History of Paper Technology in India
by Lalit Tiwari
Paper manufacturing and book printing mark the beginning of the knowledge
revolution. In ancient India knowledge spread verbally through the word of
mouth from the teacher to the disciple, hence it was called Shruti.
But with the discovery of scripts, written records gradually replaced the
verbal transmission of thought.
It is interesting to note that mutual East-to East technological exchanges
among Asian nations were frequent. I am sure, the Silk Road must also have
played a significant role in the spread of early technologies. For example,
the Bower Manuscript (mss), which is named after its discoverer was
found in 1890, in Kuchar, in Eastern Turkestan, on the great caravan route
of China. The large medical treatise called Navanitaka forms the second
part of the Bower mss. The date of that mss falls in the second half
of the fourth century A.D. Similarly, zinc smelting began in China in the
Jiajung period (1552-1566 AD) of the Ming dynasty, though it was being produced
in India in the 12th Century AD. It is believed that Buddhist monks also played
a significant role in the transmission of medicinal and zinc technologies
among the Asian countries.
It seems that the Chinese were the first to make paper, from where the technology
went to Samarkand. From there it eventually reached India. Soon the Indian
paper was being exported to West Asia, Europe and Turkey.
Let us trace the development of writing materials in India. We notice that
Al Biruni, the great medieval scholar, always very objective and observant,
records a good deal of information about writing materials also.
Ancient Indian Writing Materials
In India, the available writing materials were generally of two types: hard
and soft. Stone, metal, shells and earthenware were the examples of hard material.
Engraving, embossing, painting and scratching were used for writing. Soft
materials were wooden board (pati), dust (dhuli), birch-bark
(bhurja-patra), palm-leaves (tada-patra), leather (ajina),
cotton cloths (karpasika pata) and paper.
Ancient Hard Writing Materials
Stone: - Stone engravings were made on caves, smoothed or rough
pillars, slabs, lids of vases, caskets, etc. These dealt with official and
private records, royal proclamations, land-grants, eulogies and memorials.
Metal: - Commonly gold, silver, brass, bronze, iron and tin,
copper were used as writing materials.
Shell: - Specimens of some inscribed conch-shells have been
discovered from the ruins of a Buddhist establishment at Salihundam in Srikakulam
district of Andhra Pradesh.
Bricks, earthenware, terracotta: - In ancient times bricks,
earthenware and terracotta were also used as writing material. Bricks and
earthenware were generally scratched before being dried or baked.
Ancient Soft Writing Materials
Wooden board: - About 5th centaury BC the wooden board was
used for writing purposes. Writing on it could be done with a piece of chalk
(pandu-lekha). This method was used for teaching. Al-Biruni, the great
Arabian medieval scholar, also writes, "The (the Hindus) use black tablets
for the children in the school and write upon them along the long side, not
the broad side, writing with a white material from the left to the right".
Birch-bark: - The inner bark of bhurja (Betula
spp.) tree was the most popular material for writing manuscripts, especially
in northern-western India. Al-Biruni informs, "In central and northern
India, people use the bark of the tuz tree, one kind of which is used
as a cover for bows. It is called bhurja. They take a piece, one yard long,
and as broad as the outstretched fingers of the hand, or somewhat less, and
prepare it in various ways. They oil and polish it, so as to make it hard
and smooth and they write on it."
Palm-leaves (tada-patra): - In southern India, palm-leaves
tada or tala or tali were widely used for writing manuscripts.
Al-Biruni has observed, "The Hindus have, in the south of their country,
a slender tree like the date and coconut palms, bearing edible fruits and
leaves of the length of one yard and as broad as three figures, one put beside
the other. They call these leaves tati and write on them They
bind a book of these leaves together by a cord on which they are arranged,
the cord going through all the leaves by a hole in the middle of each They
write the title of a book at the end of it, not at the beginning".
Leather: - Leather was rarely used as writing material in India,
but in early and medieval times is was predominant in western Asia and Europe.
