Among the most gorgeous of Indian saris is the
pithani, woven in the western state of Maharashtra. Exemplifying the
merger of the aesthetic with the symbolic, they are today a prized
possession and a family heirloom.
The art of fine weaving
and the complex processes of bleaching and dyeing and the arts of
hand and loom embroidery were perfected by the people of India long
before conditions in the textile industry were modernized. These
crafts were mostly hereditary and the qualities required of a true
artisan were apprenticeship, devotion to duty and co-operation. The
knowledge of the arts and crafts was imparted from one generation to
ancient history indicate that an amazing variety of costumes made of
cotton and silk fabrics were used in India. The Rig Veda mentions a
golden woven fabric and the Greek records tal kof gorgeous paithani
fabrics from the great ancient trading and industrial centres,
Pratishan or Paithan in Maharashtra.
Maharashtra is the home of the most celebrated textilethe
paithani, gold embroidered zari
sari with its wonderful designs and woven borders. Even during the
medieval period, the interaction between the Hindu and Muslim rulers
gave rise to new styles. The Marathas extended their patronage to
textile activities. Some centres became renowned for their textiles
and the fabric frequently derived its name from the place of origin.
For example, paithani came from Paithan, shahagadi
from Shagad etc. The Peshwas in the 18th century had a
special love for paithani textiles and it is believed that Madhavrao
Peshwa even asked for the supply of asavali
dupattas in red, green, saffron, pomegranate and pink colours.
It is believed that
the Nizam of Hyderabad was also attracted to the paithanis and made
several trips to the small town of Paithan. His daughter-in-law,
Niloufer, is believed to have introduced new motifs to the border and
pallav (outer end of the
Naina Jhaveri of Swayam
Siddha, Bombay, is one of the best known designers and an authority
on paithani saris in Mharashtra.
speciality of the paithani is its border and pallav. Earlier just
2-3 colours were popular which were integrated in the sari in the
dhup chaon pattern which,
when translated, means light and shade. In 1990 Nainas
interest in the paithani sari turned into an obsession prompting her
to do directly to the weavers in Paithan to create her own exclusive
designs. Today Naina has nearly 200 designs, the largest selection
of paithani in Maharashtra.
The price of a
paithani sari starts from Rs. 4,000/- and can move up to Rs.
1,50,000/-. The paithani sari is an entirely handwoven item.
Depending on the intricacy of the design, it takes anything from one
month to a year to weave, explains Naina. The traditional
paithani used to be a plain sari with a heavy zari border and
ornamental pallav. But today paithanis with motifs are in
vogue: stars, circles, peacocks, flowers and paisleys. The paithani
borders and pallavs are heavily adorned with these motifs and the
sari is given the name after the design on it. Tota-maina
(parrot), bangdi-mor (peacock
with round design), asavali
(flower and vine), narli
(coconut), are all descriptive of paithanis. For inspiration, the
weavers turn to the myriad birds and flowers around them,
In the olden days the
zari used in making paithanis was drawn from pure gold. But today
silver is substituted for gold thus making the paithanis more
affordable to many people. Every six months Naina creates at least
2-3 new designs and at any given time there are about 10 different
designs available (four styles per colour). Fourteen weavers are
exclusively working for Naina and she has nearly 40 colours for her
customers to choose from. Besides retailing from her residence,
Naina holds periodic exhibitions in Bombay and in different parts of
India. Buying a paithani is not an impulsive decision. A lot
of planning and thought must go into it since it is so expensive. But
once bought, at least three generations can wear it if it is
preserved properly, she advises.
for a paithani sari include enlarging an 18 inch to 25 inch pallav
into a 39 inch one and in heavier saris she provides 2-3 matching
blouse pieces so that more than one member of the family can wear the
The basic weave of
the paithani sari is simple. It is a tabby weave but more recently
even the modern jacquard has been incorporated by Naina. The
speciality lies in the design which is woven without the assistance
of a mechanical contriance like a jala.
Multiple spindles are used to produce the linear design. The border
as well as the pallav carry creeper and floral motifs on a background
of gold. Such saris are worn by brides. A paithani is a must
in a brides trousseau today and the red-white version called
the panetar is the wedding
sari for the Gujarati community.
The paithani became
very popular during the Maratha period. At that time the favourite
motif was the asavali, a kind
of flower and hence the saris were also known as asavali paithanis.
Before weaving the
sari the raw silk which is obtained from Bangalore is cleaned with
caustic soda. Then it is dyed into the different colours required.
The silk threads are then separated by the women and then they are
ready to be woven. The whole family is involved in the weaving of
Although the paithani
sari is costly it has become a popular item in the marriage
ceremonies of the rich and the not-so-rich. Besides Paithan, the
saris are woven in Yeola, known for the mango motif pallavs and in
Pune, Nashik, and Malegaon in Maharashtra. Thus the paithani sari
has played a significant role in weaving together the cultural fabric
Initially Naina did
experience some resistance from the weavers who were not open to
weaving the saris in more contemporary designs. But once they
realized that I knew the subject well they were eager to try,
she says with triumph in her voice. Naina has even made paithani
fabrics for salwar-kameezes and ghagra-cholis. These are priced
around Rs. 5,500/-. They are specially created for persons who
do not wear saris but would still like to wear the paithani fabric in
some form or the other, she adds. Today traditional weaving
may be on the decline, but during the past three years there
has been an awakening to the beauty of the paithani sari. It is like
a beautiful dream. Its classic beauty fascinates the connoisseur and
since the paithani weaver hands over his skills to his children, it
goes on like a precious heirloom.
Human skills may have
been replaced by machines. However, no machine-made fabric can
compare with the hand-made beauty of the paithani sari by the master
craftsmen of Maharashtra.
Preserving for your paithani sari:
The price tag on the
paithani demands that utmost care be taken to preserve the fabric and
its luster. The sari should not be kept in a cardboard box or
plastic bags. Also, if possible, it should not be hung on a hanger.
The best way is to keep it is wrapped in a muslin cloth. No perfume
should be applied directly onto the sari, neither should menthol
balls be packed with the paithani sari. The sari should be roll
pressed and dry cleaned. There is no need to polish the zari often
since it will weaken the sari.