At first glance, there is little that differentiates Yeola (Nashik district; the hometown of Maratha leader Tatya Tope) from the scores of other small towns that dot this part of Maharashtra. But as we wound our way across the town, we noticed modest homes inside labyrinthine lanes, installed with handlooms that occupied a pride of place inside. We also noticed the unmistakable signs of development: traditional houses were sprouting new extensions everywhere and bore fresh coats of paint.
While the town of Paithan in Aurangabad district has been the traditional home ground of the Paithani sari (hence, the name), the last few decades has witnessed a shift to Yeola, and today, some of the most talented weavers reside there.
After a four-hour drive, Sannidha Bhave, who was our guide for the day, greeted us. Bhave organises the New Wave Paithani exhibition in Mumbai, an annual event — now in its 24th year — that features handwoven Paithani saris as well as handwoven products from all over the country. The Paithani saris on display are priced from `6,000 onwards and can go up to several lakhs.
To keep up with the times, the festival will launch an online Paithani store for customised Paithani saris where buyers will get a Make-Your-Paithani option to design their own Paithani sari as per their choice of colour and motif.
Bhide, an architect by profession, got involved in the exhibition by chance, when Saroj Dhananjay, a family friend and organiser of the original New Wave Paithani exhibition, passed away. Bhide was asked to take over the reins of the event and she has been doing so for the past nine years.
Bring back the Paithani
Speaking about the event, Bhide says, “When Saroj started the exhibition, her intention was to revive the Paithani sari. While Paithani has a glorious history and was worn at special occasions, by the 1970-80s, people had lost interest and were looking for other options. The lack of demand was critical to the weavers. This exhibition helped shift the focus to the handwoven textile.”
Over the years, the exhibition has grown bigger; this year, there will be 42 stalls. Nearly seven will be dedicated to Paithani saris, the rest will showcase handwoven textiles from across India.
Yeola is home to 700 weaver families who work throughout the year weaving Paithanis. The popular and traditional motifs are of the peacock and parrot but there are contemporary versions as well with different colour schemes and patterns. Making it more appealing to the urban spending populace has after all been one of the factors that led to the revival of this textile.
As Bhide takes us door to door, she herself is amazed at the level of development she spots. “I can barely recognise the houses though I visited just a year ago for the previous year’s exhibition,” she says.
The revival hasn’t been an easy process. “The powerlooms were a major challenge. The saris are cheaper to make and almost look the same. Making handmade saris is labour intensive and takes anywhere between 15 days to several months, depending on the detailing involved. However, people have now understood the value of a handmade Paithani sari leading to a boom in the town,” adds Bhide.
Till October 27; at Kohinoor Hall, opposite Swaminarayan Temple, near Dadar station (E).
>> Stop 1
Our first pit stop was Pranav Kokane’s (54) residence that adjoins his workshop. The Kokanes, who belong to the Kshatriya community, have been involved in weaving for several generations. Today, the youngest member is 25-year-old Harshal Kokane while the eldest is 75-year-old Baliram Baburao Kokane.
Pranav explains that on an average it requires at least a week to weave a sari. “The techniques haven’t changed in 2,000 years. It’s akin to painting but with thread. It was hugely popular during the Peshwa era. But some decades back, a lull occurred. Now, people are back to wearing it for occasions,” he shares. Pranav explains that while previously, real gold and silver threads (often imported from China) were used to weave the Paithani, nowadays, regular metallic zari threads from Surat and silk threads from Bengaluru do the trick. The colours that have been in use are pink, blue and green, among others.
Vegetable dyes are used at times but chemical dyes are also preferred as they offer a greater variety and shine, observes Kokane.“While men weave the saris, the womenfolk usually spool the threads. This was earlier done by hand but nowadays, it is done with the help of a machine, which has made it easier,” he states.
>> Stop 2
Next up, we met Sachin (36) and Santosh Wade (34) who market their wares under the brand name Tarangan Paithani. At their adjacent workshop, the brothers demonstrate the process of getting two shades through vertical and horizontal layering of silk threads (tana and bana). “We are in the fifth generation of this business. Our mother knows to weave as well.
From the 6th-7th standard we have been studying as well as simultaneously weaving,” says Sachin. Known for their detailed brocade work, we counted the 25 looms across three floors at their residence and the 20 weavers at work.
>> Stop 3
Anil Krushna Sa Habib, who markets his wares under the name Habib Paithani, has four looms at his workshop. He remains a tad wary of getting his saris photographed, lest the designs get copied.
“There are problems of duplication and the shops often exploit us as well by taking our wares on credit but refusing to pay us for very long,” he admits.
>> Stop 4
The last stop on our journey was to meet Balkrishna Kapse (39), whom Bhide describes as the “Ambani of Yeola”. His business is advertised across the district via yellow advertisements across houses in Nashik and large banners all through Yeola. Kapse boasts of a rags-to-riches story. Within a decade he set up a profitable business selling Paithanis and other saris from his store that is located in a 125-year-old building.
Though hailing from the farmer community, this BA graduate worked his way up, first, as a salesman (of saris and other goods) since he was 11, took a 200-plus square feet shop on rent and in 10 years, broke the monopoly to expand to a 24,000 square feet showroom in the heart of Yeola. He has trained and employed weavers from nearby hamlets to make the saris. He now plans to teach 100 hearing and speech impaired people the art of weaving. “We get many customers from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and visitors from Mumbai, drop by almost daily. We plan to set up a larger facility nearby where people can visit, buy saris and meet the weavers,” he concludes.