Al-Biruni also notes, "The Hindus are not in the habit of writing on
hides, like the Greeks in ancient times".
Cloth: - Smooth and non-porous cotton cloth was also used as
writing material in ancient India. Nearchos (4th centaury BC), an admiral
of Alexander's fleet, was the first to mention that the Indians used to write
letters on well-beaten cotton cloth.
Paper: - Paper, as a writing material, was hardly known in
India before the 11th century AD. Al-Biruni writes, "it was in China
that paper was first manufactured, Chinese prisoners introduced the fabrication
of paper in Samarkand, and thereupon it was made in various places, so as
to meet the existing want".
Paper In India
The Chinese prisoners of war, brought to Samarkand after the battle of Atlakh
near Talas, first introduced (AD 751) the technique of papermaking from linen,
flax or hemp rags based on methods used in China.
Ibn Nadim observed in Al-Fihristi: "The Chinese write on Chinese
paper made from a sort of herbage. This (industry) is a great source of income
for the city. The Arabs learnt the technique of paper-making from the Chinese
captives at Samarkand and diffused it westward". Al-Biruni also stated,
"The Chinese captives introduced it in Samarkand whence it diffused to
other parts of the world".
After the paper technology reached the Arabs, the Arabians improved the technique
and supplemented linen with flax and other vegetable fibres. With the conquest
of Sind by the Arabs, Khurasani paper was first introduced in India early
in the eighth century AD, and it continued to be imported for several centuries.
The reference to Indian paper suggests that the paper-making industry, however
limited, had already been established in India, most probably in Delhi and
Lahore, the two chief political and cultural seats of the Sultanate period.
In India, the first paper industry was developed in Kashmir, established
by Sultan Zainul Abedin (Shahi Khan) of Kashmir in 1417-67 AD. Actually his
father Sultan Sikander (c.1386-1410) was ruling over Kashmir at the time of
Timur's invasion of India (AD 1398). Sultan Sikander sent an embassy, led
by his son, Shahi Khan, to that formidable personage and sought his friendship.
Timur summoned him for a meeting but in the meanwhile political developments
at home compelled him to leave India. He hastened to Samarkand but took along
Shahi Khan and kept him virtually as a hostage until his death. Shahi Khan
returned to Kashmir with many artisans and persons skilled in various trades
with a view to introducing new industries there. These included paper-makers,
bookbinders, harness-makers and midwives. The author of Tarikh-i-Kashmir
stated the following about Shahi Khan, "During his stay at Samarkand
he acquired knowledge. When he returned to Kashmir he brought with him a number
of artisans skilled in different trades such as paper-makers, book-binders,
carpet-makers, harness-makers and well trained midwives."
Soon, because of its quality, the Kashmiri paper was much in demand in the
world and the rest of the country for writing manuscripts. According to Tarikh-i-Farishta,
"Sultan Abu Said sent fine Arab horses and strong camels of good breed
as presents to Sultan Zainul Abedin. Pleased with this act of courtesy, Sultan
Zainul Abedin in return, sent saffron, paper, musk, perfumes, rose-water,
vinegar, elegant shawls, glass bowls and other fine products of Kashmir industry".
Indian Paper Manufacture Centers
With the rapid demand of writing materials the paper making centers were
established in different parts of the country like in Sialkot (Punjab); Zafarabad
in district Jaunpur (Oudh); Bihar Sharif in district Azimabad (Patna) and
Arwal in district Gaya (Bihar); Murshidabad and Hooghly (Bengal) ; Ahmedabad,
Khambat and Patan (Gujarat) ; and Aurangabad and Mysore in the south.
Out of these, the Punjab was the leading center. Sialkot
paper was white in colour and very stout. It was used throughout Punjab.
In Uttar Pradesh, Zafarabad is a famous town of district
Jaunpur. It was known as Kaghdi Shahar (paper city) in olden times. It produced
a very fine, glossy and strong variety of bamboo paper. Generally two varieties
of paper were produced here, first was the polished paper, which was exceedingly
glossy, and second was unpolished paper.
