Silk has been a staple for fabric production for millenniums. In many cultures, Silk is a symbol of royalty, elegance, and nobility. This material of sophistication was first developed in China. And the impact of this discovery—indubitable and undeniable—paved the legendary network of trade route called the Silk road. And that, in turn, played a significant role in developing civilizations.
Silk is no stranger in our own history as well. Records date the beginning of silk production in the region to the 13th century. It was then known as Bengal silk or Ganges silk. Bengali silk was a major item of international trade for centuries. And the Bengal was the leading exporter of silk between the 16th and 19th centuries.
The Rajshahi Division of northern Bangladesh is the hub of the country's silk industry, producing three types of silk: mulberry, endi, and tussar. The government of Pakistan started silk production in Rajshahi in 1952. The Rajshahi Silk Factory was a state-owned factory which was founded in 1961.
In 1978 it was handed over to the Bangladesh Sericulture Development Board. Since then, it has been operating at a loss, which ultimately led to its closure in 30 November 2002. The drastic drop in production is noticeable. Before 2002, 300 tonnes of strings were produced by this factory. But in 2011, it was only 50 tonnes.
In 2011 the finance minister of Bangladesh, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, expressed interest in reopening the Rajshahi silk factory but the Privatisation Commission refused on the grounds that it was a loss-making concern.
It is quite harrowing that a trade with such history has fallen to such desolation. One cannot avoid silk merchandise in the fabrics markets of Bangladesh, and yet the industry itself in shambles. One can hope that this fantastic material industry can make a comeback, or risk being lost in time like the legendary muslin.