Magical weaves of the Maheshwari women

Towards preservation of handloom and sustainable livelihood

Ever wondered where that beautiful Maheshwari saree that Mrs. Roy was wearing at Niharika’s wedding came from or the one Lekha wore to the client meeting? You couldn’t help but be in awe of those masterpieces. These are woven by the master craftsmen of beautiful city called Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. Situated on the banks of river Narmada, Maheshwar is roughly two hours drive from the Indore airport.

Maheshwar by the river Narmada
The Maheshwar fort entrance

Walk through the history of Maheshwar

Let me take you through the brief history of Maheshwar and its sarees. Originally, Maheshwar was called Mahishamati and was founded by King Mahishman of the Som dynasty. In the late 18th century it became the capital of the erstwhile Maratha clan — the Holkars’. In the Holkar history, Rani Ahilya Bai ruled the kingdom for the longest period of time — 28 years — and brought it to prominence. Legend has it that Ahilyabai brought weavers from Surat (Gujarat) and Malwa (South-Eastern Rajasthan and Western Madhya Pradesh) to weave a special 9-yard saree to be gifted to royal guests. It is believed that she designed the first saree and so the Maheshwari saree was born.

Evolution of the Maheshwari saree

The designs on the sarees were inspired from the motifs and stone carvings on the royal fort of Maheshwar. The famous prints of diamond, brick and Mat are found on these sarees even today. These sarees were earlier only made in silk and gradually weavers experimented with cotton, cotton & silk blended and now even wool and khadi. The popularity of Maheshwari amongst women is mainly because of their beautiful designs, their light weight and the vegetable dyed threads used. Their clientele included the royalties of Baroda, Gwalior, Indore and other princely states.

With the fall of the supporting kingdoms and with the inflow of cheaper machine made imitations, the value of original Maheshwari sarees also diminished over the years. This resulted in loss of livelihood of artisans, pushing them into alternative occupations. It is for this reason WomenWeave, an NGO, came about to protect and promote these artisans and their dying art.

Weaver at WomenWeave
Maheshwari saree by WomenWeave
Yarn prepared by WomenWeave

Empowering women through WomenWeave

Based in Maheshwar, WomenWeave was founded by Sally Holkar in 2003, employing and empowering over 200 women artisans, who are working tirelessly to save the dying art of Maheshwari Handloom textiles. Each product sold by them comes with the signature of the artisan, who has hand woven the textile. These women artisans are trained in product design, business acumen, and communication skills. Today they sell hand woven handloom textiles to leading domestic designers and international brands across 29 countries.


Saving the craft of handloom

With organizations such as WomenWeave, there is certainly an effort towards the revival of traditional handloom made textiles. However, we must appreciate that these weavers live in marginally better than subsistence conditions choosing to create handwoven craft, which they thoroughly enjoy enabling them to be financially independent as against their previous back breaking occupations of stone crushing. It isn’t the responsibility of the 40 lakh weaver community in India to preserve the national heritage, its craft and its textiles but a collective effort of every individual; after all we are all in this together!

Process of preparing Maheshwari textiles a WomenWeave

Designer Sonica Kapur is bringing the magic woven by the weavers of WomenWeave to Delhi.In store would be exclusive hand woven textiles created with contemporary aesthetics and in bagh prints. This is an exhibition between 10th to 12th April 2014, from 11 am to 7 pm at The Club Lounge, The Lodhi Hotel, Lodhi Road, New Delhi. This would be our chance to contribute towards the preservation of the Maheshwari sarees and textiles by supporting ethically produced beautiful products.

Proceeds from the exhibition will go towards training the women weavers at WomenWeave, Maheshwar. This exhibition is an initiative to support the cause of these women weavers, the preservation of priceless heritage and craft of Maheshwari textiles and to contribute towards sustainable rural livelihood along with promoting The Handloom School, Maheshwar. It will also be a fantastic opportunity to meet the weavers and hear stories of the loom and Maheshwar from them.

Sonica Kapur Design is an artisanal design and sourcing service that empowers artisan communities by designing unique and contemporary artisanal products and bringing to the international market place.

WomenWeave creations
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