On the banks of sacred Narmada river, lies the regal town of Maheshwar. Endowed with a historical fort where Holkar clan ruled, pilgrimage which is crowded all year round and lastly, the settlement of traditional weavers of Maheshwari fabric are some of the eclectic fusions which make Maheshwar more multi-dimensional and admired place to visit in Madhya Pradesh.
Maheshwari - one of the oldest handlooms!
Maheshwar is best known for being the hub of handloom weaving since the 5th century, but it gained fame during the rule of the powerful Maratha queen Rani Ahilyabai Holkar (1767-1795). The delicate Maheshwari fabric is woven with silk and cotton yarns, which gives it a soft texture and makes it a perfect summer textile. It is believed that the age-old weaving setup has a mention in Kautilya’s Arthshastra.
There was a tradition of gifting Maheshwari saris
It is assumed that the very first Maheshwari sari was designed by Ahilya Bai. Being a designer herself, in 1760, the queen outsourced talented handloom weavers from Surat and Mandu to work for her empire. They were appointed in order to prepare turban fabric and exclusive nine-yard nauvari saris which would be worn by the females of Malwa court and used for the gifting purpose to the royal guests. Well-known for being subtle and rich in quality, Maheshwari saris have always exuded dignity and elegance!
The revival of Maheshwari with the establishment of Rehwa Society
Due to the advent of factories, new and inexpensive clothes in the market, gradually the weaving tradition dropped! The revival of Maheshwari saris is credited to the members of royal including Richard Holkar and Sally Holkar, son and daughter-in-law of Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II. In 1979, the couple formed a non-profit organization called Rehwa Society to provide employment to women and revive the centuries-old institution of handwoven Maheshwari saris, dupattas and dress material. The society today comprises approximately 250 weavers and over 1500 looms.
The unique designs and patterns of Maheshwari saris
Earlier, the Maheshwari saris were made of finest cotton yarns with motifs inspired from the intricacies engraved on the Maheshwar fort and temples. Today, the fabric used in the sari is weaved using a blend of Coimbatore cotton and Bangalore silk yarns with some new-fangled and more graceful motifs such as rui phool (cotton flower), chameli (jasmine), hans (swan) and heera (diamond) embossed on it. The sari comes with a reversible border and the unique five stripes on pallu or aanchal. Nevertheless, the border is usually made with zari thread which is sourced from Surat. Some of the colours used in weaving are tapkeer (deep brown), aamras (golden yellow) and angoori (grape green).
A sari takes 3-10 days to complete, depending on the design. The most time-consuming part of weaving is the making of pallu or aanchal which can take 3-4 days because it entails more detailed designs.
Regardless of its simple style, today, many popular designers and fashion houses are incorporating Maheshwari fabric and sari to their collection.