Historical Background of Textile Industry in Bangladesh

Last Updated on 15/10/2021

Textiles play a vital role in the economic of Bangladesh. It is said that it is the life line of Bangladeshi economy. But this is not obtain this place overnight. The textile industry of Bengal is very old. With the growth of the Eastern civilization demand for finer yarns led to a search and cultivation for long staple cotton fibers. In a tract known as Kapasia in the neighborhood of Dacca, such cotton was grown. The name Kapasia was probably derived from the Sanscrit word Karpash.

Dhaka Muslin:

With the advent of muslin rules in this part of the country, the spinning and weavers got impetus to create things worthy of their distinctive testes and through their patronage, the countries arts and crafts thrived around fourteenth or fifteenth century when the famous Dacca Muslin came into being. Production of muslin fabrics was almost confined to a particular sect known as the Basaks of Dacca.

One need be interested to know as how the word Muslin was derived. It is believed that long staple cotton of extra fineness was grown in the hilly tract of Masul, the capital of Kurdistan, Iraq. The spinners and the weavers of the place were familiar with the art of producing yarns and fabrics of muslin variety. During the reign of Sultan Qutubuddin of turkey around 1210 AD, cotton seeds and artisans were brought and few selected local artisan were trained. The Basaks of Dhaka not only learnt the arts and crafts but improved the techniques to a highest perfection leading to the production of the world famous Dacca Muslin. This is probably the background of the derivation of the word Muslin from Masul.

Some believe that the muslin originated from the name Maisolos. Marco Polo, the famous traveler, visited the Kakatiya kingdom in which Machilipatnam was located and praised the muslin available there. In 1298, Marco Polo describes the cloth in his book “The Travels”. The word was derived from Mosul , Iraq. Although this view has the fabric named after the city where Europeans first encountered it (Mosul), the fabric is believed to have originated in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. In the 9th century, an Arab merchant named Sulaiman makes notes of the materials origins in Bengal (known as Ruhml in Arabic).

A woman in Dhaka wearing muslin saree during 18th century
Fig: A woman in Dhaka wearing muslin saree during 18th century (Image: Wikipedia)

During the reign of Akbar, Sonargaon was the capital of ancient bangle. It was also known as an important port for exporting muslin, to Salt-peter, Borax etc all over the world. Among the Europeans, the Dutch and the French were the first to take up this trade on commercial basis. The English people came in this line in 1666.

Records show that in the year 1787 Muslin Fabrics worth more than millions of rupees were exported to the foreign countries through Sonargaon port.

But Dhaka Muslin become famous and attracted foreign and transmarine buyer after the establishment of the Mughal capital at Dhaka. The Muslin industry of Dhaka received patronage from the Mughal emperors and the Mughal nobility. A huge quantity of the finest sort of muslin was produced for the use of the Mughal emperors, provincial governors and high officers and nobles. In the grate 1851 Exhibition of London, Dhaka Muslin occupied a prominent place, attracted a large number of visitors and the British press spoke very highly of the marvelous Muslin fabrics of Dhaka.

weaving of dhakai muslin
Fig: Weaving of Dhakai muslin

Todays the name “muslin” is only a history of ancient Bengal. It is a loosely woven finest cotton fabric which originated in Bangladesh. It was as fine as 50 meters long muslin cloth could be filled in a match box. Remnants of muslin in the British Museum on computation were found to be of yarns as fine as 242 Ne count (115 miles, 2 furlongs and 60 yards to pound). In another case one Ratti (2 grains) of yarn measured a length of 80 yards that is 332 ne counts. Another record shows that 20 cubits of fabric could be blown off by mouth. It is also believed that yards of 400 Ne counts were spun purely by hand. A legend that once a piece of muslin cloth of Nawab ali- Bardi Khan named “Anbe-e-Raoya” was kept on grasses of front ground palace for drying, a cow eat it as grass. Nawab was angry to the honor of the cow and told him to go out from the city.

