In the vast ocean of Indian silk saris, Paithani silks of Maharashtra hold a special place. These silks are named after Paithan town in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. They are hand woven fine silks in a kaleidoscope of pleasing colours with delicate motifs. Considered one of the richest saris of India, the Paithani is characterised by borders of an oblique square design with peacocks on the pallu. This is a typical Paithani sari though variations have evolved over the decades.
Saris may be plain coloured or kaleidoscope-coloured like red with tint of black which is very popular. The plain coloured ones mostly have spotted designs all over. The kaleidoscope effect is achieved by weaving one colour lengthwise and another colour breadth wise to give it an attractive, shimmering finish.
Though originally Paithani saris had cotton bodies and silk borders, today there is no trace of cotton. The entire work is done with silk. Initially silk was brought from China. Today the bulk of the silk is from Yeola and Bangalore. There are three types of silk threads that are used for these saris. The ‘Charkha’ threads which are widely used are inexpensive, dull and uneven. Then there is the ‘Ciddle Gatta’ which is fine quality silk, thin sheer, shiny, smooth and even. Last is the ‘China’ silk thread which is high quality and very expensive to use.
Khari zari is used for weaving and costs around Rs. 1800 for 250gms. Golden threads are acquired from Surat. The gold threads are used in double and woven so closely that the surface looks like a mirror. A single sari may weigh one and a half kilograms or more depending on the silk and zari used.
Paithani motifs are evidence of the Buddhist influence from the nearby Ajanta caves. The lotus and swan are common as also the ‘asawalli’ [flowering vines] and ‘tota-maina’ [bird] motifs. Smal
l motifs like circles, stars, cluster of three leaves and others are all common for the body of the sari. For the pallu, ‘muniya’, a parrot design always done in green and red beak, the flowering vines, peacock and ‘panja’ a geometrical flower like motif are the most common.
Paithani silks come in myriad hues of unbelievable beauty. Vegetable dyes are used and the popular shades are plain ones like red, yellow, lavender, sky blue and magenta or double shaded ones such as peach-pink, pearl pink, peacock blue, violet and red, black and white and black and red.
To the wearer with a discerning eye, a Paithani may be identified by three criteria- motifs, weaving and colours.