Cotton heritage of India and improvements trialled on cotton germplasm in the Madras Presidency during the 19th Century

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Abstract

Cotton has been known to Indians for long. Greek historian Herodotus (5th Century BC) in his chronicles indicates that cotton material was the customary wear of Indians. Fibres of Gossypium arboreum were used by early Indians. Three other species of Gossypium, viz. G. barbadense, G. hirsutum, and G. herbaceum were independently domesticated in other parts of the world. Up to the time of Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede (1636-1691), the Dutch Governor of Cochin, only G. arboreum was used in India for making fabrics. In later decades, but before the time of British surgeon-botanists, such as William Roxburgh and John Royle, many foreign species and natural hybrids of Gossypium were introduced into India, either deliberately or inadvertently. Thomas Munro (1761-1827), the Governor of Madras was keen to cultivate G. barbadense in Salem and Coimbatore. Robert Wight, another key surgeon-botanist of Madras made great strides in cultivating various species and hybrids of cotton in Coimbatore and Tirunelveli (Madras Presidency). In addition to capturing the pre-British days of cotton use in Madras and India, the present note highlights the efforts made by Wight and the Government of Madras in improving cotton agriculture in Madras Presidency and how these efforts were abruptly shut down by Henry Pottinger, Governor of Madras, in mid-19th Century. This note concludes with a brief remark on how the introduction of various species and hybrids of Gossypium has today changed India's status as a key cotton producer and fabric manufacturer in the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1347-1352
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Science
Volume109
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015

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