Manufacturing History of Dhaka Muslin:
Weaving was prevalent in the Dhaka district in almost every village, but some places become famous for manufacturing superior quality of Muslins. These places were Dhaka, Sonargaon, Dhamrai, Teetbady, Junglebary and Bajitpur. Sonargaon is now in Narayanganj district, it was once the capital of Sultan Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah and his son (1338-1353), and again capital if Isa Khan in the Mughal period; Dhamrai is still an important place on the Bangshi river, about 20 miles west of Dhaka. Teetbady is a village in the Kapasia thana of Gazipur district; Junglebary is now in the district of Mymensingh on the eastern bank of the river Brahmaputra; Bajitpur, 15/20 miles away from Junglebary is also in Mymensingh district; Junglebary was for long a residence of the family of Isa Khan.

These places manufactured fine quality cloth, because they were situated near the places where cotton suitable for manufacturing Muslins was produced. Everyone of a family would involve producing a cloth. Generally girls were considered as a spinner of muslin yarns. Men felt insulting to spin yarn. The man who was looser in war had to spin yarn as punishment. Several stages they would be crossed. Stages were shuta natano (winding), tana hotano (warping), shan bandha (sizing), narod bandha (drawing), bu- bandha (denting) and kapor bona (weaving). They used bamboo looms for producing muslins.

These looms consist merely of two bamboo rollers and a pair of heddles and a shuttle. The loom in its entirety is attached between any two native tress affording a comfortable shade. The muslin clothes were as fine as it could be carried easily through a ring. The finest sort of muslin was called Malmal, sometimes mentioned as Malmal Shai or Malmal Khas by foreign travellers. It was coslty, and the weavers spent a long time, sometimes six months, to make a piece of this sort. It was used by emperors and nawabs. Muslins procured for emperors were called Malbus Khas and those procured for nawabs were called Sarkar-i-Ala. The Mughal government appointed an officer, Darogha or Darogha-i-Malnus Khas to supervise the manufacture of muslin meant for the emperor or a nawab. The Malmal was also procured for the diwan and other high officers and for Jagat Sheth, the great banker. Muslins other than malmal (or Malbus Khas and Sarkar-i-Ali) were exported by the traders or some portion was used locally.

Muslin were hand-woven plain cloth of extremely fine hand spun yarns. It was plain –woven cotton fabric made in various weights. The better qualities of muslin are fine evenly spun warps and wefts, or fillings. They are given a soft finish, bleached or piece-dyed, and are sometimes patterned in the loom or printed. The coarser varieties are often of irregular yarns and textures, bleached, unbleached, or piece-dyed and are generally finished by the application of sizing. Grades of muslin are know by such names as book, mull, Swiss and sheeting.

Different types of muslin fabrics name:
Different names were used for different qualities of muslin. Different types of muslin fabrics were following:

  1. “Malmal Khas” very fine used by emperors & nawabs of Delhi.
  2. “Sarker EW Ala” very fine used by nawabs of Murshidabad.
  3. “Jhuna” was used by native dancers.
  4. “Rang” was very transparent and net-like texture.
  5. “Abirawan” was fancifully compared with running water.
  6. “Khassa” was special quality, fine or elegant.
  7. “Shabnam” was as morning dew.
  8. “Alaballee” was very fine.
  9. “Tanzib” was as the adoring the body.
  10. “Nayansukh” was as pleasing to the eye.
  11. “Buddankhas” was a special sort of cloth.
  12. “Seerbund” used for turbans.
  13. “Kumees” used for making shirts.
  14. “Doorea” was striped.
  15. “Charkona” was chequered cloth.
  16. “Jamdanee” was figured cloth.

Properties of muslin cloth:

  • Very fine cloth.
  • It is smooth and delicate.
  • It is cool and comfortable.
  • It wears well.
  • It is medium to lightweight.
  • Transparent.

Uses of muslin:

  • Saree.
  • Dress making and sewing
  • Backing or lining for quilts.
  • Culinary
  • Used as a filter (decanting fine wine)
  • Used to wrap a chrismas pudding.
  • Used to mask the background of theater.
  • Curtains or upholstery etc.

