An important political and cultural centre situated in Madhya Pradesh, Maheshwar is famous for a particulartype of saree called Maheshwari saree, which is a speciality of this city. These sarees are famous throughout India for their unique style of harmonious balance between the border and the body of the saree. The grace and elegance of these sarees is hard to match. The Maheshwari sari is made of either pure cotton – ie, cotton wefts on cotton warps, or is mixed – ie fine silk warps and cotton weft. They are characterized by a narrow coloured border embellished with gold (zari) and small checks, narrow stripes, or solid colour in the body. 


The origin of the Maheshwari sarees dates back to the 18th century, when the state of Indore in Madhya Pradesh was ruled by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar.According to legends, Queen Ahilyabai ordered craftsmen from Surat and Malwa to design special 9-yard sarees to be gifted to royal guests and relatives. The sarees that were produced by these craftsmen became popular as Maheshwari sarees. It is believed that Queen Ahilyabai herself created the design of the first saree. These sarees were originally worn by the ladies of royal status, but nowadays, they are available in both national and international markets.


The Maheshwari saree is woven mostly in cotton and silk. The saree woven from pure silk, is famous for its strength, elasticity and a unique luster of the fabric. Nowadays these sarees are made in natural and artificial silk as well.


The typical Maheshwari saree is either chequered, plain or has stripes, combined with complementary colours. These sarees have a trademark border and pallu, setting them apart from the Paithani, Patola, Kancheepuram and the rest. Originally, the pallu is particularly distinctive with 5 strips, 3 coloured and two white alternating, running along its width. The reversible border of the saree known as bugdi which can be worn either side, is a speciality. It has a variety of leaves and flowers on the border, in karnphool pattern, which is quite popular. But now a lot of experimentation with respect to the fabric and motifs has been done in Maheshwari sarees, no doubt to increase its appeal in a market of changing and varied tastes. The use of zari and kinari is also unique to the Maheshwari saree. The golden thread is used to weave exotic motifs and designs on the body, border and pallu of the saree.


The Maheshwari fabric is known for its lightness, elasticity and fine thread count. In sharp contrast to the rich and heavy silken weaves of Kanjivaram, the silk and cotton mix of Maheshwaris is perfect to wear in the summer.Originally, Maheshwari saris were woven in earthy shades like maroon, red, green, purple and black. Weavers used only natural dyes for the yarn. Today, Maheshwari fabrics are woven in many jewel tones which are derived from chemicals rather than from flowers, roots and leaves. Popular colours today include shades of blue, mauve, pink, yellow and orange, mixed with gold or silver thread. Subtle colours and textures are created by using different shades in the warp and weft. Gold thread or zari is also used in Maheshwari saris to weave elegant motifs on the body, border and pallu (the width of the sari that is draped over the shoulder) of the sari.The one trait of Maheshwari fabrics that has stood the test of time is its motifs. Even today, they are mostly geometric. The most common ones include chatai (woven mat pattern), Iinth (brick pattern), hira (diamond pattern) and chameli ki phool (the chameli flower) – all of which may be traced back to the detailing on the walls, niches and cornices of Maheshwar Fort.The borders of Maheshwari saris are reversible, and are embellished with intricate designs. Its pallu is also quite distinctive. It commonly has five stripes, three coloured alternating with two white, in the Maharastrian style. Nowadays, Maheshwari fabrics are available in many other designs as well.


These sarees usually have a plain body or have stripes or checks of different varieties. Some of these varieties are highly popular and are known by different names. The ‘Chandrakala’ and the ‘Baingani Chandrakala’ are examples of plain Maheshwari sarees, while the ‘Chandratara’, the ‘Beli’ and the ‘Parbi’ are examples of striped and checked ones.


The Maheshwari weaving process has the following steps:


Maheshwari handlooms use a lot of traditional sari designs, many of which have been prevalent in the areas since historical times. Many such designs are being used in their original form and many others with minor modifications in them. Interestingly, for the borders of the saris, the designs engraved on the walls of the Maheshwar fort are used. Based on the design of the border, there are the following types of Maheshwari saris: Maheshwar bugdi kinar, zari patti, rui phool kinar, phool kinar, chatai kinar, Vkinar, kahar kinar, bajuband kinar, etc.4 Sometimes the designs are inspired from saris from other parts of the country. The design may depend on the order placed, which comes with the demand for a specific design.

