First maker

The Eri silkworms in their healthy life cycle

The making of Ahimsa Eri silk is conjoined with the continuous birth cycle of an Eri Silkworm where an egg becomes a moth that lays an egg who takes on a new life cycle leaving behind a cocoon as a tactile proof of its existence. From this cocoon comes Ahimsa Eri Silk. When a silkworm naturally completes its life cycle, it continues the cycle of Eri Silk. If silkworms do not complete their natural life cycle, there will be no continuity of Eri Silk.

Rearing Observation location: Mataikhar
Cycle recording: October 15th, 2019 to December 31st 2019


Eri Silkworm

Botanical name: Samia Cynthia Ricini

Feed: Eri silkworm feeds primarily on castor, cassava or tapioca leaves. Some stronger ones even eat the stem. A full grown Instar can eat about 500- 750 grams of castor leaves in a day.

Castor plant in Assam is called Era and thus name of this wild silk came to be Eri silk. In other regions of India, castor plant is also called Arandi, which is why some people also call it Endi or Erandi silk.

Growth season: The growth cycle interacts dramatically with temperature and moisture conditions so except peak winter months Eri silkworm rearing can happen throughout the year. However, the primary season of Eri silk rearing is healthiest between March to August, mainly because of sufficient availability of castor plant. The moisture and warmth of summer and monsoon months also enables faster growth finishing a healthy cycle in about 40 days as compared to a 60 day cycle during pre and post winter months.

If we begin the story from eggs, then the cycle of Eri Silkworms can be scientifically classified in four broad stages of life, transforming from Egg to Instar or Larvae to Chrysalis or Pupa, to finally an adult, the Moth. To accommodate the descriptive nuances of these four stages of Metamorphosis, we have further broken down the cycle into eight phases starting from birth to finish at death.


Start of cycle with eggs

Observation: Eri Silkworm egg is about the size of a mustard seed. They take about 5-7 days to hatch maturing their colour from ivory white to pale yellow. When egg is about to hatch, the shell seems shrivelled and one can see appearance of black dot indicative of the head of the new Instar, usually already starting to chew off the egg shell.

Insight: Though the eggs appear passive, one constantly is reminded of the plethora of changes happening inside the stillness of the eggs. While eggs hold the potential of life, life can only interact with outside when a newborn Instar breaks the shell.

First Metamorphosis

Transformation from Egg to Instar/ Larvae

Observation: The new born Instar is about 2mm in size, smaller than a cumin seed. It is fragile, moves gently and remains in close cluster. It gradually matures from greyish-brown to a reddish-mustard colour. This is reflective of its first growth, growing to about 6mm in just a couple of days.

Insight: Breaking of egg shell and appearance of Instar evokes joy of birth, bringing back the natural instinct to nurture fragility of new life. The stillness of egg graduates into active movement bound by the need for growth and survival.



Four growth spurts of Instar – the four shedding

Observation: Each of the four growth spurts follows the same pattern. Instars have a big appetite and at a given time eat several times their own body weight, demanding a very fast growth. To accommodate the drastic changes of each spurt, the Instar pauses consumption till it has grown substantially after altering its exoskeleton, more simply, after shedding its outgrown structure. During the pause, they become very still appearing lifeless. They show signs of life only in occasional twitching or very slow movement. During shedding, the old head falls off making space for the new body to push down the old layer. The old layer remains while the Instar moves ahead to feed itself. They are also often seen eating their shed layer. After each shedding, the Instar grows dramatically and restarts the same pattern till the fourth and last shedding.

 The first shedding takes place usually between 3-5 days of the hatching increasing the size of Instar from 6mm to about 2cm changing the colour from mustard to bright yellow.

The Second shedding brings forth a growth from about 2 cm to 5.5cm in about 3-4 days transitioning from bright yellow to pale yellow to white.

For The Third shedding, the worm develops a pale yellow body with a black head, which falls off revealing a yellow head. While the size expands dramatically from about 5cm to 9cm, the colour too varies from yellow, back to pale yellow and finally more white. Till this stage, the colour of instars in the same group vary only minutely. hii

For The Third shedding, the worm develops a pale yellow body with a black head, which falls off revealing a yellow head. While the size expands dramatically from about 5cm to 9cm, the colour too varies from yellow, back to pale yellow and finally more white. Till this stage, the colour of instars in the same group vary only minutely.

The fourth and final shedding reveals a dramatic range of colours in the Instars. They range from pastel greens and yellows to white with black dots. It is believed that this colour variation is a result of years of exchange of Eri eggs between various regions of Assam. This mixing is believed to be healthy for their growth. After the fourth shedding, Instar makes its final growth spurt ranging from 9cm to 11.5 cm, establishing an average increase in its size of about 5400% from the time of hatching. By this stage, an average Instar can eat 500-750g of castor leaves in a day. This massive growth is observed within a period of 15-25 days.

Insight: Various stages of Instar, from baby to adolescence and then preparing for adulthood unfold within a span of about 3 weeks. Observing this closely, one feels nudged to draw parallels with human cycles of growth while coming face to face with the reality of contrast between their life to human life. One sees a dense colony of thousands of silkworms clustered together- eating, pausing, shedding and growing, making only indistinctly low chomping sounds, moving slowly. They all appear like individuals in a group dynamic working towards a common purpose. They have their unique characteristics yet it is hard to tell them apart in a group. If seen through a different lens, humans too may appear the same. This also evokes one to think about the relationship of need for consumption to a natural pause and need for elimination/shedding for growth while slowly drawing closer to the Purpose.