Immersing of muslin:
The muslin industry of Dhaka declined after the Battle of Palashi, 1757, by the end of the 18th century, the export of Dhaka Muslin came down to almost half of that of 1747, and by the middl;e of the 19th century was valued at less than ten lakh rupees. The decline of Dhaka Muslin was due to loss of patronage from the Mughal emperors, nawabs and other high officials. The Mughals are not only lost their power and prestige but also their buying and spending capacity. With the establishment of the East India company’s monopoly over the trade of Bengal after the battle of Plashi, the trade of other European Companies and traders belonging to other national practically came to a stop. But the most important cause of decline and the ultimate extinction of the Muslin industry was the industrial revolution in England. The British government banned the sale of muslin and production in 1800.

They tortured on the weaver of muslin. A legend that the British government had cut the thumb fingers of the muslin weavers. The costly Dhaka cotton goods, particularly the Muslin, lost in competition with cheap international products of England.

Jamdani is an ancient fine Muslin cloth with geometric or floral designs. The origin of the word jamdani is uncertain. One popular belief is that it came from the Persian word jamdani, which means,a vase of flowers, “jamdani” the great characteristic of fine art in hand weaving.

A legend says that emperor Aurangzeb went into fit rage when, one day he saw his daughter wearing nothing. On his rebuke, she replied that she is wearing not one, but seven dresses covering her body. Such is the fineness of hand woven fabrics.

dhakai jamdhani
Fig: Dhakai jamdhani

Without any shadow of doubt, it can be said that the art of making jamdani designs on fine fabric reached its zenith during Mughal rule. In India, Jamdani is being produced in West Bengal and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. There were hand looms in almost all villages of the Dhaka district. Dhaka, Sonargoan, Dhamrai. Titabari, Jangalbari and Bajitpur were famous for making superior quality jamdani and muslin. The Mughal Emperor, the Nawab of Bengal and other aristocrats used to engage agents at Dhaka to buy high quality muslin and jamdani for their masters use. The demand for jamdani and muslin fabrics at home and abroad grew and this prompted further improvement in their manufacture.

Manufacturing History of Jamdani:
The “Mughals” recognized the excellence, acknowledged of jamdani’s rarity. During the region of Emperor Jahangir and Aurangjeb, the manufacturer of finer Jamdani was a rare product and a royal monopoly. There were two types of jamdani according to region of manufacturing. The weavers of Dacca were expert in Jandani known as ‘Daccai Jamdani’ was continued to develop under the partronage of Nawabs of Dacca (presently under Bangladesh) and Jamdani is being produced in West Bengal and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh were they make jamdani, named Tanda (also known as “Awadh Jamdani”)- a cotton fabric brocaded with cotton and sometimes zari (a tinsel, metallic thread) thread were continued to develop under the patronage of ‘Nawabs’ Wajid Ali Shah of Tanda.

Manufacturing materials:

  • Raw material: Karpash cotton or silk thread
  • Machinery/Tool:
  • Handloom
  • Scissors
  • Charka (spinning m/c)
  • Taku (spindle)
  • Maku (shuttle)
  • Spools (used for design)

Manufacturing process:

  • To produce pure cotton Jamdanis weavers use cotton /silk blends, or other varities of fiber.
  • Yarns were dyed using herbal dyes.
  • Jamdani is hand-woven on aloom made of bamboo, where the weaver sits in a trench or pit that is dug into the ground.
  • One specially of jamdani loom is that it does not make any sound while weaving.
  • The creation of the warp and the setting up and dressing of the loom are similar to other hand-loom weaving techniques.
  • In weaving, using a throw shuttle known as the maku, the base fabric is woven in a plain weave structure.
  • Traditionally an open weave that appear thin and has an element transparency.
  • Motif: Two weavers sit side by side at the loom and add every discontinuous supplementary weft motif seperately, by hand, interlacing the supplementary weft threads into the warp with fine bamboo sticks in a zigzag manner using individual spools of thread. No warp-lifting mechanism is used.
  • The cotton threads used for opaque motifs are sometimes replaced by zari (golden) threads.
  • The supplementary weft threads used are traditionaly thicker and heavier than threads used to weave the base fabric.
  • Those woven with a silk base often use cotton threads to create the brocade design.
  • The designs are never sketched or outlined, but are made while the fabric is still on the loom, inserted by hand during the process of weaving, producing an embroidery-like effect Motifs. Important characteristics of Jamdani include the motifs, mostly floral, are of geometric shape, normally spreading across the fabric in adiagonal format. The spread of motifs diagonally across the fabric is called Tercha.
  • A starch mixture is applied to the fabric after each meter is woven but while it is still on the loom.

