Puneri cotton is one of the most prominent weaves of Maharashtra and an emblematic cloth of Pune.
This textile owes much of its fame to the cotton and silk weaving industries that flourished throughout the state during the onset of the 19th century. It may be demure and virginal in appearance but boasts a long-standing history. Hearkening back to the era of the spirited Marathas and Peshwas, Puneri cotton is a canvas of modest elegance.
Puneri cotton is predominantly used to weave saris, although its modern renditions see it being incorporated into salwars and kurtas too.
The weave is said to have travelled to Maharashtra from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the southern states of India. During the heyday of the Peshwa Empire, the sari was mainly worn by the women of the royal household, and on certain occasions, was delicately woven with silk.
The base fabric is crafted with 100% cotton, with the warp (where the yarn is placed in a longitudinal position) and weft (where the yarn is interlocked with the warp at a right angle, running back and forth alongside it) technique. The sari, which is otherwise quite austere, is accentuated by a zari (metallic-colored) border. It is particularly intriguing to chart the journey of this much-coveted hem. It speaks of immense cultural significance – characterised by dainty triangular motifs, the border stands as a testimony to the intricate temple architecture which was typical of ancient Pune. The border comes with its own variants, such as Gomi, Nav Bharat, Jijamata and Rudraksh, each illustrating a design which is distinctly its own. This border is often created using the extra-warp technique. Considered supplementary to the body of the fabric, this technique includes the insertion of the additional warp into the sari in a way that does not disrupt the primary weaving process. The sari is usually woven with a yarn count of 100S, and features a tok padar, a pallu woven with vertical lines.
Of late, this sari has met with the same fate as its fellow handloomed treasures. Power looms are swiftly taking over, producing more saris in less time. For example, if a handloomed Puneri sari was to be spun and woven in a span of 10 days, a power loom holds the capacity to do so in three days or less. Not to mention the stark difference in pricing, the power-loomed sari, of course, being cheaper. With the latter, not only does the authenticity of the weave go for a toss but it also dissuades the artisans from holding their ground and sticking to the art. Government-subsidised schemes are not of great help, either–what with ample paperwork, regulations and meagre profits at the end of it all.
However, all hope is not lost. A silent–yet steady–stream of conscious stalwarts are striving to preserve the exemplary weave in whatever little ways that they can.
Bhumayya Gangaram Yeldi is a Maharashtrian weaver with decades of experience under his belt. Together with his family, he has been in the profession since 1963; his expertise lies in the weaving of traditional Puneri and Paithani saris among others. Many stores from urban clusters outsource these weaves from him at a reasonable price cap.
Maanini Vastra Samskrithi, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing marketplace (headquartered in Karnataka) which stocks hundreds of varieties of handloomed saris, having introduced the Puneri drape back in 2017. Pune itself is peppered with a multitude of stores housing the city’s signature sari, only a handful of which (namely Kalyanam and Shri Jogeshwari) sell those woven on a handloom.