth to emerge from the cocoon, which are then taken to a spinning mill in Chhattisgarh and “softened up” to resemble cotton balls. They are then combed and spun into a fine yarn of “210/2 to 250/2 count”.

Though Rajaiah’s innovation spares the worm a “brutal death”, it costs more than the conventional method. Under the traditional method, a single cocoon yields nearly 500 metres of shimmering yarn in filament form, whereas the non-violent method produces 60-70 metres of yarn, less shining and discontinuous. Hence, it has to be hand-woven or mill spun. The silk, though more expensive, is “sweat-absorbent”.

The “couture-conscious” love it. Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit has one in her wardrobe, while former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri have six, picked up by her personal assistant. And the spiri tualists are lapping it up. A disciple of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar presented him two angavastrams made from the fabric, while followers of Kanchi mutt, who traditionally shun silk because it involves killing the worm, have opened their arms to it.

The “orthodox” Jains are buying it for their annual religious festival at the temple town of Palitana in Gujarat.

A GOSSAMER GANDHIAN DREAM Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence and “Khadi”. Nearly 60 years lat er, the texture of non-violence has become finer — silky. Ahimsa silk is gradually finding its way into the wardrobes of the discerning and the pious. Like Sheila Dixit, former Indone sian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sri Sri Ravishankar….

WHAT IS AHIMSA SILK? It is one of the finest quality silk extracted from mulberry cocoons without killing the silkworms inside. With a fibre count of 210/2 to 250/2, it is eco-friendly and acceptable to connoisseurs and Gandhians alike.

SPINNING A YARN CONVENTIONAL METHOD Step 1: Farmers sell cocoons (by weight) and reelers purchase it Step 2: They are poured into boiling water so that the worms die and the filament can be extracted Step 3: The cocoons are boiled for 15-20 minutes before reeling. Fibre quality: Very fine and shining. 90 per cent silk can be extracted from the cocoon. The filament is measured in denier (20-22D).

NON-VIOLENT PROCESS Step 1: The cocoons are spread in a basket after being purchased Step 2: Left for 8 to 10 days Step 3: After which the moths start piercing the cocoon and come out. Step 4: The moths are put in another basket, but are not killed. They females die a natural death after laying eggs the day after and the males after two-three days. The pierced co coons are boiled and reeled. Quality: The fibre resembles tufts of cotton, but is as fine — if not as lustrous — as conventional silk. Weaver: Kusuma Rajaiah, a technologist with the AP State Handloom Weavers Co-operative Society.