Hunting for that perfect Paithani – Part 2

Written by Supria Pillai

Described in early Maharashtrian literature as ‘the greatest of all fabrics’, Paithani is believed to be 2000 years old. The origin of this weaving technique (art) can be traced to the ancient and famous city of Supratishthapuram. Paithan or Pratishthan as it is called now was also known as the ‘Kashi’ of the Deccan.

Historically Paithan was the most important city on the banks of the Godavari. From the accounts of the Mahunubhavas, especially the Leela-Charita, it is evident that Paithan was the capital city of the Satavahanas dynasty (2O0 B.C.) and used to export cotton and silks to the great Roman Empire. The monopoly of Paithan in the field of textile manufacturing was unparalleled for those ancient times. The Greeks, Mesopotamians, Arabs, Romans, Egyptians…all had trade links with Prathishthan. The city was also famous for a very fine muslin..which has been vividly described as the ‘skin of the moon, finer than any star’. Besides the brisk textile trade, it was also known for its temples. The fact that so many of Maharashtra’s poets, saints and literateurs lived here, also made this magnificent city a sacred place of pilgrimage for Hindus.

The Paithani is said to have originated as a weaving technique and then later evolved into Paithani sarees in cotton and then silk. A typical Paithani is heavy in weight and bright in colours. This saree has three parts – the body which may or may not have motifs on it. The elaborate pallu which is always in a different colour and brighter colour than the body. This is where the tapestry of motifs is woven in on a background of gold. The third part is the border which will be in the same colour as the body and is woven in silk and gold and may or may not have motifs on it. The width of border ranges from 7 to 9 inch. Borders are named after the motifs used on them or the name of the village where they originate from, e.g. Asavalikath, Narlikath, Pankhakath or Paithanikath.

Each Paithani is woven to a standard size of 6¼ yard which also includes ¼ yard blouse piece. The pallu is either single of 18” or double of 36” width. One Paithani consumes about 500-575 grams of silk and 200-250 grams of zari. The silk is usually sourced from Bangalore. A finished Paithani depending upon its type may weigh from 600-750 grams.
Since the Paithani is hand woven, no two Paithanis will have similar designs. Also, an authentic Paithani will show no thread on the wrong side whereas a power-loom one will. The price of an authentic Paithani starts from Rs 6,000 to Rs 5,00,00.

Interestingly, there is even a Paithani weave, just for men. During the Maratha rule, the Paithani got a special patronage. The Asavali brocades that were the craze among women of those times also influenced the men’s dressing during the Peshwa’s rule. They too had the same embroidery work on the borders of dhotis, dupattas and rumals (handkerchiefs). Another fabric pitambara, a gorgeous and rich ombre yellow with the Paithani motifs woven on the border was also much sought after by the royal families and other aristocrats.

The traditional and authentic Paithanis are always vegetable dyed and are usually classified into under three categories – colours, motifs and the weave.
The traditional colours are –
Kalichandrakala –  pure black sari with red border
Raghu – parrot green coloured sari
Shirodak – pure white sari
Pophali  – yellow
Samprus  – green-red
Vangi – aubergine purple
Aboli – peach-pink
Gujri – black-white blend
Mirani – black-red blend
Morphankhi – green-blue blend
Motia – pale pink
Neeligunji – blue
Pasila – red-pink-green blend
Uddani – a lighter blackTraditional motifs worked on the pallu can be categorised as –

Peacock motifs in vivid blue and purple.

Morbangadi –  The word bangadi means bangle and mor mean peacock. The sarees using this motif are very expensive because of the design.
Munia brocade – Munia is a kind of parrot. The bird motif is woven on the pallu as well as on the border. Parrots are always in leaf green colour. The parrot motif in silk is also called tota-maina.
Kamal brocade – Lotus motifs are used in pallu and sometimes on the border. The lotus motif consists of 7-8 colours.
Asavali – Vines and flowers (very popular during the reign of Peshwas).
Koyari – Mango shape
Akruti – Almond shape
Hans – Swan
Traditional musical instruments are also used as motifs on the pallu.

Motifs on the border –

Narali – coconut
Pankha – fan shape
Munia –  This parrot motif on the borders is always in green colour with an occasional red touch at the mouth of the bird.
Panja – geometrical flower-like motif, most often outlined in red.
Barwa – 12 strands of a ladder; 3 strands on each side.
Laher – design is done in the centre to strengthen the zari.
Muthada – geometrical design.
Asavali – flower pot with a flowering plant.
Mor – peacock

Raja Ravi Verma’s painting showing a woman in Paithani.

The motifs on the body are usually small in size. Some common designs are butti, nakshtra, kuyri, rui phool, kalas pakhhli, chandrakor and cluster of 3 leaves.

The weaving is done in two techniques –

Kadiyal border saree: Kadiyal means interlocking. The warp and the weft of the border are of the same colour while the body has different colours for warp and weft.

Kad/Ekdhoti: A single shuttle is used for weaving of weft. The colour of the warp yarn is different from that of the weft yarn. It has a narali border and simple buttis like paisa, watana, etc. Kad is also a form of lungi and is used by male Maharashtrians.

In the days of Peshwas, the borders and the pallu were made of pure gold mixed with copper to give it strength. The proportion was 1kg of gold to 1tola (11.6gm) of copper. The combination was spun into a fine wire called the zari. In recent times, zari is made of silver, coated with gold plating.

Thanks to the continuous patronage at different times that the Palthan’s rich heritage of textile weaving flourished and retained its historical importance. The brisk business also spread to Yeola near Nasik (during the rule of Peshwas) and became a major handloom weaving centre for the Paithani silk sarees. It is another place where Paithani is still alive.

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Supria Pillai

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