Bihar had two major papermaking centers in medieval times.
First was Arwal town in district Gaya, and second was Bihar Sharif in district
In Bengal, Murshidabad and Hooghly were the major papermaking
centers in the medieval times. At a later period, Dinajpur also started
After some time, Gujarat developed as the largest producer
of paper. It supplied paper to rest of India and also exported to the West,
other Asian countries and Turkey also. In Gujarat, Ahmedabad was the largest
papermaking center, it produced white and glossy paper.
During the Mughal period, Daulatabad, with Aurangabad
as its capital, emerged as an important papermaking center. The most remarkable
feature of Daulatabadi paper was its durability and glossiness. Daulatabad
was the chief supply center of paper to south India.
Tipu Sultan developed papermaking centers in Mysore. The
paper produced by Mysore, was a high quality paper, which was employed only
for royal use.
Other big paper making centers of medieval India were:
Sanganer (in Jaipur, Rajasthan), Kotah (Rajasthan), Tijarah (in Alwar, Rajasthan),
Kannauj (in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh), Kalpi and Pukharayan in Kanpur
(Uttar Pradesh), Maler-Kotlal (Punjab), Hariharganj(in district Shahabad,
Bihar), Kalita (in district Pabna, now in Bangladesh), Panchamnagar (in
district Damoh, Madhya Pradesh), Dharangaon and Erandel town (in district
East Khandesh, Maharashtra) and Poona.
Generally Indian papermaking centers produced glazed paper. Rahman has categorized
ancient paper into seven categories: Kashmiri, Ahmedabadi, Hyderabadi, Faizabadi,
Khasah-i-Jahangiri, Kanpuri and Aurangabadi.
Ahmedabadi paper was a little thick and was of two qualities:
fine and superfine. The paper had extra whiteness and glossiness.
Kashmiri paper was stout and glazed. Some Kashmiri centers
produced superfine paper called silken paper.
Khasah-i-Jahangiri paper was made at Sialkot. The paper
was glossy, thin, polished and bluish white.
Hyderabadi paper was well glazed; some was polished and
of brown colour with very fine shades.
Faizabadi paper had three varieties: i) unpolished paper
(medium quality); ii) pale yellow; and iii) polished dark yellow.
Kanpuri paper was prepared from bamboo and was greyish
Aurangabadi paper was glossy and stout, had a few varieties
like, Bahadur Khani (medium quality paper, thick, stout and durable), Sahib
Khani paper (medium quality, thick), Murad Shahi paper (fine quality), Sharbati
paper thick and fine), Qasim Begi paper (thick), Ruba-Kari paper (This variety
was made in four or five different grades) and Balapuri paper (four or five
varieties of different colours).
Indian Technique of Paper Making
Rahman describes the old Indian technique of papermaking and its tools. According
to Rahman, the main tools used for papermaking were: dhegi (hammer),
chhapri (screen), and sacha (teakwood frame), kunchawas
(soft date-palm brush), and polishing stone.
The techniques of papermaking were essentially the same throughout the country,
differing only in the preparation of pulp from different materials.
According to Rahman, "the process of making paper from waste paper was
not very difficult. The waste paper was torn to pieces, sorted according to
colour, moistened with water, taken to the river and pounded with stones,
and washed for three days. It was then taken to a cistern about 7ft x 4ftx
4ft deep, half - filled with water. The pulp was thrown into this cistern.
When it was thoroughly dissolved, the workman sitting on the edge of the pit,
bending over the water, took in both hands the square frame which held the
screen serving as a sieve, passed it underwater and drew it slowly and evenly
to the surface; such that, as the water passed through, a uniform film of
pulp was left on the screen. The screen was then lifted up and turned over,
and the film of paper was spread on a rag cushion. When sufficient layers
had been heaped on this cushion, about 9-14 inches high, a rag was spread
over them and a plank weighted with heavy stones was laid over it. When this
pressure had drained the water and some of the moisture out of the stock of
paper, the stones were taken away and two men, one standing at each end of
the plank, see-sawed over the bundle of paper by hand. When it was well pressed
the paper was peeled off, layer after layer, and spread to dry either on the
walls of the building or on rags laid in the sun. When dried, each sheet was
laid on the polished wooden board and rubbed with a shell till it shone".
