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Assamese tribes and culture


For large number of cottage handloom industries popularly known as Manchester of Assam, Sualkuchi (also known as Soalkuchi) is one of the worlds largest weaving villages where the entire population is engaged in weaving exquisite silk fabrics. A renowned centre of silk production, particularly known for Muga - the golden silk of Assam which is not produced anywhere else in the world. This town is in Kamrup district of Assam. It is situated on the north bank of the river Brahmaputra, about 35 km from Guwahati, Sualkuchi is a block of Kamrup District.

As of 2001 India census, Sualkuchi had a population of 14,129. Males constitute 50% of the population and females 50%. Sualkuchi has an average literacy rate of 82%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 88%, and female literacy is 76%. In Sualkuchi, 6% of the population is under 6 years of age. There are 8 G.P. in Sualkuchi block out of which, weaving is a dominant occupation.

Assam produces three unique varieties of silks, the Golden Muga, the White Pat and the warm Eri. Silks grown all over the state find their way to Sualkuchi. Sualkuchi is the textile center of Assam. Muga silk and Pat silk along with Eri silk and Endi cloth from this region is famous for its quality. Mekhela chadors and Gamosas made from this indigenous materials is in demand throughout Assam as well as other parts of India.

The weaving tradition in this hamlet can be traced to the 11th century when king Dharma Pal, of the Pala dynasty, sponsored the craft and brought 26 weaving families from Tantikuchi to Saulkuchi. The village took shape as a weaving village when the SHAMS occupied Sualkuchi defeating the Mughals in the mid 17th century.

Having a long tradition of silk weaving at least since the 17th century, Sualkuchi is the prime centre of the silk hand-loom industry of Assam. Although originally it was a "craft village" having several cottage industries till the forties of the last century such as hand-loom weaving industry, oil processing in the traditional ghani, goldsmithi, pottery etc, the industries other than hand-loom are now almost extinct and the artisans have already taken up silk weaving as a profession. Although the weaving industry of Sualkuchi remained almost confined within the Tanti Community of Tantipara up-to the 1930, later people belonging to other communities also started to take up silk weaving gradually. Now, even the fishermen of the Koibortapara hamlet of Bamun-Sualkuchi and the Brahmin families have also given up their ascriptive caste occupations to a larger extent and they have taken up silk weaving as the main source of income.

The weaving industry of Sualkuchi received a big boost during the Second World War. The growing demand for fabrics and their increasing prices, encouraged a few Tanti families to introduce weaving commercially and they started weaving factories engaging hired wage weavers. Today, the factory system with semi-automatic Fly shuttle handloom has already been extended to entire Sualkuchi and 73.78% of the households of the town are being engaged with commercial weaving of hand-loom. The Census of Hand-looms in Sualkuchi conducted in 2002 reveals that Sualkuchi has 13752 active commercial hand-looms, of which 54.75% are performed by the woman weavers, who are basically hired from the outside of Sualkuchi. Although the hired wage weavers were originally the local poor from the Bamun-Sualkuchi area of the east and Bhatipara hamlet of the west, a flow of migrated wage weavers from different parts of Assam has emerged gradually since eighties of the last century and presently migrant weavers are dominating the wage weavers of the town.

The Hand-loom industry of Sualkuchi encompasses cotton textile, silk textile as well as Khadi cloth which are, in fact, traditional cloth endowing high social and moral value in and outside the state. However, Sualkuchi is well known for silk textiles both mulberry and muga silk. In fact muga, "the golden fibre" is produced only in Assam and it has also tremendous export potentiality. Such activities are intimately linked with the culture and tradition of the Assamese people since long past.

Even Gandhiji, the father of the nation was also highly surprised about the art and culture of weaving of the Assamese women when he visited an exhibition of eri and khadi clothes in Sualkuchi on the 9th of January, 1946. He was greatly astonished when he saw that one of the expert weavers of the silk town had depicted him in the cloth produced in his hand-loom.

To expedite the process of development in rural areas of the state, chief minister of Assam Mr. Tarun Gogoi inaugurated a textile park in Sualkuchi on the outskirts of Guwahati. The park, built at an estimated cost of Rs 1.93 crore, has been constructed by Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) to give the people living there a place for amusement.