Raw Material Procurement

Raw materials for the process (cotton, silk and zari) are procured from Bangalore, Coimbatore and Surat. They and are further processed to make suitable to work upon. These processes are discussed in detail in the following sections.


Dyeing is an important part of the whole process. Both cotton and silk require dyeing before they can be used on the loom. The process is normally carried out by the weavers themselves or specialized dyeing technicians who charge for their services depending on the material and the kind of dyeing required. There are different kinds of dyes for coloring silk and cotton. For coloring cotton thread, three types of dyes are used—napthol, wet dye and procion dye. In case of cotton, dyeing is done not with a single dye but with a combination. For coloring silk, special dyes called Sando Silk are used, which are readymade dyes and do not need to be mixed with others. The process of dyeing starts by dipping the raw threads in TR Solution (a combination of Turkish oil and bleaching powder) for at least four hours for bleaching.. This is followed by the actual process of dyeing. First, dyes are mixed in warm water in big metal tubs to obtain the desired colors. The threads are dipped in the tubs for a while and then dipped in the tank containing napthol to provide stability to the color. They are then washed in other tanks containing plain water and then put in tubs containing solutions of detergent and soda in warm water. Thereafter, the threads are washed again and are hung on bamboo poles for drying. Once the threads are dry, they are sent back to the weavers for further processing.

Yarn Opening for Weft and Warp

After dyeing, the yarn is normally received by the weavers in the form of bundles. Both in the case of weft and the warp, the thread needs to be freed from tangles and stretched in order to make them tighter. They are then are taken through a process of reeling by using a charkha, thus converting the bundles into small rolls. In case of warp, a big motorized charkha is used; in case of weft, a small, hand‐driven charkha is used, which makes bobbins.


The master weaver carries out the process of making the warp. Since the silk fiber used is very delicate, the warp machine for the process is radically different from the one used in case of cotton thread. The silk warp machine comprises an octagonal metal cylindrical frame that revolves vertically on the machine axis and a metallic rack on which the thread rolls are kept. The fibers from these rolls pass through hooks fixed on the rack on to a double metallic frame that moves up and down with the motion of the machine, and are wound on the cylinder in a criss‐cross manner that facilitates the detection of breach in the fiber, if one exists any where. This process starts from one end of the cylinder and goes on till the whole of the cylinder is covered with the thread. Using this machine, the master weaver converts the raw silk into single or double fiber warp, depending on the requirement of the loom. Once this has been achieved, the taana threads in the shape of bundles are taken to the loom where they are used as warp.


For weaving, one end of the warp is bound on main beam of the loom. The other end (in the form of a bundle) is taken under another horizontal beam parallel to the main beam and then across the overhead beam. Weights are hung on it on the other end of the beam to keep it tight, giving the warp a Z‐shape. There are up to 4,000 strings in a single warp. The length of warp is 50 meters and the width of weft is 48 inches. As the warp proceeds, the bundle needs to be opened up. The movement of the string that controls the shuttle (in which the roll of weft thread is kept) takes the yarn of the weft across the threads of the warp. With the motion of the pedal, the heavy frame sets the yarn of the weft along the thread of the warp. The weaver uses the zari threads and other colored threads across the warp depending on the desired design. The motion of the loom provides movement to the overhead jaquard‐like punch card mechanism called dobby (although smaller than the jaquard looms, these have a similar function of putting forward paticular hooks that are required for a particular border design) and helps in designing of the border of the sari. The process of weaving is very difficult and tedious in case of saris that have more design work. Therefore, the resulting products are also proportionately expensive.


Once a sari is completed, it is taken off from the loom and sent for cutting. The normal length of such a sari is about 11 feet. It is then folded properly and packed. No ironing or further printing is required. Once packed, they are ready to be marketed.

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