Namastey! It is only natural that we, at REHWA SOCIETY, greet you as is often done in Maheshwar- with folded hands and a smile. As you browse through our website, you will learn of the origins of fine Maheshwari handlooms, the foundation of the oldest organisation involved in their revival, the lovely craftswomen and men working to create the fabric, and the enchanting beauty of the town from which the craft derives its name. Look through, peruse, purchase our fine fabrics, and fall slowly in love with this beautiful craft.
Welcome to Maheshwar!
With a breath of fresh air, plunge into this remote location in India , caught in a blissful time warp. Maheshwar is one of India’s ancient temple towns, with a riverside fort and the background hum of early morning hymns. It has long held spiritual significance (mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures under its old name, Mahishmati) and continues to draw sadhus and yatris, or pilgrims, to its ancient ghats and temples beside the holy Narmada River. Away from the river bank and historic buildings, Maheshwar’s colourful streets display brightly painted wooden houses with overhanging balconies. It’s a mesmerising place that showers warmth on any wandering traveler.
HISTORY OF MAHESHWARI HANDLOOMS
Maheshwari handlooms owe their name to Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar, the ruler of the state of Indore in the late 18th century. Her reign was deemed the Golden Age, and she is revered by all at Maheshwar as Devi Ahilyabai or Ma Saab till date. She embellished the towns with many buildings and public works and ensured the well-being of the people of her state.
In the late 1700’s, in order to find them a better livelihood, the Maharani invited weaver communities to come teach her people the craft of weaving. The community of weavers that settled in Maheshwar due to her efforts were originally known to be from Mandu- weaving for the Mughals, what was then known to be the finest fabric of Madhya Pradesh. She gifted the beautiful, light textiles that were created to royal dignitaries and Peshwa Kings as welcoming presents. The craft slowly found royal patronage and thus, the handloom weaving tradition in Maheshwar began.
ORIGINS OF MAHESHWARI TEXTILES
Look upon any painted or sculpted representation of Ahilya Ma Saab, and you will discover a serene resilient woman, the determination to help her people, strong in her eyes. As a widow in an ancient India, her style was extremely simple, poised and elegant. Maheshwari handlooms derived their fine simplicity from this icon. It is said that under her artistic guidance, the craftspeople made light fabrics, detailed with motifs derived from carvings on the Maheshwar fort- a design directory in stone that they regularly used for inspiration.
Maheshwari saris were traditionally made in colours like peacock blue, bright yellow, forest green and an Indian red dye called Aal. The pallus were designed with stripes of red, white and gold zari. Borders like Leheriya (wave), Narmada (the sacred river), Rui Phul (cotton flower), Eent (brick), Chatai (matting), Heera (diamond)- were all drawn from the fort and the adjoining river and woven seamlessly into the fabric . Originally, the classic Maheshwari saris were only woven in pure cotton, 9 yards long, and with pallus at both ends- so when they frayed, the saree could be reversed and worn some more. That was the uniqueness of a Maheshwari sari- its elegant versatility and durability.