Purpose of Continuation

Maturing Instar makes the cocoon

Observation: When Instars begin their journey into adulthood, in a single group mixed behaviour can be observed at a given time. Some lie still at one place. Some start to wander away from the castor leaves and find isolated spots. In those places, one can already spot fine strands of silk. This indicates they are ready to make cocoon. Once they start making cocoon, they grow no more. After this stage they eat no more for the rest of the cycle. They start by climbing up a bunch of leaves, preferably of lychee. Then they come down and find a space in the bunch to make cocoon. This process can take a few hours.

For making cocoon, Eri Instar winds a closed enclosure around itself by secreting wet sticky fibroin bound by Sericin. This enclosure of about 6-7 cm length and about 2-3 cm width is a fibrous mass with a small opening called eclosion (decocooning hole) on the head which is the exit door for the future moth. The Instar works arduously for 2 to 3 days where filament is secreted one at a time to form the cocoon. Once the cocoon is fully formed, the Instar remains inside for a period of 15-25 days depending upon the season. One can start to identify the gender from the size of the cocoon. Female cocoon is bigger than the male.


Insight: Upon maturation, the silkworm shifts its focus from consumption and growth to the purpose of making cocoon. This purpose has extended its relationship to humans and given birth to a process called “rearing”, expanding to Sericulture. In making the cocoon, the silkworm acts as the first maker of Ahimsa Eri silk, simultaneously creating, spinning and weaving the silk fibres that humans will later re-create in different dimensions. This purpose is both its blessing and its curse enabling both its continuation and destruction.

The cocoon is a protective layer for the Instar to perform its metamorphosis in a conducive environment. One cannot help but remember that silk is the final product of this very cocoon, capable of offering the same protection to human consumers as they would offer to the original maker, the Instar.

The Second Metamorphosis into Adulthood

Instar to Chrysalis to Moth- the ultimate transformation


Observation: The cocoon on the outside appears lifeless, but is home to one of nature’s most amazing transformations. Inside the cocoon, Instar goes through its metamorphosis first into Chrysalis and then its final adulthood stage as Moth. Just like the worms, humans go through their own metamorphosis. However, the change is not as dramatic as the silkworms. This is because humans have a skeleton on the inside of their bodies, where the bones can grow longer and thicker as they get older. Silkworms have an exoskeleton, which means that their skeleton is on the outside of their body. An exoskeleton is made of Chitin which is a strong and hard material. Unlike human skin, chitin is not stretchy and silkworms must make new skeletons as they grow larger. From Instar to Chrysalis transformation, the cocoon acts as a sack keeping together the disintegrated structure to form a new one. Once the chrysalis matures, it appears out as a fully formed adult moth.

Insight: The stillness of the cocoon is a constant reminder of the metamorphic transformation the silkworm goes through hidden from the outside. In essence, this stage is akin to eggs preparing to hatch or a human womb with a baby. It evokes one to introspect that one is constantly changing inside even when it is not yet visible to the eye. The seclusion a worm goes through in the cocoon is its necessary condition to transform, taking away the weight we often put upon constant social interaction.

When one patiently waits to see the outcome of this invisible growth, one often thinks about the millions of worms that are not allowed to experience life beyond this stage of their life cycle. It is this stage that determines direct act of violence from humans to the silkworms when they are pulled out of the cocoon without finishing their natural life cycle. This act sets the difference between general Eri Silk and Ahimsa Eri silk.

proof of ahimsa is in the cocoon

The Second Birth/ Rebirth

Becoming a Moth

Observation: Once the transformation is completed, the moth comes out of the cocoon from the de-cocooning hole, with shrivelled wings and closed mouth. As moths, they eat no more. The moth crawls to the corners to hang itself and slowly stretches out and relaxes under the sun for a couple of hours while its exoskeleton dries out and hardens expanding its wing span to about 15 cm.

Insight: It is indeed good fortune to see this second birth when moth appears totally transformed with no likeness to the being that existed before. Without a continued association with them while experiencing their stages of change, it would be hard to say they are same being before and after their seclusion in the cocoon. The beauty of the moth and its eagerness to reproduce evokes celebration of a moment when life is allowed its natural life cycle.

Purpose of creation:

Reproduction and birth of a new cycle: Eggs

Observation: The beautifully patterned moths are already fertile to mate and start the reproduction cycle soon after their exit from the cocoon. Males moths are smaller is size than the female. Females remain in the same place throughout their moth cycle. Males fly around in the evening and come back to the spot where the females and their new eggs are. A healthy female can lay about 300-500 eggs over 2-4 days. Eggs laid on the first two days are considered healthy eggs as compared to the ones laid later. One has the opportunity to observe many eggs seen through the translucent womb of female moths.

Insight: Moths appear busy with the purpose of creation. It takes two to create life, beginning the cycle of birth and death into its realms of duality. The appearance of many eggs freshly laid by the mother is an experience of sublime nature indicating creation of new life, a new life cycle.


The final metamorphosis

Observation: If not eaten by predators like chickens and birds, Moths die their natural death after losing strength. Most females die before males with an average moth life cycle of 6-8 days, completing the silkworm cycle of about 40 days to 60 days depending upon the season.

Insight: What is created must perish making space for the new to create itself. Observing so many moths dying a natural death is a reminder of impermanence of our own lives. A simultaneous start of new life in the place of the ones dead, evokes questions of life and death deeper than this experience can help comprehend. It may also make one wonder about the relevance of violence in death.

What is violence if death is not violent? is violence all bad? is non-violence all good?

One may also find themselves delve deeper into the relationship of Intention with violence.

Intention to kill, Intention to die, Intention to not live. Intention to save. Intention to not kill. Intention to not save. Intention to not harm. Intention to not help. Intentional harm, unintentional help. Intentional help, unintentional harm.

The list of questions continue giving birth to a new intention – Intentional non-injury, Ahimsa.

The Intention