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Chapter 1

Case Study - India


Sanjay Mande, B.R. Pai and V.V.N. Kishore
Tata Energy Research Institute
Habitat Place, Lodi Road
New Delhi - 110 003 (INDIA)


Silk holds a unique place in the textile world and is regarded as the “Queen of Textiles”. India is a traditional sericultural country and ranks only next to China in silk production. Mulberry silk production accounts for the major (about 90%) share which is mainly concentrated in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. While, the states of Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal produce non-mulberry silks like Tasar, Muga and Eri. India produced around 14,500 metric tons of natural silk during the year 1993–94. The majority of the silk is reeled either in charka or in cottage basin ovens; both can be called small scale cottage industries. At present there are about 35,155 charka ovens and 25,937 cottage basin ovens installed in different states. Various fuels used are mainly firewood for cottage basin and local available loose biomass (such as groundnut shell, tamarind husk, rice husk, coffee beans, etc) for charka units. It is estimated that about 105,000 tons of loose biomass and 120,000 tons of fuelwood are being consumed every year for the production of silk yarn. The distribution of silk reeling units in different states is given in Table 1.

Table 1: Distribution of silk reeling units in India

StateNo. of ovens installed in during 1985–90
Cottage basinCharka
Karnataka19,284 26,020 
Andhra Pradesh1,193 1,646 
Tamil Nadu3,379 590 
West Bengal1,200 6,000 
Madhya Pradesh40 97 
Uttar Pradesh115  
Jammu & Kashmir392  
North-eastern States156 237 
Other States110 65 
Total25,869 34,655 

(Source: Biennial Statistics Journal of the Central Silk Board, India - 1992)

1.1 Process description

The worm rearer feeds the silkworms (pupae) with mulberry leaves and they grow rapidly. After the fifth instar (stage of worm growth), the worms are mounted on bamboo mounts to allow them to spin the cocoons. After the spinning is complete, the cocoons are sold to the reelers (Photograph-1)

The reelers buy the cocoons from the government regulated cocoon markets and produce raw silk yarn. The reeling industry is predominantly a cottage based one. There are various steps involved in the production of raw silk yarn from cocoons.

  1. stifling
  2. cooking
  3. reeling
  4. re-reeling
  5. skeining
  6. bookmaking and bundling

Flow Chart of Silk Reeling Industry

Thermal energy is needed for the first four steps; the first two steps are more energy intensive and account for the major share of total energy required. Stifling is a process for killing of the pupa and drying the cocoons for storage. There are two ways of stifling viz. with the help of steam (either in a basket or in a barrel) (Photographs-2 & 3) or with the help of hot air (Photograph-4). The stifled cocoons are stored till they are subjected to cooking. The processing of stifled cocoons, consisting of cooking, reeling, and re-reeling, is the main activity of the silk reeling units. Prior to reeling of silk from cocoons, the cocoons are cooked to unwind the continuous silk filament. Cooking is the process of locating the end of the silk baves by subjecting the cocoons to boiling water. The sericin and part of the gum is dissolved in this operation. There are two types of ovens which are used for cooking viz, the charka oven (Photograph - 5) and the cottage basin oven (Photograph - 6). The process of cooking consists of keeping the cocoons in boiling water contained in aluminium or copper cooking vessels for about 1–2 minutes, with continuous, vigorous stirring with wooden rods. This process allows release of gum from the cocoons and makes them amenable for continuous unwinding of silk filament in reeling basins.

Photograph - 1Photograph - 2
Photograph - 1
Raw cocoons received at reeling unit
Photograph - 2
Barrel (closed) steam stifling
Photograph - 3Photograph - 4
Photograph - 3
Basket (open) steam stifling
Photograph - 4
Hot air stifling in ‘Ushnakoti
Photograph - 5Photograph - 6
Photograph - 5
Cocoon cooking in charka ovens
Photograph - 6
Cocoon cooking in cottage basin ovens
Photograph - 7Photograph - 8
Photograph - 7
Reeling in a cottage basin oven unit
Photograph - 8
Re-reeling in a cottage basin oven unit

The cooked cocoons are then subjected to reeling wherein, the located ends are reeled onto the reels (Photograph - 7). Three types of reeling units exist, viz, charka reeling units, cottage basin/domestic basin reeling units and multi-end reeling units. In re-reeling, the already reeled raw silk is reeled on to the standard sized reels (Photograph - 8). The raw silk is then skeined and bundled.