Structure of Jamdani:
Mainly Jamdani is a plain woven fabric. Every woven fabric has a warp, the longitudinal threads of the fabric, and a weft, the threads that go horizontally across. Jamdani has supplementary (or extra) weft that is introduced wherever the design is to be placed and woven into that selected place only. It serves as just decoration and is not a part of the textiles structure in the way that the regular warp and weft are.

Properties of Jamdani cloth:

  • Very fine cloth.
  • Smooth and soft
  • Comfortable
  • Medium to lightweight
  • Transparent

Uses of Jamdani:
Jamdani is a kind of fine cloth, mostly used for saree. Today’s the uses of Jamdani is versatile. Now Jamdani is also used for making dresses (Three piece, Panjabi, Kamiz, Tops), scarves, handkerchiefs, ornas, hand bag, bed covers, pillow covers, curtains, wall mate etc.

Jute goods:
From the 17th century to the middle of 20th century, the British Empire authority was delegated by the British East India Company which was the first jute trader. The raw jute was traded by this company. During the start of 20th century, Margaret Donnelly in Dundee had set up first jute mill in India. The first consignment of jute was exported by East India Company in the year 1793. In the beginning of year 1830, Dundee spinners have determined spinning of jute yarn by transfiguring their power driven flax machinery. This leads to increase in the export and production of raw jute from Indian sub-continent which was the single supplier of jute.

After getting independence, most of the jute barons had started to quit India, leaving the set up of jute mills. Most of them were by Marwaris businessmen. During the year 1947, after the partitioning, East Pakistan had the finest stock of jute. From then onwards, different groups of Pakistani families have joined the jute business by establishing many kills in Narayanganj and Khulna. At that time, the export of jute cloth was being a powerful foreign currency earner and playing a vital role in the economy of the country. In the year 1971, after the liberation of Bangladesh took place from Pakistan most of the jute mills were taken over by the Bangladesh government. Later, government had built BJMC (Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation) to control and handle jute mills of Bangladesh. The most basic and essential jute commodities fabricated in Bangladeshi jute mills are: Carpets, Hessain and Sacking cloth for bags, Hydro-carbon free cloth, Geo-textile, different types of hand bags and decorative items.

Garment industry:
In 1978 the RMG industry established in Bangladesh with nine enterprises and has grown at a blistering pace since. This phenomenal growth is due largely to the simple level of technology required in the industry. The machinery is relatively inexpensive and easily available. In addition, garments producers can operate in smaller premises than those required by most of the processes in the textile industry. On top of this, Bangladesh has an abundant supply of cheap labor consisting mostly of women for whom this is one of the most suitable forms of employment. This factors as well as incentives such as liberal trade policies, low tariffs on imported machinery and bonded warehouse facilities helps the growth of the garments industry.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textile_industry_in_Bangladesh
  2. https://textilelearner.net/2014/01/history-of-textile-industries-in.html
  3. https://textilelearner.net/bangladesh-textile-industry-present-scenario-future-prospects-and-challenges/
  4. http://www.btmadhaka.com/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamdani
  6. Introduction of Textile Engineering by Dr. Hosne Ara Begum
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslin
  8. http://www.textiletoday.com.bd/
  9. http://www.fibre2fashion.com
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