Some years ago, I was gifted a green and gold Maheshwari Saree by a dear friend. I fell in love with it at first sight and barely draped it lest it lose its sheen. I would often feel it between my fingers with love and keep it back in the shelf. Little did I know that a few years later, this love would take me across hundreds of miles to Maheshwar.
Though it is a small town of barely 2 sq kms, every lane and by lane seems to have a handloom centre, the largest of them being Rehwa Society patronized by the Royal Holkars. The present Maharaja Richard Holkar revived the traditional Maheshwari in the 70’s with Rehwa Society to provide employment and take the tradition all over India and overseas. The once popular weave in the 19th century which draped Queen Ahilyabai and occupied a prominent place in the country saw a turn in fortune. While walking down the steps from the Fort to the Ghat, Rehwa Society falls on the left. As you enter there is a sales counter to the left and the weavers are seated to the right engrossed in their craft. There are pots of water kept on a stand next to them in case they need to take a break with water.
The threads (silk, cotton) are washed, dried and then combined into 2-4 threads depending on the pattern. The silk is brought from Bangalore and the cotton from Coimbatore and the mixed thread weave is soft to feel and touch compared to Paithani, South Cotton etc. The handloom is set with after arranging the threads which typically hang in a ball at the far end and is tightly fixed to the machine at the other. The quality of the weave depends on the way it is tied and any mistake will change the texture and feel. The weaver sits in front of the loom and operates it with their foot pulling a lever to the right. Based on the pattern, they need to adjust the thread towards the border to give it a dense thick weave. I sat next to one of the ladies for a while, keenly observing her movements while she went about her job with a smile. The mostly have plain body in soft vibrant colours like maroon, green, pink or checks with a distinct border.
On the average a a saree of 5.5 metres in length is woven in about 3 days. Continuously tugging at the threads with the hand and pulling the foot lever in tandem is anything but easy yet they go about it with amazing calm. Do drop by when you are in Maheshwar to see the men and women at work. When it reaches us, we will feel the softness, admire the colour, be alarmed with the price but barely spare a thought for the person who wove the threads of love. In this age of mechanization, human touch is slowly receding away, let us cherish the last few threads of love.
Refer : http://www.rehwasociety.org for more details.
You can buy the authentic Maheshwari Saree from the government run Mriganayani Emporium or http://www.mriganayani.com