2.1. Stifling

Cocoons can be stifled by several methods such as sun drying, steam stifling, hot air drying. The steam stifled cocoons can be stored for short duration (1–2 weeks) whereas hot air stifled cocoons can be safely stored for several months. Therefore steam stifling is preferred for multi-voltine cocoons whereas hot air drying is recommended for bi-voltine cocoons. The duration of stifling depends upon the number of days the cocoons are to be stored and the quality of the cocoons. In cottage industries stifling is done in batches in one of the following ways:

Photograph - 9Photograph - 10
Photograph - 9
Stove used for barrel stifling
Photograph - 10
Ushnakoti stove for hot air stifling
Photograph - 11Photograph - 12
Photograph - 11
Idle traditional charka oven unit
Photograph - 12
Traditional charka unit in operation

Barrel stifling

In this method, commonly used in cottage basin reeling units, a metal barrel is embedded into the masonry of the oven. A platform is provided inside the barrel to keep the basket of cocoons. The barrel is also provided with a close fitting lid to prevent the steam from escaping thereby reducing evaporation loss. Water is poured into the barrel to about two thirds height of the platform and boiled over a fire in the oven below (Photograph - 9). When the water starts steaming, a bamboo basket loaded with about 10 to 12 kg of cocoons is placed on the platform in the barrel and the lid is securely closed (Photograph - 2). The average duration of one stifling batch operation is 10 to 15 minutes.

Basket stifling

In this method, commonly used in charka reeling units, about 7 to 10 kg of cocoons are loaded into a bamboo basket in which the sides are closely woven but the bottom is loosely woven in order to allow the steam to pass through the cocoons easily. A thick gunny bag is tightly stretched over the top, leaving the sides and the bottom free (Photograph - 3). The basket is placed over the mouth of a vessel in which water is boiled. Sometimes, the cooking/reeling basin itself is used for this purpose, as in the case of charkas. The hot steam fills the basket and stifles the pupae in the cocoons. The average duration of one operation is 30 minutes to 1 hour. A lot of energy is wasted in this method in the form of latent heat of steam escaping through the basket.

Ushnakoti: hot air stifling

Recently, CSTRI has developed hot air stifling chamber, called an Ushnakoti. It is a room with wiremesh trays on which raw cocoons are spread. Fuel is burned in one corner of the room and hot flue gas obtained is circulated inside the room through a metalic pipe which heats the surrounding room air by natural convection (Photograph - 4 & 10). The system is still in the development stage.

In the northern region, black cloth sun drying is being experimented with. In this method cocoons are spread on the ground and covered with the black cloth which helps to raise the temperature so as to stifle the cocoon. Preliminary test results are encouraging.

2.2 Cooking and Reeling

Charka Oven

The majority of the charka units use non-woody biomass fuels such as groundnut shell, paddy husks, etc. This is the simplest mechanism for silk reeling, in which both the cooking and reeling operations are carried out in the same basin (Photograph-5, 11 & 12). First, the water in the basin is brought to boiling by allowing higher burning rates of the fuel. The cocoons are then cooked for a few minutes, with simultaneous stirring and mixing. After the cooking is over, the temperature in the basin is reduced by adding cold water and simultaneously reducing the burning rate of the fuel by cutting off the air supply by closing a damper. The manual reeling operation starts with the reeler rotating the charka by hand and the other person attending to the process of feeding the silk threads to the charka. In some units, where several charka ovens are installed under the same shed, the reel is power driven by a common shaft. After all the cocoons are reeled, the cooking operation starts again by increasing the burning rate and the process continues. The quality of yarn produced in charka units seems to be poor but the charka units account for nearly 50% of raw silk produced in India.

Although, charkas are not made according to any specifications of measurements, they are all similar in design and constructional details. Generally each charka establishment installs five to six charkas and each consists of three distinct parts, namely the mud platform, distributor and reel.

