“Paithani is not just about peacocks. I know the peacock is what it is associated with, but that’s not true,” says Arati Arati Baandal in a matter-of-fact tone. As someone who has been working with the traditional weave of Maharashtra for eight years, she should know. “Actually, how many people even know about Paithani? I was shopping in Mumbai for my wedding and discovered that no store there had more than 10 Paithani sarees.” And this is what compelled Arati to start OnlyPaithani in 2010. Back then, she worked through e-tail, which she then expanded to a brick-and-mortar in 2015.”
Only Paithani is all about the promotion of Paithanis by innovating with textiles within the framework of tradition. Arati is harking back to the past to dig out motifs like the lotus from the Ajanta and Ellora caves. Bengaluru got to sample some of OnlyPaithani’s designs at a two-day exhibition at Raintree.
“We are also experimenting with colours. Traditionally, a Paithani is done in purple, yellow, red, pink and bottle green. We are doing it in blue, mauve, grey and pastels. We are also creating paithanis with checks and fusion borders too. It was difficult to convince the weavers initially, they thought nobody would buy a Paithani in these colours. There is a resistance to move away from the traditional, but somehow you have to work around it,” explains Arati. She goes on to add that originally, Paithanis were done in muls and cottons but somewhere along the way silk took over.
While cotton Paithanis are priced at ₹ 8,500, silk Paithanis start from ₹10,000, depending on the design and colours. “Saris with geometric designs are cheaper whereas the ones with more floral motifs are expensive. These saris are pieces of art. It takes about six months to a year to weave one sari. Since, they are hand-woven, no two saris can be alike, just like a painting.” Paithani is one of the most expensive saris and every Maharashtrian bride wants one in her trousseau. “Many wonder why they are more expensive than silk saris. It is because of the weave. The 2,000 year-old weave is done with the same technique as the Persian rug. It is an heirloom sari and once it was even used as currency because it was so expensive. These days, in Maharashtra, the term semi-Paithani is famous. It is used to describe a machine-made Paithani. It costs one-fourth the price of a hand-woven paithani.”
Paithanis originated in Paithan but only a few weavers remain there as most moved to Yeola, resulting in the latter’s emergence as a major hub for the textile.
In Yeola, Arati works with six weavers, who are now on the same page as her. The weavers are better off than earlier and though there is reluctance among the new ones to follow the pursuit, new weavers are coming up. The government too, runs a training centre. “The younger generation weavers are doing well because they are educated and are aware. A weaver, on a simpler geometric design oriented Paithani, makes about ₹ 25,000. And why shouldn’t he? It is hard work. You should see the conditions they work in.”
The entrepreneur points out that though Paithani was traditionally considered a male bastion, women are entering the field with the government training centre imparting training to them as well along with the tribals. “It needs to be promoted like the Banarasi saris. It has got a new lease of life with the government’s push. The authorities announced a whole complex dedicated to Paithani. The building is there, but it is yet to start functioning,” expresses Arati.
A lover of all hand-woven weaves, Arati now wants to explore Ilkal, Gadwal, Maheshwari, Chanderi and also Khun, a fabric used exclusively for blouses in Maharashtra and Karnataka. “In order to make Paithani feasible for daily wear, I am trying to blend its aesthetics with gadwals and offer an understated version.”
For her third outing in Bengaluru, Arati brought cotton Paithanis, Paithani dupattas and kurtas. Describing the city's crowd as discerning, she feels women here are aware and appreciative of handlooms. And that is why Bengaluru gets to be the chosen one for her second store, scheduled to open in March.
(For details visit https://onlypaithani.com/