Paithani – The very name ushers in a kind of awe, a sigh of longing, and a memory of a long gone, elegant and regal era. With a tradition of more than 2000 years behind it, the Paithani weave is inexorably and intrinsically Bharatiya (Indian). It is a luscious, luxurious, soft, satiny concoction of silk and gold zari, and is rightly considered as one of the richest sarees of Bharat (India).
This weave dates back to the Satvahana Dynasty that ruled from the city of Paithan between the second century BC and the second century AD. And hence the name Paithani. Though the British almost destroyed this weaving tradition, it was the Peshwas who re-settled Paithani weavers in Yeola (near Nasik) and rescued the Paithani from oblivion. The Asavali design (flowering vines) became very popular during this time.
The Paithani is a tribute not just to our ancient heritage and weaving skills but to our perseverance in protecting and preserving what is ours. Even in the face of barbaric brutality perpetrated on our people, by innumerable invaders, the art of the Paithani has survived and thrived. Thanks to the courage and patriotism of the Yadavas, the Marathas and the Peshwas.
Textile archaeology tells us that initially this magical drape was woven in cotton and usually in 9 yards. The Nauwari or 9-yard drape that the Maharashtrian women wore traditionally is an elegant and regal style. It keeps them covered, allows for tremendous freedom of movement and yet is mysterious, sultry and feminine.
Silk Paithanis come in vivid, vibrant and gorgeous shades and colours. However, since my Nerul (a residential and commercial node in Navi Mumbai) days, I have been fascinated by the Maharashtrian green. So, when I landed in Pune and went Paithani hunting with Shefali. I was determined to get hold of a traditional green Paithani. This particular green is called Raghu and I have been obsessed with the colour for a very long time.
At the store we check in, the salesman shows us a treasure of Paithanis. Upscale modern versions in subtle shades, traditional ones in every hue and designs, there they lie before me, captivating and enticing me. Each of them, glowing and glistening and urging me to pick them up. They sing out to me, lure me, tease me, ‘I am the one you want, me, me, not her, not her. I stare at them hypnotised, wanting to pick all of them up and rush out of the door but we middle-class souls have budgets.and they are meant to be adhered to. I shake my head vigorously, breaking the spell the enchanting sarees have put on me. I stand firm like the Himalayas.and pick up the Raghu that I have been longing for, 30 years to be precise.
My Raghu is a six-yard ‘Apsara’ in a green, so rich, that she defies all description. The silk undulates like waves before me, the golden buttis on the green surface twinkle like stars, changing shades as the light flickers. The orangish red and gold borders shimmer proudly and as my eyes scan the pallu I simply hold my breath in exultation. Surely this can’t be woven by a mortal hand!
In a solid rectangular background of molten gold, purple and vivid blue peacocks sit majestically on flowering trees depicted in Rani pink and hot red. Imperious and distant in their stance they seem to sway gracefully, as the gentle breeze – that doesn’t touch me – passes by them. The pallu is a mastery of a weaving genius. My obeisances to you, artist extraordinaire, my prayers for you.
I take her ‘my Raghu’ in my hands, my priceless treasure. As we begin to get up the salesman looks at us surprised and says, “You have been here for such a short time, don’t you want to check out some more options,” and he begins to spread out more Paithanis in front of us.
“No. This is it,” I say and hold my saree close to me. She nestles closer because she knows I have been waiting for her for 30 long years. We belong together.