(a) Mud platform

This is rectangular in shape and usually measures about 60 to 75 cm high and 90 cm wide and 120 cm long. The forepart has a built-in fire place with a basin fitted over it. The other part of the platform is solid with a flat top intended for the reeler to sit and attend to the reeling operations. The basin is of thick copper sheet and is generally of circular shape measuring about 50 cm in diameter and 20 cm in depth. Occasionally, instead of a copper basin which is comparatively costly, one half of a vertically bisected earthenware pot is used. Even the use of an aluminium basin is quite common. The basin is buried up to its brim in the mud platform with the spacious part of the basin's underside exposed to the fire place below. The basin is used for both cooking and reeling operations.

The fire place, which is not provided with a grate or ash pit, is generally built for burning firewood or dry twigs. In some places it is designed for burning paddy husk or groundnut shells. At the opposite end of the opening there is a chimney provided for the flue gases to escape.

(b) Distributor

This is a simple device consisting of a crudely made eccentric wheel which in operation revolves on its vertical axis and drives the wooden traverse rod to and fro. The eccentric wheel is driven by an endless cord-belt from the reel passing over its constricted part. The traverse rod is provided with loops of wire along its length at regular intervals. These serve as thread guides for the threads passing through onto the reel. During the reeling operation, the traverse moves briskly to and fro in front of the reel thereby distributing the threads onto the reel.

(c) The reel

Only one long reel made of thick sections of seasoned wood is provided for each basin. Its circumference is not standardized and ranges from 150 cm to 225 cm in different charkas. It can accommodate four to five ends, the reel is rotated manually or power driven.

Cottage basin oven

In the cottage basin system the cooking operations and the reeling operations are carried out separately. The cocoons are first cooked in the cooking unit and then taken to the reeling basins for reeling.

(a) Cooking unit

The cooking unit consists of a masonry structure of a convenient height in which several, usually four cooking pans are embedded in rows. The basins are normally made of copper. They are 20 to 22 cm in diameter and about 20 cm in depth. The oven is well constructed with ash pit, grating and chimney for the flue gases to escape. In the path of exhaust gases a fairly large metalic water drum is embedded to serve as a hot water source to the reeling basins (Photographs-13 to 16). The cooking unit is located a little distance away from the reeling unit to prevent the heat and smoke from causing disturbance to the reelers. The average water temperature in the cooking vessels is 87–96° C. A handful of cocoons are taken each time and put into the cooking pans. A stick is used to brush the cocoons to separate the floss and locate the ends of the filaments. The cocoons are now ready for reeling. The whole operation takes about 1 to 2 minutes.

Idle traditional cottage basin oven unit
Traditional cottage basin oven unit in operation
Traditional cottage basin oven with step grate for loose biomass fuels
Use of wood logs in a cottage basin oven

(b) Reeling unit

The reeling unit consists of four to five reeling basins. Each basin is embedded into a table, the table top is usually spacious and provides sufficient accommodation for keeping the necessary reeling equipment. The reeling basin is usually made of copper. It has dimensions of about 45 × 25 × 7.5 cm (Photograph - 7). The average temperature of water in the reeling basin is maintained at around 40°C in order to facilitate reeling. Taps are provided to draw water from the hot water drum of the cooking unit.

Each basin is designed to reel from four to six ends. To facilitate easy attachment of filaments porcelain button thread guides are provided for each basin. Each basin has its independent croissure frame designed for application of travellite croissure. The reels are driven by corresponding drive wheels fitted on a common transmission shaft. At one end of the transmission shaft, the traverse mechanism consisting of required gears, and at the other end, one handle is provided. Each reel is served by a braking mechanism of simple design.

Photograph - 17Photograph - 18
Photograph - 17
Use of two chimneys in a traditional cottage basin oven
Photograph - 18
Idle CSTRI economic charka oven unit
Photograph - 19Photograph - 20
Photograph - 19
CSTRI economic charka unit in operation
Photograph - 20
CSTRI economic cottage basin oven with step grate for loose biomass fuels
Photograph - 21Photograph - 22
Photograph - 22
CSTRI economic cottage basin oven in operation
 Photograph - 21
Idle CSTRI economic cottage basin oven
Photograph - 23Photograph - 24
Photograph - 23
Close-up of step grate in oven used for loose biomass fuels
Photograph - 24
3-pan cocoon cooking technique being developed at CSTRI

The reeled raw silk is then sent for re-reeling onto bigger reels of standard size and weight. In another version of the cottage basin, namely, the domestic system of reeling, also called the Italian system of reeling, the rereeling is avoided. Instead, the silk is reeled onto a standard reel in one operation. After that the yarn is skeined and bundled to make it ready for dispatch.

