Frequently occurring confusions regarding Eri Silk


“Proof of Ahimsa is in the Cocoon”

A single glance can tell the difference between Ahimsa Eri Silk cocoons and general Eri Silk cocoons. General Eri silk cocoons are ivory white and clean because the living silkworm is pulled out of the fresh cocoon within a day it finishes making the cocoon. Whereas Ahimsa Eri Silk cocoons are more yellow hue, harder sericin cover with many “dirt” spots. These represent the natural life cycle spent going through metamorphosis in the enclosure of cocoon for about 15 to 20 days where the chrysalis turns to moth. These “lived in Ahimsa” cocoons are crucial testimony to the completion of life cycle of Eri silkworm, turning them into Ahimsa Eri Silkworms. All Eri silk cocoons hold the potential to be Ahimsa Eri silk cocoons. But all Eri silk cocoons are not Ahimsa Eri Silk cocoons. Only those that have been intentionally nurtured to complete their metamorphosis within the closure of cocoon can be called Ahimsa Eri silk cocoons. Most worms are strong and appear out as moth. Very few are born not as strong and die naturally, unable to continue life.

This difference in the colour and density of Ahimsa cocoons lends the cherished look and texture to Ahimsa Eri silk textiles marking a clear difference between general Eri silk and Ahimsa Eri Silk textiles. To even an untrained eye, the difference is clear. Just like the cocoons, Ahimsa Eri silk fabric is darker, denser, more pale than the pristine lustrous ivory of general Eri Silk constantly reminding us of the incomplete lifecycle of the worm who couldn’t evolve to its metamorphosis leaving behind a clean cocoon. On the other hand, Ahimsa Eri silk’s spotted texture remains a tactile testimony of intentional non-injury to this lifecycle.

Ahimsa Eri cocoons

General Eri cocoons


“All Eri Silk is not Ahimsa Eri Silk”

While trying to understand the proof of “Ahimsa” in Eri silk production, we first understand what really happens to this silk before it reaches us.

Eri silk is a unique wild fibroin silk with loosely bound multilayered cocoon structure. The cocoon coat of the eri silkworm cocoon is thick and massive, accounting for about 1/3 of the weight of the cocoon shell. The cocoon layer is thin and soft, lacks elasticity, and is obviously delaminated. There is no obvious boundary between the cocoon layer and the cocoon coat, and the inner layer of the silkworm cocoon is tight. This eliminates the need to boil the cocoons along with the worm to separate the silk. Separation by boiling a cocoon with living silkworm is a requisite for most mulberry silk production, earning silk its reputation of being a violent textile. Eri silkworms do not ‘need’ to be killed in the process of extraction which gives potential to this silk to be extracted without intentional killing.

Though the ground reality is that Eri silkworms are a favourite delicacy among many in North East India and is considered to be a good source of protein. Once the silkworm has spun certain amount of silk fibre as its cocoon, it is pulled alive from the cocoon before it finishes its lifecycle. This gives the rearer access to the fine and clean silk fibre as well as a meal of boiled or roasted silkworms. Both are sold separately.

The rearer keeps a certain set number of Eri seed cocoons for rearing and rest all are either consumed at home or sold out to be eaten. This has created an artificial dearth of eri silk and also a controversy about it really being Ahimsa Eri silk.

Ahimsa silk, refers to any type of silk that is produced without harming or killing the silkworms. This is in contrast to general silk, where about 6,000 caterpillars (usually mulberry) are killed to create one kilo of silk. To be categorised as Ahimsa silk, the worm has to be reared with the intention of non-injury carried out both in process and in product. This concept is revered by many though patented by Kusuma Rajaiah.


The cocoon is a protective layer for the Instar to perform its metamorphosis in a conducive environment. Eri silkworm cocoons are natural composite biopolymers formed by continuous twin silk filaments (fibroin) bonded by Sericin. As a kind of wild species, Eri cocoons have characteristics different from those of Mulberry Silk cocoons. Eri cocoons have an obvious multilayer (5–9 layers) structure with an eclosion hole at one end and several air gaps between the layers, which can be classified into three categories—cocoon coat, cocoon layer, and cocoon lining. There is a significant secondary fracture phenomenon during the tensile process, which is attributed to the high modulus of the cocoon lining and its dense structure. Air gaps provide cocoons with distinct multistage moisture transmission processes, which form a good moisture buffer effect. Temperature change inside cocoons is evidently slower than that outside, which indicates that cocoons also have an obvious temperature damping capability. The eclosion hole does not have much effect on heat preservation of Eri cocoons. The high sericin content of the cocoon coat, as well as the excellent ultraviolet absorption and antimicrobial abilities of Sericin, allows Eri cocoons to effectively prevent ultraviolet rays and microorganisms from invading pupae making Eri Silk superior to cultivated silk in UV and antibacterial properties. In the production of Ahimsa Eri Silk, the cocoon protects the worm for the whole of metamorphosis phase, accentuating its health beneficial properties over time.


There is abundance of Eri Silkworm in Assam. Though there is lack of nurturing environment.

A single female Eri moth lays about 1400 eggs. They usually have an extremely low mortality rate if given a healthy environment. It is then an odd assumption that there is dearth of Eri silk in Assam. As is observed, there are various reasons magnifying this confusion:

a) A large quantity of ready Eri silk cocoons are being sent out of Assam leaving Assam with less livelihood opportunities related to spinning and weaving.

b) Sericulture units are unable to create a healthy and nurturing environment required for Eri Silk lifecycle leading to a high mortality rate. Most often, large quantities of eggs are dumped in inexperienced hands to meet the numbers.

c) Eri silkworms are separated from the cocoons before maturity into moth and sold separately. A rearer gets payment for both silkworms as well as cocoons. This leads to an expected reduction in number of seed cocoons. Seed Cocoons is a Sericulture term for those cocoons that complete their natural lifecycle and die after laying eggs ensuring continuous supply of Eri Silkworms. In action, all seed cocoons are Ahimsa Eri cocoons. However, the difference in intention leaves them with two different names- Seed cocoons and Ahimsa Eri cocoons.

d) Modern context has changed the lifestyle of people from Assam. Nowadays, it is not easy to find dedicated rearers, spinners and weavers leading to an overall drop in production.

e) Climate change and increasing pollution also deteriorates eri silkworm health. However, a nurturing environment away from populated region can alter this situation.


If Eri silk is bought cheap, either one or all of the three- Product, Process and Person are being negotiated to accommodate cheaper selling price.

When Eri silk is given healthy rearing cycle, is hand spun and then hand woven on throw shuttle looms, is natural dyed, it cannot be made cheap. When it cannot be made cheap, it cannot be sold cheap. Ensuring an encouraging payment for the workmanship of many hands, one must encourage enterprises who offer “fair benefit” to all makers. The confusion of Eri Silk textiles being bought at a low price is related to a diverse range of quality of Eri products made not only in Assam but all across India.

  • Eri Silk may or may not be Ahimsa Eri silk.
  • Eri Silk could be of inferior or superior quality depending upon their rearing health
  • Eri Silk could be machine-spun or hand-spun
  • Eri silk could be woven on back-strap, throw-shuttle, fly-shuttle, jacquard or power looms. The intricacy levels of each looms offers different textures and degrees of workmanship involved.
  • Eri Silk may or may not be natural dyed.
  • The makers may be amateur or experienced.
  • the makers may be from a remote region increasing cost of transportation and decreasing chances of access.

All these factors lead to a product. A thorough knowledge can enable a buyer to find a genuine product that fits their requirement. And pay accordingly.

**The scientific theories are collated from our experiential study and certain educational websites and books.