The Muga silkworm (Antheraea assamensis) is a type of semi-domesticated silkworm raised almost exclusively in Assam, a region in northeastern India. It produces a strong, soft luminous, and naturally golden colored silk called muga silk. The silk adds a golden sheen to yarn, as well as a dense and smooth feel.
Most of the world’s silk is bright white and produced by domesticated silkworms that require constant care and a strict diet of mulberry leaves. Muga silkworms are a bit more independent. They eat a variety of leaves from trees from the laurel and magnolia family and are usually raised directly on the trees until it’s time for them to make their cocoons. The silk is collected by unraveling the cocoons, with silkworm pupas usually being collected, cooked and eaten during the process.
Producing muga silk is a deeply rooted part of the culture of Assam. It’s likely that people have been rearing the silkworms for as long as they have settled in the region. The Ahom dynasty (1228–1826) is considered the golden age for the golden silk. The royal family participated in the silk weaving, as well as supported master weavers across the Assam region. Large parts of the population were involved with the silk production process, but only members of the royal court were allowed to wear garments woven entirely from muga silk.
Silkworm rearing and muga silk production declined under the occupation of India by the British East India Company, starting in the 1800s. The massive trading venture was more interested in growing tea leaves, and manufacturing cotton than supporting the labor-intensive luxury of muga silk. However, the practice never died out completely, and today the silk is back to being a notable export of the Assam region and a part luxury goods, from sarees to scarves.