2.3. Economic Ovens

The traditional ovens (charka and cottage basin) used in silk reeling units consume lot of fuel on account of their ill designed fireplace and chimney. In many traditional cottage basin ovens use of two chimneys is common (Photograph - 17). The reason for it may be removal of smoke coming out through the fuel port opening or distributing the fire on all cooking vessels. Hence, the Central Silk Technological Research Institute, Bangalore (CSTRI) developed economic ovens aimed at reducing the fuel consumption. The first version of the economic oven could not use locally available fuels like husk & cobs and required fuelwood to be fed in pieces. Therefore, it found limited acceptability despite subsidies. These factors led to the development of a new version which is multi-fuel in nature (Photographs - 18 to 24). Under the National Sericulture Programme (NSP), a subsidy of 50% in the case of charka ovens and 30% in the case of cottage basin ovens is offered. The cost of the charka and cottage basin oven is Rs. 1,120 and Rs. 6500 respectively. The detailed technical drawings of charka and cottage basin ovens are given in Figures 1 and 2 respectively. Table 2 gives the details of the material required for CSTRI oven construction. The programme seems to be gaining momentum.


A detailed field survey was carried out in order to establish the energy use pattern in the various types of ovens used in the silk reeling industry. Traditional and improved charka and cottage basin ovens and stifling units spread in traditional mulberry silk states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu were covered in the survey. In all, 236 cooking ovens (113 charka and 123 cottage basin) and 94 stifling ovens (37 barrel and 57 basket) were surveyed.

3.1. Charka Ovens

In all, 72 traditional and 41 CSTRI charka ovens, spread over three major southern states, were surveyed. It was observed that different types of locally available biomass fuels are used in different regions, e.g. tamarind husk (Kanakpura, Ramnagar), paddy husk + coffee bean shell (Kollegal), paddy husk and groundnut shell (Chintamani, Kolar), groundnut shell (Madanapally), Eucalyptus leaves (Hossur and Palacode). Most of the reelers in the charka sector are poor and depend solely on the returns of the proceeds of the previous day for purchasing fresh cocoons. It is quite common in this sector for the reelers to take up piece jobs from bigger and affluent reelers. Also, many reelers concentrate on processing second grade cocoons. All these factors contribute to the variation in the cocoon consumption. The survey findings for charka ovens are summarized in Table 3. The following broad observations can be made:

Table 2 : Construction material requirement for CSTRI's economic oven

ParticularsCharka ovenCottage basin oven (4 pan)
Bricks200 Nos750 Nos
Cement10 kg3 bags
Sand30 bondlies2 cart load
Paddy husk5 kg
ChimneyOne (4" dia)One (6" dia)
Cooking vessels (copper)One4 Nos
GratingOne (6"×6")One (10"×10")
MS rod (10 mm dia)0.5 kg (10 mm)4 kg (10 mm)
Chicken wire mesh1 meter4 meter
Water drum120 litre
Fire box door/air doorOne eachOne each
Pipe fittings¾" gate valve, 2m Gl pipe
Figure 1

Figure 1 : Technical drawing of CSTRI charka oven

Figure 2

Figure 2: Technical drawing of CSTRI cottage basin oven

Table 3: Summary of survey findings; charka ovens

Fuel typeTraditionalCSTRI
No. of unitsCocoons processedSp.fuel consumptionNo. of unitsCocoons processedSp.fuel consumption
(kg/day)(kg/kg cocoon)(kcal/kg cocoon)(kg/day)(kg/kg cocoon)(kcal/kg cocoon)
Grounnut shell1610.6   2.44  119522613.04 2.77   13586 
 (3.61)(0.83)(4068) (2.00)(0.59) (2868) 
Paddy husk+coffee bean shell  2   12.881.58   6378 109.62 1.78   7170   
 (1.63)(0.01)(27)    (0.37)(0.07)(264)   
Coffee bean shell515.001.47  3180  
Eucalyptus leaves2011.42 3.26  17.365
 (3.02) (0.88)(4686)
Sawmill waste1424.75  1.93  6184  
 (5.40)  (0.27)(854)  
Paddy husk1718.94  1.87  7397  
 5.06   (0.2) (791)  