The above process was used for making rough paper.
Rahman describes another process of glazed papermaking. According to Rahman,
firstly the material was cut into small pieces, moistened with water and pounded
by a heavy fixed hammer, the dhegi. Then washed with clean water and
moistened with slaked lime and left in a heap on the floor for seven or eight
days, then pounded again, heaped and left to lie for four days more. Again
washed this material (rag) with plane water and washed material mixed with
khar (impure carbonate of soda, 1 khar : 38 pulp)) overnight.
This rag was again washed and again mixed with khar (1 khar
: 40 pulp) and dried in the sun. And again kept in water overnight and again
washed. Washed rags were mixed with country soap (1 soap : 27rags) and pounded
and dried. Then this pulp was washed again. Then placed into a cement-lined
cistern, about 7ft x 4ft x 4ft deep. The rest of the process was similar to
the above described technique.
Ray describes other processes of papermaking. According to Ray, the old clothes,
old tents, the bark of certain shrubs and trees were washed well and soaked
in water for few days; these materials were beaten with wooden hammer (dhegi).
The pulp was mixed with a little water in a lime-lined (cunam) reservoir,
where the beating operation was also carried out. The workman dipped their
moulds into the reservoir, and the mixture, when lifted out, would become
paper. It was then removed, and each sheet drawn through a second reservoir
of water and then hung up to dry in sun. A quantity of gum Arabic was dissolved
in water and then the beaten pulp was placed. The water in the second reservoir,
through which the sheets were drawn, also contained gum in the form of mucilage,
as well as some alum dissolved in it. The moulds or forms used by the workmen
were generally made of bamboo. The gum Arabic was obtained as an exudation
from the babool tree.
Gondhalekar has also described the process of making handmade paper, which
involved cutting, dusting and washing of the tat (discarded hessian
sacks) then beating the tat under a treadmill, followed by washing.
This washed mass was mixed with saji matti (naturally occurring sodium
carbonate) and lime and exposed the mass to the sun in an open verandah for
several days for sun bleaching. And this dried material was subjected to rewashing.
And if necessary, the saji and lime treatment was repeated.
Then thoroughly stirring the pulp in a masonry vat sunk in the ground and
lifting the sheet on a grass mat. After this sticking the wet sheets on lime
plastered walls for drying and applying starch-paste on both sides of the
dried sheet and glazing the dry sheet on a concave wooden board, with a smooth
agate burnisher. And finally cutting to required sizes.
The above process could produce a fairly strong paper. Such paper was mainly
used by the Government for state records, by priests for religious books,
and by moneylenders and traders for account books.
Consistent with their policy of dismantling Indian industries, like iron,
copper, textile etc, they also disbanded the native handmade paper industry.
According to Bansal and Kumar (2001), "the handmade paper industry was
in full bloom until the early part of the 19th century and enjoyed a very
special status under state patronage. The British who were now ruling India
completely banned the use of hand-made paper in all government offices and
they started the import of machine-made paper from Britain. A few paper mills
were established in India by the end of the 19th century, as a result of which
a lot of cheap machine made paper appeared in the market for public use. This
further caused a severe blow to the industry and made it difficult to survive.
Many people engaged in it lost their jobs. This was a rough time for the Indian
hand-made paper industry. Swadeshi movement under the leadership of Mahatma
Gandhi played a positive role in reviving the handmade paper industry. For
the success of the movement, Gandhi ji drew the support of the manufacturers
of consumer articles in the country and formed the All India Village Industries
Association (AIVIA). Hand-made paper was also included in the list of village
industries, which needed financial support and patronage for its products.
