Aurangabad, or rather the neighbouring town of Paithan is, in fact, noted for a particular quality and pattern of gold and silk gauze. It would be next to impossible to convey anything like a conception of these marvellous textiles by a description alone.
“The most striking peculiarity of these brocades and end-pieces is the persistence of exceptionally bright and showy colours, namely, moss green, canary yellow, pale metallic blue and bright pink. These are worked into flowing angular scrolls on a field of pure translucent gold and are framed by narrow bands composed of graphically depicted green paroquets or peacocks, placed usually head and tail in the vertical bands and in the transverse ones with each alternate bird looking over its shoulder at its neighbour. The end-piece, framed with such a border, is a veritable ‘field of gold’ upon which large Persian cone-patterns are seen to spring from vases and to be supported right and left by a pair of peacocks”, writes Sir George Watt, Director of the Indian Art Exhibition, Delhi (1902-1903), in the official catalogue of the exhibition, about the exquisite Paithani weaves displayed.
A Unique Expression
While the spectrum of Indian textiles spanning embroidered, printed, painted and woven fabrics never ceases to amaze with the beauty of their motifs, patterns, colours, texture, tactile quality, drape and more, perhaps the eye is most drawn to brocaded fabrics with motifs of metal yarn. Across the country, beautiful silk textiles are woven with motifs of gold and/or silk yarns spangling their body, borders and end-panels. Among these weaves, the Paithani stands apart for its end-panel that has a band of gold embellished with motifs woven with silk yarns. This is an interesting feature as one typically comes across textiles with a silk ground dotted with metallic yarn motifs! As the name suggests, the Paithani weave takes its name from Paithan, a pilgrim town about 50 km from Aurangabad, Maharashtra, that was once the capital of a large kingdom and an important trading centre. It is said Paithan’s prosperity and the demand for weaves by the royal family attracted skilled weavers to settle here, and they wove spectacular textiles that took on the name of the town. And with their demand, these textiles were also woven at Aurangabad and Yeola (near Aurangabad).
Yet, as every Indian textile tends to be meshed with lore, one legend says that eons ago Goddess Parvati expressed a wish for a unique garment to wear for a wedding. Overhearing her words, Lord Shiva asked his weavers to weave an exceptional textile for her. Putting their skill and ingenuity to work, the weavers – who had customarily woven gold motifs on a silk ground, reversed the combination and wove a gorgeous textile of pure gold yarns with exquisite motifs of fine coloured silk yarn that took everyone by surprise!
The Hand of the Weaver
The Paithani sari stands out for its silk body with gold motifs, gold patterned borders and end-panel of gold ground with silk motifs. The borders and end-panel are woven by using multiple non-continuous weft yarns each of which is manually weaved around slim long bobbins and then each of these bobbins is taken under the specific warp yarns and interlocked to create motifs and patterns. The motifs are rendered on paper and this paper is placed under the warp yarns next to the weaver, who looks at it and weaves the weft yarns accordingly; it can take up to twelve hours to weave half an inch of an intricately patterned end-panel.
Flowers, always evocative of beauty and joy, feature on end-panels typically like a stylised shrub/plant of a flower flanked by a sprig of leaves on either side, large lotus flowers, a tree of life and flowering vines. Birds in the form of peacocks, parrots and swans are also popular, with the peacock set in a bangle being a popular motif. Bringing all these motifs together are large compositions that feature flowers, leaves and peacocks with their resplendent trains. And with a repertoire of soft as well as striking colours (such as purple, blue, green, pink and red) the entire effect is akin a piece of gem encrusted jewellery. Offsetting the dazzling end-panel, the body of the sari is typically muted, with small regularly spaced motifs of flowers, a peacock, mango, star or coin.
Regal and Wedding Attire
The beauty of the Paithani textiles saw them being woven as saris, drapes, dhotis, turban clothes, sashes and fabrics for ceremonial swords. Over the centuries as the art was encouraged by the ruler of Paithan, rulers of the Deccan Sultanates, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the rulers of the princely Maratha states and aristocracy, and by the Central and State Governments in the post-independence period.
The exquisite Paithani sari is an important part of the wedding trousseau of the Maharashtrian bride, who looks forward to wearing it at her wedding; purple is the most popular colour for Paithani saris. While the Paithani sari has long been worn by women in Maharashtra all over the world for festive ceremonies and formal occasions, its awareness has seen it being appreciated and worn by women from different parts of the country.
Taken up by the beauty of Paithani saris, designers are interacting with weavers to create one-of-a-kind Paithani saris with their signature designs on the end-panel. They are also working with weavers to weave lengths of Paithani textiles for western/Indo-western garments. In this way, a traditional, centuries-old textile art is being energised and carried forward.
Words: BRINDA GILL