Note: Number in brackets indicate standard deviation

Table 4: Summary of survey findings: cottage basin ovens

Fuel typeTraditional cottage basinCSTRI cottage basin
No. of unitsCocoons processedSp. fuel consumptionSp. energy consumptionNo. of unitsCocoons processedSp. fuel consumptionSp. energy consumption
(No of pans)(kg/day)(kg/kg cocoon)(kcal/kg cocoon)(No of pans)(kg/day)(kg/kg cocoon)(kcal/kg cocoon)
Tamarind wood 60 82.34 1.65 8006.90 7 75.41 1.16 5613.72
 (3–6) (26.25) (0.50) (2434.34) (4–6) (9.16) (0.10) (504.64)
Eucalyptus wood 1 75.00 1.89 9182.67 1 95.00 3.16 15315.79
 (4) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00) (5) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00)
Pong Pinnat 7 90.14 1.60 6714.28    
 (4–6) (7.49) (0.18) (761.54)    
Neem wood 22 44.26 1.71 8100.87 1 49.00 1.88 8873.31
 (2–6) (35.28) (0.57) (2690.38) (4) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00)
Saw mill waste 2 48.25 2.55 8159.21    
 (3–4) (1.25) (0.38) (1214.53)    
Maize cobs 4 72.00 1.48 5511.98 1 89.00 1.21 4491.35
 (4) (17.00) (0.17) (626.38) (6) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00)
Paddy husk 3 79.50 1.54 6078.46    
 (3–6) (17.53) (0.21) (816.06)    
Groundnut shell 4 45.00 1.07 5218.50    
 (2–5) (35.00) (0.09) (456.38)    
Eucalyptus leaves 1 30.00 1.45 7709.65    
 (2) (0.00) (0.00) (0.00)    
Tamarind husk 9 88.67 1.74 7629.49    
 (4–6) (41.41) (0.80) (3574.48)    

Note: Number in brackets indicate standard deviation and no. of pans

3.2. Cottage basin ovens

During the course of the study, 113 traditional and 10 CSTRI cottage basin ovens were surveyed. The surveyed traditional ovens had 2–6 cooking vessels. The CSTRI ovens covered were mainly of 4,5,6 pan type. Table 4 summarizes the survey findings of cottage basin ovens for different types of fuels used. The following broad observations can be made:

3.3. Stifling Units

In all, 37 barrel stifling units and 57 open stifling units were surveyed. The findings of the survey are summarized in Table 5. The following broad observations can be made:

Table 5: Summary of survey findings: stifling units

Fuel typeTraditionalCSTRI
No. of unitsCocoons processedSp.fuel consumptionNo. of unitsCocoons processedSp.fuel consumption
 (kg/day)(kg/kg cocoon)(kcal/kg cocoon) (kg/day)(kg/kg cocoon)(kcal/kg cocoon)
Tamarind husk 8 82.00 0.36 1626.19 1 30.0 0.73 3300
   (10.86) (0.08) (348.54)        
Maize cobs 2 106.25 0.28 1378    
   (1075) (0.05) (219.3)        
Tamarind wood 27 88.37 0.37 1776 14 97.86 1.11 5374
   (30.77) (0.11) (546.3) (19.7)   (0.10) (488)
Neem wood      14 102.5 1.16 4971
           (32.61) (0.18) (778)
Pongemia pinnate      8 94.38 1.22 5116
           (14.46) (0.15) (620)
Sawmill waste      8 31.00 1.07 3415
           (8.26) (0.21) (656)
Paddy husk      12 36.50 0.79 3111
           (24.99) (0.09) (336)

Note: Number in brackets indicate standard deviation

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