All about the Maheshwari Silk Saree: where it is from and its relevance today
A saree might just be a piece of cloth to many – but for the millions of people that live in India or the diaspora communities, this 9-yard piece of fabric holds enormous significance. Various regions of the country have their own ways of customizing the fabric; such as the use of various types of silk-like tussar silk to other materials such as cotton, satin, georgette, and others that you can get on the market (including online stores such as Stylecaret).
That experimentation by different craftsmen over thousands of years is what makes India one of the countries that have the best handloom traditions in the world.
One such place in the country is Maheshwar, which is the home of the Maheshwari silk saree. Located in the Khargone District in Madhya Pradesh, this town is famous for its fabric, which we will discuss in this article.
Maheshwar itself is among the ancient towns in India, as it was a pilgrimage town from the beginning. It also was a major center of handloom weaving from the 5th century and was the capital of the Malwas until 1818. The Maheshwari saree goes back to the 18th Century when the state was under the ruling of Queen Ahilyabai Holkar.
Many legends and stories about the queen involve her bringing in craftsmen from Malwa and Surat, designing the first Maheshwari saree, and having them create sarees that she would gift to her relatives and royal guests.
The sarees that the craftsmen produced eventually became very popular among royal circles and spread throughout the country. In fact, it stands among the best-selling sarees in both the local and international markets.
Weaving processes of Maheshwari Silk Saree
Weavers use two kinds of handlooms in the town. These are the newer frame looms that have light metal frames, and the older pit looms that are heavier and fixed. Due to the technological advancements of today, the newer type is much more popular now.
The Weavers take the yarn and untangle it, as well as take it through the process of dyeing. After this, is then ready for the time-consuming weaving process, which is only carried out by the master weavers. They must ensure that the thread is entirely free of tangles, both in the warp and weft, and they make it tighter by stretching it.
The threads then go through a charkha that reels them and converts them into smaller rills. For the weft, the weaver uses a small charkha that is hand-driven and makes bobbins, while they use a larger, motorized charkha.
For the silk thread warping, they use a more delicate weaving process through hooks and cylindrical frame in the shape of an octagon.
After the weaving is done, the fabric is then dyed using natural colors, while kinari and zari, gemstones, and silver and gold threads embellish the fabric even more (although today, it is more common to see copper-coated nylon wires instead of zari threads).
What are the features of this saree?
The fabric is lightweight and airy, as well as being widely known for its gloss finish. The original Maheshwari sarees were entirely made from silk, although today you can also find some made using silk cotton, cotton, and surprisingly even wool.
The lightweight nature is due to the fine weaving techniques in both the warp (silk) and the weft (cotton), making it a great choice for many women throughout the year – which you cannot achieve with other kinds of sarees such as Banarasi and Kanjivaram.
The pallu is actually the most interesting part, due to its colors. These are usually bright and include maroon, magenta, mauve, magenta, green, and violet. They are also distinct due to their five stripes, three colored and two white ones that alternate. The borders are also reversible, which means that the wearer can wear it on either side.
What are the colors used in Maheshwari Silk Saree
The original sarees of this type were in the usual earthy colors – including back, maroon, purple, green and red. These are the only colors weavers could naturally source for the material.
However, today, there are many chemical dyes, as well as greater innovation in Indian fashion approaches. This has led to an increase in different colors such as jewel tones. These include shades of pink, blue, orange, mauve, and yellow, then they are mixed with silver or gold threads.
The saree can also feature subtle shades in the weft and warp, while motifs are created using zari or gold thread.
One of the distinguishing features of Maheshwari sarees is bright colours, as well as unique designs and special combinations. These include things like floral borders, checks and stripes. Most of the designs you see on the pallu and borders take their inspiration from the different forts, palaces, and temples in the state.
These include the mat pattern, which is also referred to by the name ‘chattai pattern’, as well as the ‘Chameli ka phool’ that might be a representation of the details on the Maheshwar Fort walls.
The sarees also feature heera, or diamond patterns, and eent, or brick patterns – both very prominently. Throughout the changes that have happened to it, these two designs have survived the test of time, and still have a strong presence on the sarees.
Varieties of Maheshwari Silk Saree
Among the interesting aspects of the Maheshwari silk saree is the style variations; each of them is fully distinct and have their own names. You will either notice that they have stripes and checks in various combinations, or are plain in their center.
There are five categories – Parbi, Chandakala, Beli, Baigani Chandrakala, and Chandratara. For the ones those are plain in their center, look for Baigani Chandrakala and Chandrakala types, while the checked or striped ones are Parbi, Chandratara and Beli.
The Maheshwari silk saree is a delicate but highly sought after saree type. From its beginnings in the 18th century to the saree we find today, it has gone through many changes but has not lost its popularity.