The word Eri (also known as Endi or Errandi) is derived from erranda, the Assamese word for castor and is made from worms that feed on the leaves of the castor oil plant. Since the pupae are allowed to develop into adults and only the open-ended cocoons are used for turning into silk it is also known as Non-Violent Silk. It is only produced in Assam, the east Khasi Hills and some parts of Arunachal Pradesh. It is soft and warm and popularly made into shawls and quilts. A unique feature of this silk is that the products made from it are rather course when newly made but after regular use they become soft and smooth. It comes in a variety of colours, especially cream, gold, brown and beige.
Often referred to as the “Manchester of the East” Sualkuchi, situated on the north bank of the Brahmaputra about 35 kms from Guwahati, is the textile centre of Assam and renowned for its quality of muga, pat and eri silks. There are more than 3,000 weavers in and around the township. Sualkuchi’s weaving tradition can be traced back to the 11th century when King Dharma Pal of the Pala dynasty sponsored the craft and brought in twenty-six weaving families from what is now Barpeta district in Assam. It really took shape as a weaving village when the Shams occupied Sualkuchi defeating the Moguls in the mid 17th century.
Laichangphi, in the district of Cachar, is famous for its warm and soft quilts and the Mising tribe is renowned for their Mirizen shawls and blankets that can be used as bedcovers or even wall hangings.
The gamocha, a white rectangular piece of hand-woven cotton cloth usually with a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth, is seen all over Assam and is one of the most easily recognisable cultural symbols of the Assamese people besides the tamol-paan (areca nut and betel leaf). Although cotton yarn is most commonly used for weaving gamochas, sometimes pat silk is used for special occasions.
The gamocha is an integral part of almost all socio-religious ceremonies. A Bihu dancer wraps it around the head in a knot, it is hung around the neck and used to cover the altar or holy scriptures at the naamghar (prayer hall), honoured guests are presented with it when visiting and it can even be used as a waistcloth, loincloth and towel. Gamochas, also known as bihuwaans, are offered during Bihu as a token of love and are used equally by all irrespective of religious and ethnic background and is an article of great significance for the people of Assam.