Saturday, 13 April 2013

When Kengeri was the silk capital

Few know that Tipu Sultan introduced silk in Mysore and he gave an impetus to silk cultivation in his kingdom and fewer still know that Kengeri, now a part of Bangalore and then a small village, was one of the most important centres of raw silk trade then.
When Tipu introduced silk in his kingdom, Kengeri quickly emerged as a major centre and for a brief while it also emerged as the seat of raw silk trade.
The Mysore Gazetteer reveals how Tipu changed the face of Kengeri, but once he died in 1799, the silk industry fell into disrepair and it almost vanished from Kengeri.
The British made no effort to revive silk and Kengeri continued to languish. It was only in 1866 that Major A.P. De’Vecchj de Piccioli, an Italian, who had come to India, noticed the drastic fall in the production of silk in Mysore.
He also saw that the silk industry in Kengeri had almost degenerated and that the silk worms were diseased and weak. The silk worms in the Mysore state had a higher mortality rate than other places.
De Vecchj studied the silk scenario and he attributed the mortality of the silk worms to degeneracy owing to continued propagation from the same stock, feeding on inferior species of leaf and also due to lack of adequate care in rearing.
He also noticed that the raw silk was of poor quality. He then imported silk worm eggs from Japan and he freely distributed them to silk farmers in and around Bangalore, Chennapatna Ramanagar and other places.
He also set up a steam factory for silk filature in Kengeri and employed orphans from the Bangalore convent. The fresh lease if life once again gave an impetus to silk and Kengeri once again regained its place as a major centre of sericulture.   
Vecchj had the backing of then Chief Commissioner of Mysore, Lewin Bowring, in changing the face of Mysore silk.
Bowring gave two plots of land in Kengeri, free of cost, to the Italian, who wanted to break the monopoly of Japan in silk and he had therefore chosen Kengeri. 
In the steam filiature in Kengeri, Vecchj introduced Italian and Japanese worms for crossing.  He also brought in large quantities of raw silk to Kengeri from Mustan farm in Chennapatna.
He also ensured that good quality mulberry was imported from Japan and China 
The filature had facilities for rearing and for reeling, laboratory and a mulberry garden. The filature had 80 basins and commence production in 1866.
He also conducted field trials for his mulberry cultivation, rearing and breeding silk worms. He supplied Bowring with cartons of eggs of the cross-breeds that he had managed to produced in Kengeri. These were to be hatched and reared  in Closepet (Ramanagar) and Hoskote taluks. This experiment unfortunately  failed and it was blamed on the monsoon.
During this time, Bangalore was second only to Mysore in  mulberry plantations, with 6,150 acres as against 11,013 acres of Mysore. The other two districts where mulberry were grown were  Kolar in 1,215 acres and Hassan with 45 acres.
Another experiment was conducted in 1867 but this too failed to yield the desired results.
In 1868, Vecchjs established the Madras and Mysore Silk Company near Madras. He then once again left for Japan to bring back cartons of silk worms. He wanted to replicate the silk industry that Tipu had initiated.
By then, Bowring had given way to Col Meade as Chief Commissioner and he too expressed interest in reviving the silk industry. Vecchjs distributed many hundred silk worm seeds throughout Mysore state, including Kengeri. He also wrote in 1876  
a manual for Sericulture in Mysore.
Over the next few decades, silk rearing and weaving took off in Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya and Kolar districts  and the Ramanagar-Chennapatna-Maddur area became the new engines of growth. Kengeri slowly and steadily pulled back and today there is not much left of the silk industry. Of  Vecchjs filature, there is no trace.

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