Paithani is a gold and silk sari named after the Paithan region in Maharashtra state where they are woven by hand. Made from very fine silk, it is considered as one of the richest saris in Maharashtra.
Paithani evolved from a cotton base to a silk base. Silk was used in weft designs and in the borders, whereas cotton was used in the body of the fabric. Present day Paithani has no trace of cotton.
It is characterized by borders of an oblique square design, and a pallu with a peacock design. Among other varieties, single colored and kaleidoscope-colored designs are also popular. The kaleidoscopic effect is achieved by using one color for weaving lengthwise and another for weaving widthwise.
Paithani fabric is woven entirely on handlooms; the special dhoop-chaav (light and shade) effect is achieved by bringing two different coloured silk threads together in the process of a simple tabby weave. It has an ornamental zari border and pallav, and buttis (little designs) of tara (star), mor (peacock), popat (parrot), kuyri (mango), rui phool (flower) paisa (coin), pankha (fan), kalas pakli (petal), kamal (lotus), chandrakor (moon), narli (coconut) and so on. Many of these designs are found on the border and pallav in different sizes and patterns.
The designs show the Buddhist influence of the panels of Ajanta close by. The kamal (lotus), hans (swan), asawalli (flowering vines), bangadi mor (peacock in bangle), tota-maina and humarparinda (peasant bird) are some of the common designs for the sari.
The dominant traditional colours of vegetable dyes included neeligunji (blue), pasila (red and green), gujri (black and white), mirani (black and red), motiya (pink), kusumbi (purplish red), brinjal (purple), peacock (blue/green) and pophali (yellow).
In the olden days the zari was drawn from pure gold, but silver is the affordable substitute today. The zari comes from Surat, the resham (silk) from Bangalore. This raw silk is cleansed with caustic soda, dyed in the requisite shades, the threads carefully separated. Today's market also abounds in spurious material, cheap at Rs. 2000, minus quality texture and durability.
The sari takes its own time to get woven, from two weeks to a year, depending on the intricacy of the pattern. The cost can be anything from Rs. 5000 to Rs. 50,000. Saris worth over a lakh of rupees apiece are made to order.
by Chandana Banerjee