Silk farming, or sericulture, is an important agro-based cottage industry in Bengal, which is among the top 5 silk-producing states in India (along with Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir). Today, Bengal accounts for about 9% of the raw silk produced in the country. All the 4 commercially produced varieties of silk - mulberry, tussar, eri and muga, are cultivated here.
- Mulberry silk: Mulberry silk derives its name from the mulberry plant whose leaves are fed to the silkworm, Bombyx mori, which produce this silk. The mulberry trees are cultivated and these silkworms are reared specifically for silk production, making this the only variety of domesticated silk. This is also the most common variety of silk, and accounts for about 80% of the total raw silk produced in the state. Malda, Murshidabad and Birbhum districts have a historical legacy of silk production since colonial times, and they continue to produce the bulk of the raw silk. Murshidabad is additionally famous for weaving fine silk fabrics from the processed raw silk. Mulberry silk weaving is also done in Bishnupur, in the Bankura district.
- Tussar silk: Tussar silk is the most common variety of wild (or non-domesticated) silk from Bengal, and accounts for about 28% of the total raw silk produced. It is produced from the silkworm, antherea mylitta, which feed on the leaves of the arjun and asan plants. Tussar silk is mostly cultivated in Bankura, Purulia and West Medinipur and much of the cultivation is done by the tribal population in these districts.
- Eri silk: Eri silk derives its name from the Assamese word, era, meaning castor. The silkworm, Philosamia ricini, feed on the leaves of the castor plant to produce this silk. This silk is produced mainly in Assam and other north-eastern states, and to a small extent in the Jalpaiguri district of Bengal.
- Muga silk: Muga silk, famous for its golden-yellow colour, is produced by the silkworm, Antheraea assamensis, which feed on the leaves of the som and soalu plants. Though primarily a native of Assam, small quantities of this silk are produced in the Koch Bihar district of Bengal.
Central Silk Board website: http://www.csb.gov.in/silk-sericulture/silk/
International Sericulture Commission website: www.inserco.org
Roy, C., & Roy Mukherjee, S. (2015). An analytical study on determinants of income generation in rural sericulture sector of West Bengal. Indian Journal of Economics and Development, 3(2), 168-180.
Roy, C., & Roy Mukherjee, S. (2015). Issues of productivity, employment and exploitation in artisanal silk industry of West Bengal. Indian Journal of Social and Natural Sciences, 4, 49-68.
Directorate of Sericulture, Govt of W.B. (2011). Available at http://www.seriwbgov.org/pdfs/rkvy/rkvy_new.pdf retrieved on 9 September, 2016.