Sound of temple bells, sparkling water of Narmada, flickering diyas and the tall Maheshwar Fort of Queen Ahilyabai, standing behind the Ghats. The story of quintessential textile “Maheshwari sarees” is a lot more than just wrap and weft!!!
Maheshwar, the capital of Malwa an ancient town lying near the banks of river Narmada was the house of handloom textile since the 5th century. It was in 18th Century during the regime of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar the “Maheshwari Saree” came into being. The craftsmanship of Maheshwari sarees was encouraged by the royal family of Holkar. The legend says Rani Ahilyabai Holkar wished to gift her relatives and guests who visited the palace an exclusive nine-yard saree. For this, she employed a special team of craftsmen from Surat, Varanasi, Chennai, and Malwa to design this nine-yard saree. The sarees were designed to gift the royal household and the Peshwa kings, while exquisite yellow turbans for the army men and red turbans for the traders & nobility were specially commissioned. The nine-yard saree got its name as Maheshwari saree from the town of Maheshwar where it was made. The very first Maheshwari saree is said to be designed by the Queen herself which became a huge hit in the royal circle. The design of the saree was unique; it had motifs inspired by the local architecture, carvings and stripped pallu. Following this, the production of Maheshwari sarees caught up, and these graceful sarees soon started becoming popular in Madhya Pradesh among the women of all ages.
Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, a worshiper of Lord Shiva and a great ruler not only embellished the city with many buildings, public works, numerous temples, a fort, riverfront Ghats but also gifted the town with the craftsmanship of the Royal nine-yards Maheshwari sarees.
The Wrap & Weft Process:
The weaving process of Maheshwari saree is a tedious task to do. There are two types of handlooms used for making this nine-yard Maheshwari sarees. The older pit looms which are heavy and fixed and the newer frame loom with lightweight metal frames. Nowadays frame loom is more popular in the production of Maheshwari sarees. Fine cotton yards in its weft and silk in wrap makes this saree very light in weight and offers utmost comfort even during summer. The fabric is light and airy making it perfect for Indian weather. Be it weft or warp, the thread needs to be freed from tangles and stretched to make them tighter. Big motorized charka is used for the wrap and small hand drove charkha is used for weft for making bundles of small rolls and bobbins. When the yarn is dyed and untangled it is given to the master weavers. The Maheshwari saree is not made by one person or a particular community, the entire town is involved in making these nine-yards of Royalty. Once the fabric is ready it is dyed with natural colors. To further embellish the Maheshwari sarees weavers used zari, gold and silver threads and gemstones to add shimmer in the designs. Now day’s zari is replaced by copper coated nylon wires, while gold and silver threads are replaced with artificial threads.
Special Features of Maheshwari Saree:
The royal nine-yard Maheshwari saree comes with some special features that make it different from others. The understated elegance, sophisticated charm and glossy finish that give a natural luster make this saree an absolute favorite for women of all age. The Maheshwari saree comes with a reversible border and it can be worn on both the sides. It is the Pallu that makes this saree exceptional; it is done in bright colors like maroon, pink, red, magenta, yellow, green, mauve, violet and blue. The pallu has five alternative stripes, two white and three colored ones. The saree is mostly plain with geometrical designs or decorative motif borders. Sometimes the saree has checks or stripes in its field. The motif designs are inspired by the local architecture, flowers, and leaves. The design of Maheshwari handlooms are mostly border based. Depending on the designs inspired by the engravings on the fort walls the borders come as zari patti, kahar kinar, bajuband kinar, rui phool kinar, chatai kinar, bugdi kinar, phool kinar and so on. The Maheshwari saree comes in five different varieties of weaves, namely, Chandrakala, Chandratara, Beli, Baingani Chandrakala, & Parbi. The plain sarees are known as Chandrakal and Baingani Chandrakal, while Parbi, Beli and Chandratara are characterized by stripes and checks.
Rehwa- Keeping the Maheshwari Art Alive:
The art of weaving Maheshwari Saree dates 1500years back. It was after Independence the Maheshwari industry saw a major downfall. The weavers were left without a market and the traditional Royal art of hand woven textile was dying. In order to revive the dying craft in 1979, the heirs of the royal Holkar family established a non-profit organization “Rehwa Society” with the grant of Central Welfare Board. With an aim to provide employment to the women of the region, Rehwa society was a way to save the ancient craft that distinguished the historical town. The weavers were women, many from difficult socio-economic background, widows, mother, abandoned wives, single earners of the family, and more. There are over 130 weavers working in Rehwa and they produce a lakh of fine fabric a year. This fabric is highly demanded by the top fashion designers worldwide. Consistent efforts by the government in the form of schemes and benefits also encourage weavers to work and pass on their knowledge to the next generation which keeps this art alive. Today, Rehwa is associated with major brands like fabindia, Good Earth, hello India, Anokhi, Abraham & Thakore, and many more.
Maheshwari textile is now not just limited to sarees with the growing demand it is also available in dupattas, kurta, dress materials, shirts, stoles and much more. Maheshwari handloom is India’s one of the most demanded textile worldwide. It is loved for its sophistication, elegance, light and airy fabric that offers utmost comfort, fine handiwork, and the designs.