The Ancient Technique of Dyeing Textiles Using Medicinal Herbs

Since the dawn of human civilisation, clothing has been a very prominent part of living standards. Early humans used leaves and other parts of plants/trees to cover the body and with the advancement of age and the discovery of key resources, clothing came more sophisticated. Clothing & Textiles have now become fashion from necessity. The importance of how clothes look on us has become more important than why we wear the clothes. It is no more about the basic need.

While clothing was gaining prominence in society for their portrayal of status and acceptance, there was another practice that developed in ancient India which studied clothing and its affects on our mental and physical wellbeing. This is where Ayurveda comes in.

Ancient Indian medicinal science, and one of the earliest known science to humankind, is all about finding connection between mind, body and soul. The Ayurvedic doctors, called Vaidya, mastered this science that helped people live healthy life long before pharmaceuticals came in picture.

These Vaidyas or doctors started implementing the science of Ayurveda on clothes we wear and a new stream of Ayurveda called Ayurvastra was born. The study involved the use of Ayurvedic herbs to give colours to our clothes and there affect on our body and mind. It eventually was adopted by common people and became a way of clothing for thousands of years to come.

However, lately, the knowledge started getting lost with destruction of Indian texts by the invaders and end of Acharya culture that had wisdom of thousands-and-thousands of years in it. Soon after, synthetic chemical dyes were developed, even Indians forgot about the valuable treasure of knowledge of Ayurvastra.

The clothes that we wear today are a result of chemical intensive manufacturing, which is done in factories. Although these clothes are durable and can be worn for longer durations, their production process involves use of chemicals and raw materials that might not be the best for our health.

When we look back at the lives of our ancestors, there is so much to learn. We had an ocean of knowledge in terms of those beneficial teachings and practices that have been passed from our previous generations as a legacy, but it exists only namesake in today's world.

Let's discuss Ayurvastra, the ancient and natural way of dyeing and making clothes. This process was utilized by the effective use of specific medicinal herbs.

Ayurvastra - Centuries’ Old Tradition

It is a widely known phenomenon that our ancestors spent better lives than us. Well, I am not talking about the abundance of facilities we have today but the stress-free lifestyle they lived and more importantly with much fewer known diseases. Reports also suggest that they lived much longer. How did they do it? Was it magic? The answer to these questions lies in the kind of lifestyle they lived and practices they followed. We all know about Yoga which has now become a very popular among masses. 

Another such practice is Ayurvastra. This is a centuries' old technique that was used to craft clothes using different, often medicinal, herbs. Various combinations of these herbs were used to dye clothes which even to make them more resilient and beneficial.

Even in the museums, certain clothing specimens can be obtained and the fact that they made through after all this time, shows the prowess and audacity of the techniques our forefathers used. This process that they used was also deemed as herbal dyeing because the main ingredients were indeed herbs mixed with ancient techniques. Ayurvastra made lives more comfortable, even in those times where diseases and plagues weren’t that much common. Techniques of Ayurvastra, if used correctly in today’s time could help us yield limitless benefits.

Speaking of origins, Ayurvedic dyeing emerged in ancient India when science and nature were being combined. Clothes back in time were made from freshly picked cotton, and wool, even jute, and other natural mediums. As the technology wasn’t advanced at that time, people used to make clothes themselves manually in the confines of their homes. Special looming machines were used which were made from wood and threads. These practices used to be professionally carried out before the actual advent of technology, especially in India. Seeing its benefits, the centuries old techniques are still effectively utilized in some areas.

Ayurvedic Dyeing
Ayurvedic Dyeing

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Secrets Resurrected

Like all good secrets, this technique was lost to the sands of time. Although due to persistence and determination of some Indian scientists, its secrets were uncovered when a team came in contact with some ancient texts which were passed down from a generation of monks in northern and southern India. The texts were then digitally inspected, using the help of skilled linguists and some historical teachers, the practices and methods were made known.

In these texts, certain instructions were given about how the products should be made and in the times ahead what benefits they would provide. The Ayurvastra process uses more than 25 distinct herbs. All of these herbs have natural healing powers that are then combined to make every line of clothing. The process defined in the texts have been improvised by use the technologies of the modern world, to solve the problems that the 21st century is facing. Thus, many clothing manufacturers today have already adopted the ancient techniques.

There are numerous problems that exist in today's time, some are man made whereas some are mainly the reactions of nature. For example, the clothing industries that are constantly indulged in the process of manufacturing, often emits dangerous gases and radiations that are harmful for people and the environment. In fact, global warming is one of the adverse effects of the severe industrialization, the world has indulged in.

Ayurvedic Dyeing
The Actual Process of Ayurvastra
Just as modern day clothes are passed through certain key stages of preparation, Ayurvedic clothes manufacturing also goes through a set of processes. These processes have been broken down into three categories which are: Bleaching, Gumming, and Dyeing.

The first stage seemingly is bleaching, although this part has faced some controversies, the users are not getting demotivated from its usage. The fibers that have to be used are mixed in a variety of herbs. The European countries have found certain loopholes in this situation, but the original ideas still exist. After mixing, the combination is strengthened using exposure to heat or dry areas.

Afterwards, to apply colour to these clothes, a variety of herbs are used in the mashed form. The choice of herbs is in the hands of the technicians in order to achieve a specific colour. For example, rose petals can be used to give a velvety texture. The after-product is then finally dyed in the herb water.

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How does Ayurvastra tend to make a difference here?
Considering its growing popularity among various parts of the world especially Europe, the technique of Ayurvastra is likely to be adopted and used all over the world. Famous clothing lines like Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, and Gucci will be utilizing these fabrics for their product development. 

 The use of natural colours through the processes of Ayurvedic dyeing is on the rise. This need will be driven by the increasing demand for healthier alternatives among consumers as well as stringent government regulations for the protection of the environment. 

The rising awareness about the negative impact on natural resources, distortion of ecological imbalance, and pollutants resulting in a disturbed environment caused by the over usage of hazardous chemicals and specifically synthetic dyes will encourage manufacturers to come up with more sustainable and safer alternatives in the market. 

 The global natural dyes market is driven by innovations in treatment plants and systems. The improvement in living standards and an increase in per capita disposable income will propel the demand for natural dyes in the global market.