The saris that take shape­on­these looms in Paithan, a lit­tle-known­townin Ma­ha­rash­tra, In­dia, are sought-after by Bol­ly­wood’s A-list, says Nil­ima Pathak

Friday - - Contents -

Weav­ing some of the world’s most ex­pen­sive saris in In­dia.

Shashikant Dhalkari leans back and looks at his­work. On a large sheet of pa­per is a fan­tas­tic sketch of a spec­tac­u­larly coloured danc­ing pea­cock in the midst of richly hued leaves and flow­ers. Shashikant cocks his head and looks at the de­sign, then goes back to fine-tun­ing the im­age. Once he is sat­is­fied, he picks it up and walks over to the loom in his home in Paithan, in the In­dian state of Ma­ha­rash­tra.

Cre­at­ing the de­sign for a Paithani sari – which took him around three days – is just the tip of the ice­berg. And rel­a­tively easy. The more in­tri­cate job is yet to be­gin. Fish­ing out skeins of bro­cade and coloured

‘The 2,000-year-old art is the pride of our town; the saris are some of the most costly in the world’

threads from a cup­board, he be­gins to painstak­ingly recre­ate the de­sign into a sari on his man­ual loom, one thread at a time.

“The task of pre­par­ing the loom can take any­where be­tween 10 days to three weeks de­pend­ing on how in­tri­cate the sari’s pat­tern is,” he says. Once the loom is pre­pared with the silk threads, work be­gins on weav­ing, and some two months later, a spec­tac­u­lar Paithani sari that will go on to be an heir­loom, is ready.

Rang­ing in price from any­where be­tween Rs7,000 (Dh416) to Rs700,000 (Dh41,600), the saris made in this lit­tle town in Ma­ha­rash­tra are much in de­mand, not just in In­dia but across the world, and has the crème de la crème of Bol­ly­wood celebri­ties in­clud­ing Shilpa Shetty, Kir­ron Kher and Malaika Arora-Khan queu­ing up to place an or­der for one.

In fact, when Bol­ly­wood star Genelia D’Souza de­cided to marry Riteish Desh­mukh, she had no doubts about the sari she would be wear­ing on her big day. It had to be a red Paithani one, de­signed by Neeta Lulla. Stars such as Dim­ple Khanna and Ka­jol too have worn Paithani saris for their mar­riage cer­e­monies. And they’re not the only ones.

The daz­zling, richly wo­ven, mul­ti­hued Paithani saris have tra­di­tion­ally been a part of the wed­ding trousseau of ev­ery Ma­ha­rash­trian bride, in­clud­ing the elite, in­dus­tri­al­ists and po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies. Each Paithani sari is about six me­tres long and in­cludes a piece of ma­te­rial for a blouse.

The main fea­ture of the sari is its bor­der and the pallu (the loose end of the sari), which is richly dec­o­rated with mo­tifs wo­ven with gold and sil­ver threads. Apart from the ex­ten­sive use of silk threads, what makes a Paithani sari so unique are the mo­tifs used and the com­bi­na­tions that are cre­ated by in­ter­weav­ing yarns of dif­fer­ent colours, an art that is mas­tered after much prac­tise. The body of the sari is most of­ten plain or has tiny mo­tifs of lo­tus flow­ers, a danc­ing pea­cock or small par­rots.

Weav­ing Paithani saris has been a tra­di­tion in the Dhalkari fam­ily for over a cen­tury. Shashikant, the fourth gen­er­a­tion con­tin­u­ing with the art, is not alone. More than 20 of his fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing his wife and three chil­dren, are in­volved in mak­ing th­ese saris in the small town.

“The more than 2,000-year-old art re­mains the pride of our town Paithan, and the saris we weave are con­sid­ered some of the most ex­pen­sive in the world,” he says.

Paithan vil­lage has a cul­tural his­tory of over 2,500 years. Sev­eral arts orig­i­nated and thrived in the re­gion, but over time most were for­got­ten. Paithani was one of the few that sur­vived, mostly be­cause of royal pa­tron­age. From the Pesh­was – the rulers of the re­gion – to the Nizams of Hy­der­abad and the Mughals, Paithani saris were every­body’s favourite. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal his­to­ri­ans, in the olden days Paithani saris were worn only by the royal and aris­to­cratic fam­i­lies. It is said to have orig­i­nated 2,200 years ago in Pratishthan, a vil­lage whose name over the years got cor­rupted to Paithan.

Shashikant, who is in his for­ties, says, “The art sur­vived only be­cause it was passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next.” The Dhalkari fam­ily has 22 mem­bers work­ing in this field. “Sev­eral of the young­sters have com­pleted their grad­u­a­tion and post-grad­u­a­tion but are also learn­ing the art of weav­ing th­ese saris.”

In an­cient times, a Paithani was only wo­ven out of the finest silk, gold and sil­ver threads. While gold and sil­ver are rarely used th­ese days and are made to or­der, the tech­nol­ogy em­ployed in the mak­ing of the sari has re­mained largely un­changed. “Nat­u­ral dyes like coal soot, the sap of cer­tain plants and trees, juices of leaves and cer­tain kinds of mud are used to colour the threads,” says Shashikant.

The man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­cure silk from Ben­galuru, in Kar­nataka, con­sid­ered the home of the best silks in In­dia, and sil­ver threads from Su­rat, in Gu­jarat. The raw silk is cleansed and dyed in the cho­sen shades and the thread pre­pared for the loom. The women of the house gen­er­ally han­dle the prepa­ra­tion of the threads while the men work on the looms.

“The cost of a sari is high, be­cause apart from the ex­pen­sive threads, it takes an ex­cru­ci­at­ingly long pe­riod to weave just a few square inches of the sari. There have been oc­ca­sions when it has taken up to a year to make one sari,” says Shashikant.

The ef­forts re­flect in the longevity of the Paithani. A sari, that weighs just around a kilo, of­ten lasts decades and is handed down from one gen­er­a­tion to another.

When it comes to Paithani saris, Shashikant Dhalkari is a master craftsman

Bol­ly­wood stars such as Genelia D’Souza, Kir­ron Kher, Shilpa Shetty Kun­dra and Son­ali Ben­dre are huge fans of the colour­ful, stun­ning saris

Neha and Sudesh are pas­sion­ate about their art

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