Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Medha Bhatt


Indian cotton textiles were the key commodity that powered the Indian Ocean trade exchanges. Gujarat played a significant role not only in the manufacture of cotton textiles but also carnelian beads that was used for commercial trade exchanges in the markets of East Africa, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. While these two commodities of trade have been studied separately in detail, less well examined is the interaction between the two and the emergence of glass beads in the commercial exchanges of the trading communities of Gujarat. The bonding of the beads to the fabric led to a sophisticated expression in the beadwork textiles of Saurashtra, Gujarat. This essay asserts for an African influence in the flow of the glass trade beads to Gujarat with a focus on geographical location of ports and regional studies of traditional economies and consumption patterns in specific ethnic communities of Gujarat and Africa. The oldest available artifact on beadwork of Saurashtra used the imported Venetian glass beads, manufactured in the foundries of Murano, Italy since the fourteenth century. The earliest examples of bead-work tend to be rare because the cloth on which the beads were sewn and the cotton threads used for knitting the beads have disintegrated over time. The study of ancient maritime routes highlights the active involvement of the Gujarati trading communities throughout Asia, Africa and Europe earlier than fourteenth century. Hence the present essay puts forth the alternate view that the origin of bead-work in Saurashtra was as early as the sixteenth century as against the common viewpoint of nineteenth century.