Ahimsa Silk

HG Muralidhara Priya - 9.11 2023

HG Muralidhara Priya Prabhu, one of our most ecstatic monks here at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram here in NYC, has written an article detailing something that most devotees may not know about-the process of how their silk cloth (saris and dhotis) are made.

It's not a pretty process, and it's certainly something that wouldn't please Guru and Gauranga.

Here's another chance for devotees to "walk the walk" as examples of conscious and conscientious members of the planet, inspiring by our practical examples and deep knowledge

Silk - should we wear it or not?

By Muralidhara-priya Das

Should we be using silk? If we want to practice compassion and non-violence toward all living entities, then we should think twice about what we are putting on our bodies. Originally in Vedic times they used what was called Wild Silk.

Wild silks are produced by caterpillars other than the mulberry silkworm and can be artificially cultivated. The worms are allowed to naturally leave the cocoon. A variety of wild silks have been known and used in China, South Asia, and Europe since early times, but the scale of production was always far smaller than that of cultivated silks. They differ from the domesticated varieties in color and texture, mainly because before the cocoons are gathered in the wild usually the emerging moth has damaged them, so the silk thread that makes up the cocoon has been torn into shorter lengths.

Commercially reared silkworm pupae are killed by dipping them in boiling water before the adult moths emerge, or by piercing them with a needle, allowing the whole cocoon to be unraveled as one continuous thread. This permits a much stronger cloth to be woven from the silk. Wild silks also tend to be more difficult to dye than silk from the cultivated silkworm.

Kusuma Rajaiah, an Indian man, has developed a new technique for producing silk that does not require killing silk worms in the process. Right now, producing a silk saree involves killing of at least 50 thousand silkworms. Rajaiah has won the patent for producing the “Ahimsa” silk. However, the production of the silk is more expensive. For example, a saree that costs 2400 rupees to produce using regular silk, will cost 4000 rupees when made with Ahimsa silk.

Rajaiah says: “My inspiration is Mahatma Gandhi. He gave a message to the Indian silk industry that if silk can be produced without killing silkworms, it would be better. He dreamt but that did not happen in his lifetime. I am the happiest person that at least I could do this little thing.”

Rajaiah says he started giving a serious thought to “Ahimsa” silk when in the 1990s. Janaki Venkatraman, wife of the former President, asked if she could get a silk saree that is made without killing silk worms. In Rajaiah’s new process he follows the old method, which allows the moth to escape from the cocoon by waiting for 7-10 days and then uses the shells to produce yarn.

So if you don’t know if your silk saree or dhoti are produced with “Ahimsa” silk or not, then it probably wasn’t, as over 99% of all silk bought is produced with the method of killing the worm by boiling or stabbing with a needle. Here are a couple of websites were you can purchase “Ahimsa” silk.