Symbolising the spirit of true Maharashtrian culture, and considered to be royalty among sarees, Paithani Cotton has been favored by royals and aristocrats dating back to the second century BC. Paithani is not just considered another weave – it is a tradition and art, an heirloom of Maharashtra which every lady of this great land wants to own, every daughter wants to get married in and every mother wishes to pass on to the next generation.
Though power looms are available today, one can still find Paithani sarees that are completely woven on handlooms. This weaving technique is complex, involving intricate details. Thus, it can take anywhere from between a month to two years to create one of these masterpieces.
The lustrous sheen comes from natural colors obtained from vegetables, minerals, plants, and rocks, such as red, yellow, sky blue, magenta, green, peach-pink, and purple. For a royal touch of class, shimmering real gold and silver thread embroidery are meticulously incorporated into the design.
The majestic garb that the Paithani saree is, it will leave the wearer feeling like royalty. The highlights of a Paithani saree are the border and pallu motifs. Traditional motifs include inspirational figures from the Ajanta Caves carved over 1500 years ago and also lotus flowers, peacocks, mangoes, almonds, and parrots. You can also find motifs of musical instruments like tablas, shehnais, sambals, and tanpuras on Paithani sarees. On the borders, you will usually see coconut and fan-shaped motifs.
When it comes to special features, the most interesting part about the Paithani handloom is that both sides of the saree look exactly the same, including the border and pallu. In fact, this feature is the tell-tale sign of a handloom Paithani. A Paithani saree done on a power loom will show threads on the reverse side.
Paithani truly flourished during the era of the Mughals but experienced a setback with the Industrial Revolution and the advent of the British rule. But in the 17th century, the Peshwas took it upon themselves to promote the craft, and consequently, settled Paithani weavers in Yeola, which is now the manufacturing hub for Paithani. Fast forward to today, they are in a similar state as many other handloom sarees, thanks to power looms.
In recent times, there have been many efforts to promote handloom. The New Wave Paithani Festival is one such endeavor to celebrate the exquisite Paithani drape. This festival educates people about the importance of buying a handloom saree over one from a power loom, and how to distinguish between an authentic Paithani and a fake. The five-day festival was curated by Saroj Dhananjay in 1989 to create a healthy market for weavers from Yeola and Paithan to raise awareness about this unique handwoven cotton.
Help support the struggling handloom weavers in Yeola and ensure this rich Maharashtrian culture lives on for many generations to come.