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Warp And Weft Of Textile Culture


Himanshu Prabha Ray

GANGA TO MEKONG: A CULTURAL VOYAGE THROUGH TEXTILES
By Hema Devare
Manohar, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 196, Rs. 2995.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 6 June 2016

As stated by Kapila Vatsyayan, Chairperson, IIC Asia Project in her Foreword, the book is the author’s ‘personal voyage or certainly a journey of exploring and identifying the many levels of communications between India and countries of South East Asia over a long period of history.’ The journey has been lucidly captured in the text that illustrates the large number of colour visuals in the book. Many of these have been sourced from museums in countries of South East Asia during the author’s long sojourns in the region. The book highlights the cultural role of textiles in society as indicators of status, wealth and gender or ethnic identity. Textiles were closely linked with rituals and rites of passage. For example, in South East Asia, patola became known as cindai, a protective cloth, which was used as an important item of royal dowry and was also preserved in village shrines. The emphasis in much of secondary writing on the subject has either been on trade or on anthropological work in communities involved in the production of textiles. By focusing on the textiles themselves, the book under review breaks new ground and provides a hitherto under-researched perspective. The book is divided into six chapters with an Introduction appropriately titled ‘Indian Textiles: Vehicles of Culture’, which highlights the role of textiles not merely as items of trade, but more importantly as channels for transmission of ideas across the seas. Textiles provide valuable insights into the weltanschauung of societies of South and South East Asia. Thus Indian textiles travelled along with Indonesian spices and together laid the foundation of shared religious practices and cultural transmission. A common thread that runs through the warp and the weft of the book is the family likeness of textiles from India and South East Asia, as the author traces the changing hues of textures both spatially and temporally in ‘Weaves of History’. Just as the river Ganga provided a lifeline to North India, the Mekong was revered and connected large parts of mainland Southeast Asia. The linkages between the two river systems have very early beginnings. In the fifth century AD, Sanskrit inscriptions on sacrificial posts yûpa) were inscribed in Kutei (Borneo), the present-day East Kalimantan in Indonesia, by Mulavarman, an Indonesian ruler. This earliest kingdom of Indonesia has been celebrated by the establishment in 1962 of Mulawarman University in East Kalimantan. The second chapter traces ...


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