SHOPPING BAG EMPTY

THE STORY

A temple town, an ancient city redolent with the sound of mantras and bells. The sparkling Narmada with its stunning sunrises and sunsets, lazy boats, flickering diyas and riverine ghats. The towering Maheshwar Fort, a song in stone that was once the home of the famous Ahilyabai Holkar, a pious and austere queen known for her just dispensation and fine sense of beauty. Home of the lustrous Maheshwari weave, a paean to the lightness of the butterfly on loom. History in warp and weft.

Chandrakala, baingani, beli, parbi, Narmada lehar, chatai, hansa, bugadi – the names roll like poetry in time to the click-clack of looms. These are some of the signature motifs of Maheshwari textiles copied from the stone carvings of Maheshwar Fort. This Fort is located in India’s erstwhile Indore state, now in Madhya Pradesh, on the banks of the lovely Narmada, where Queen Ahilyabai ruled in the last half of the 18th century. It is now a heritage hotel of the Holkar family which is credited with giving a new lease of life to the nearly dying craft of Maheshwari weaving by founding the Rehwa Society which today produces the finest Maheshwari fabrics, known the world over for its elegance as well as innovation.

Maheshwari textiles were spun by expert weavers that Ahilyabai brought in from Surat, Varanasi and Chennai to weave saris for the royal household and also as gifts for Peshwa kings and visiting dignitaries. Exquisite turbans in yellow for the men in the army and red ones for traders and the nobility were specially commissioned.

Typically, the body is plain or sometimes has stripes or checks with geometric motifs on the border. Traditionally, Maheshwaris were made purely in cotton. In the 1970s, silk was introduced in the warp, giving rise to the famous Garbh Reshmi saris. The light and airy feel of this fabric is attributed to the cotton yarn in the weft (baana) and silk in the warp (taana). Zari is used in the borders.

Focus your attention on the ornate end bits (pallavs) for it is that that takes the longest time to weave. Today’s urban buyer can find this exquisite traditional weave in gentle and fluttering curtain materials and cushion covers. As also stoles and dupattas whose sensuous transparency and lightness are sheer poetry and compliment both Indian and western wear. Throw it around you for sheer elegance and grace and feel like the queen who gave life to this magical weave.

 

THE PROCESS

Two types of handlooms are used in Maheshwar – the older pit looms which are heavy and fixed and the newer frame looms with lightweight metal frames. The latter are more in use now.

The designs of Maheshwari handlooms are mostly border-based and inspired by the engravings on the fort walls. Depending on the border design used, they come as bugdi kinar, zari patti, rui phool kinar, phool kinar, chatai kinar, V kinar, kahar kinar, bajuband kinar and so on.

Traditionally, a range of natural dyes were used, such as the red of the sattalu plant, the browns from harada and yellow from the pallas flower. Aal or the Indian Madder colour was used too. Today, chemical dyes are also used. A special dye called Sando Silk is used for silk threads. The process begins by dipping the raw threads for bleaching in a special solution. This is followed by the actual dyeing process where the dyes are mixed in warm water in big metal tubs. Napthol is used to provide stability to the colors. Then they are washed in plain water and hung on bamboo poles for drying.

The bundles of threads are untangled and reeled by using a charkha. In the case of the warping of the silk threads, a more delicate process involving an octagonal cylindrical frame and hooks is used. The dyed and untangled yarn is now ready for the tedious and time-consuming process of weaving by master weavers.

Maheshwari handlooms is one of India’s most well-known handcrafted textiles loved the world over for its fineness, delicacy and sophistication. Like all handwork, much imagination, labor and patience go into its making.