The Paithani magic

Sudhansu R. Das | Updated on April 11, 2012 Published on April 11, 2012


Indian culture has given birth to many exotic weaving traditions. Paithani is one such craft tradition which dates to 200 BC. The saree is still worn by women in Maharashtra during social and religious functions. A paithani saree remains the precious possession of a family, as the saas passes it on to her bahu.


Artisans of ancient Supratishthapuram city, presently known as Paithan, were gifted with this skill. Historians have noted fine paithani sarees with delicate gold and silver thread-work being sold in Greece in exchange for gold between 200 and 400 BC. Today, a few genuine artisans in Aurangabad and nearby Paithan survive to create exquisite paithani motifs: pejli (leaf), asawali, lotus border, panja, flying peacock, zardari and tota maina etc .,on pure silk cloth base.

Today zari has replaced gold threads in paithani work. Skilled artisans can make the motifs look so natural that it seems the leaves are just plucked from trees, the flowers are actually blooming on the silk cloth base, and the raised geometric shapes and the figures from the Ajanta caves leap out from the cloth. Artisans use fine zari and silk thread to weave the exotic pallu and motifs on a pure silk base with the help of simple tools like dhota (wooden loom), scissors and kakda (threads wrapped in a pencil).


Arifa Khan, 45, from Aurangabad, has been honing her paithani skills for the last 30 years. Arifa earns Rs 5,000 per month, after 9-10 hours of work in a day. Handloom traders supply raw material and looms to artisans to get the finished products. “It takes four months time to make a paithani saree costing Rs 1,20,000,” says Arifa Khan.

“I get Rs 50,000 after the sale.” The price of a paithani saree varies from Rs 6000 to Rs 7 lakh, depending on the artistry and the quantity of gold, zari and silver threads used in it. Difficult designs like Bangadi Mor, (four peacocks and a flower motif in the centre) with mango motifs on the body, take one year to complete.

A genuine piece of paithani saree is the most sought-after art item, whose price always appreciates. There is an urgent need to teach buyers how to identify genuine paithani sarees, as the market is flooded with cheap powerloom products. The Government must make sure that the artisans get the share of profit they deserve.

Many highly-skilled Muslim women artisans find it difficult to start self-enterprises, having no education, funds and marketing skills. The looming information gap in the handicraft-promoting agencies, middlemen control on the paithani trade, illiteracy and backwardness among artisans don't allow entrepreneurship to grow.

It is very difficult to locate those silent burkha-clad women in the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Aurangabad, who contribute immensely to the rich cultural heritage of Maharashtra. The paithani weaving tradition brings the Muslim and Hindu communities together.

(The author is a Pune-based freelancer.)

Published on April 11, 2012
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