Paithani is a variety of sari, named after the Paithan region in Maharashtra a state in India, where they are woven by hand. Yeola is another center for weaving Paithani in Maharashtra. Made from very fine silk, it is considered as one of the richest saris in Maharashtra. Paithani evolved from a cotton base to a silk base. Silk was used in weft designs and in the borders, whereas cotton was used in the body of the fabric. Present day Paithani has no trace of cotton.
The art is said to be more than 2000 years old, developed in the then splendid city of Pratishthan ruled by the legendary Satavahanas In the far past it had been an international trade centre for silk and zari. Paithan was the capital of the Satavahanas dynasty (200 B.C.) and used to export cotton and silks to the Roman Empire. This technique of tapestry is one of the most ancient methods of creating Paithani with weaving in a multiple weft threads of different colours. Later accounts suggest in the 18th century the silk was imported from China.
The Marathas extended their patronage to this textile activities . The Peshwas in the 18th century had a special love for paithani textiles and it is believed that Madhavrao Peshwa even asked for the supply of asavali dupattas( stoles) in red, green, saffron, pomegranate and pink colours.
In the days of Peshwas, the borders and the pallu were made of pure gold mixed with copper to give it strength. The combination was spun into a fine wire called the zari. In recent times, zari is made of silver, coated with gold plating. The borders are created with interlocked weft technique either with coloured silk or zari. In the border woven with a zari, ground coloured silk patterns are added as supplementary weft inlay against the zari usually in the form of flower or a creeping vine.
Even if a very good weaver has woven the main body, a master weaver is needed for the intricate inlay border paths. The borders and the pallu are woven in zari regardless of the colour of the sari.
Paithani saris are silks in which there is no extra weft forming figures. The figuring weave was obtained by a plain tapestry technique. There are three techniques of weaving.
Split tapestry weave – the simplest weave where two weft threads are woven up to adjacent warp threads and then reversed. The warp threads are then cut and retied to a different colour.
Interlocking method – two wefts are interlocked with each other where the colour change is required. The figuring weft is made of a number of coloured threads, weaving plain with warp threads and interlocked on either side with the grounds weft threads are invariably gold threads which interlock with the figure weft threads, thus forming the figure. This system of interlocking weaves, known as kadiyal, is done so that there are no extra floats on the back of the motif thus making the design nearly reversible.
Dobe-tailing method – two threads go around the same warp, one above the other, creating a dobe-tailing or tooth-comb effect. Weaving could take between 18 to 24 months, depending upon the complexity of the design. Today there are many weavers who are working for the revival of this treasured weave.
Classification by Weaving
• Kadiyal border sari (Warp and weft of the border are of the same color, body has different colors for warp and weft)
• Kad/Ekdhoti (Single shuttle used for weaving of weft and colors of warp yarn different from that of weft yarn)
Classification by Color
• Kalichandrakala (Black sari with red border)
• Raghu (Parrot green sari)
• Shirodak (Pure white sari)
Classification by Motif
• Bangadi Mor (Peacock in a bangle or in a bangle shape, woven in pallu)
• Munia brocade (Parrots woven on the pallu as well as in border)
• Lotus brocade (Lotus motifs used in pallu and maybe border) Since the Patithan region is quite close to the Ajanta caves, one can find the influence of the Buddhist paintings in the motifs used on the Paithani sarees.
Photography courtesy for weaving technique and information IDC IIT Bombay.
Other Posts in this series:
Indian Textiles: The Sari
Indian Textiles: Cotton Sari
Indian Textiles: History