Since there was a competitive market of cheap machine made paper of almost
all varieties, it was imperative to improve the quality of indigenous products.
For this purpose, in 1935, All-India Village Industries Association started
a training centre at Maganwadi in Wardha (Maharashtra) under the guidance
of Sri Kumarappa, a devout Gandhian and economist. This training centre was
later renamed as Jamna Lal Bajaj Research Institute".
In 1924, more and more paper mills of India began to use bamboo as main raw
Paper Production in India
In 1925, Bamboo Paper Industry (Protection) Act and in 1931, Indian Finance
(Supplementary and Extending) Act came into existence which provided the protection,
and some more mills appeared on the scene. Rohtas Industries Ltd., Dalmianagar;
Orient Paper Mills, Brajraj Nagar; Mysore Paper Mills Ltd., Bhadravati; Star
Paper Mills Ltd., Saharanpur; and Sirpur Paper Mills, Kagajnagar, Sirpur;
were set up just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Indian paper
Industry made remarkable progress during the war period.
In 1925, Punjab Paper Mills was started with an annual capacity of 6000 tons.
By 1930-1931, the total capacity of paper production in India was increased
to 45,600 tons as against 33,000 tons in 1925. The share of indigenous production
in national consumption was now 71 % as against 54% in 1925.
Bansal and Kumar describe the net production of paper in India during the
Production (thousand tons)
Production (thousand tons)
* Source: Bansal and Kumar. 2001. Paper making. In History of Technology in
India. Pp: 722.
Production of individual paper Mills in 1947:
Name and location
Upper India Cooper Paper Mills, Lucknow
Titagarh Paper Mills
Titagarh and Kankinara
Bengal Paper Mills, Raniganj
Deccan Paper Mills, Hadaspur
India Paper Pulp, Naihati
Andhra Paper Mills; Rajahmundry
Shree Gopal Paper Mills, Yamunanagar
Punalur Paper Mills, Punalur
Gujarat Paper Mills, Barejadi
F. Pudumjee, Bombay
Star Paper Mills, Saharanpur
Orient Paper Mills, Brajrajnagar
Mysore Paper Mills, Bhadravati
Sirpur Paper Mills, Sirpur-Kaghaznagar
Rohtas Industries, Dalmianagar
* Source: Bansal and Kumar. 2001. Paper making. In History of Technology in
India. Pp: 723.
The First Printing of Indian Characters
The 16 pages of Doctrina Christina were translated into Tamil language
by Fr Henriques and Fr Manoel de Sao Pedro. This was printed in the Malabar
Coast in 1578. This little work known only from this one copy becomes the
earliest example of printing in the characters of one of the language of India.
The 16 pages are printed on a single sheet, in conventional octavo format,
the pages measuring approximately 14x10 cm.
The handmade glazed paper was a remarkable product of medieval India. Bark
and leaves of trees, silk or cotton clothes, planks, leather and parchment
formed this paper. This paper was not only used in India but also exported
to other countries. But nowadays the handmade paper industry is declining
rapidly. Only a few areas are still there which produce handmade quality paper.
Al-Biruni. Kitabul Hind (Leyden Edition), P. 31.
Bansal M. C. and Mukesh Kumar. 2001. Paper making. In History of Technology
in India. (Ed. K. V. Mittal). New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy.
Chaudhuri, Mamata. 1997. Writing materials. In History of Technology in
India (Ed. A. K. Bag). New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy. Pp.
Kesavan, B. S. 1985. History of Printing and Publishing in India.
Vol-1. Delhi: National Book Trust. Pp: 26-31.
Rahman, A. 1998. Paper technology in India. In History of Indian Science
Technology and Culture (Ed. A. Rahman). Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Ray, Mira. 1999. Paper and written communication. In Chemistry and Chemical
Techniques in India. (Ed. B. V. Subbarayappa). Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Pp. 311-323.
Ray, P. (Ed.). 1956. History of Chemistry in Ancient and Medieval India.
Calcutta: Indian Chemical Society.