From being the preserve of royalty, the Paithani has grown to become an essential saree in the wardrobe of every Indian woman, which is usually available in a variety of rainbow colors. The saree is named after a village near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The richest and most creatively time-consuming of all the shallu sarees, Paithani sarees continue to be popular especially for weddings
Besides cultural influences, the Indian penchant for mythological origins takes the birth of the Paithani back to the times of gods and goddesses, when Goddess Parvati remarked that she did not have an attire to wear for an Apsara’s wedding. Overhearing her words, Lord Shiva immediately asked his weavers to create a fabulous saree for his beautiful consort. They set to work, weaving rich threads of gold and silk. But instead of the usual process of ornamenting a silk textile with motifs of gold as they had always done, they skillfully reversed the concept and wove the body of the textile with pure gold thread embellishing it with exquisite motifs of silk.
The enormous amount of labour, skill and sheer expense of materials used to create the best of these sarees rivalled the other luxury paithani fabrics of the Mughal courts. Even into the twentieth century, these sarees had royal associations. In the revival of Paithani weaving, the production was oriented towards export requirements, while saris were produced only for sophisticated buyers.
Paithani evolved from a cotton base to a silk base. Silk was used in weft designs and in the borders, whereas cotton was used in the body of the fabric. Present day Paithani has no trace of cotton. Paithani can be classified by three criteria: motifs, weaving, and colours.
The Paithani is characterized by borders of an oblique square design, and a pallu with a peacock design. Plain as well as spotted designs are available. Among other varieties, single colored and kaleidoscope-colored designs are also popular. The kaleidoscopic effect is achieved by using one color for weaving lengthwise and another for weaving widthwise.
The specaility lies in the technique; the design being woven without the assistance of a mechanical contivance like a jacquard or jala. The material takes longer than most (months on end) to be woven. It uses multiple ‘ Tillis ‘ (bomboo needles) or spindles to produce the design. The borders are created with interlocked weft technique either with coloured silk or zari. A wide band of supplementary warp zari is woven upon the coloured silk border. In borders woven with a zari ground, coloured silk patterns are added as a supplementary weft inlay against the zari; usually inform of lower or creeping vines often woven with colors going lengthwise and widthwise for a little variation causing a rainbow effect. The weft threads are only of zari, forming a golden ground upon which angular, brightly coloured silk designs are woven in the interlocked weft technique, producing a tapestry effect.
These patterns usually consist of intertwining vines, branches, leaves and flowers as well as Parrots, Peacocks, and even Horses and riders. The end piece (Pallu) has fine silk warp threads that are cut and retied to a different color as in the Petni technique of Kanchipuram.
Zari is a metallic yarn, made of pure silver. Originally, zari was manufactured in Yeola; Surat now being another zari-producing center. Initially, zari used in making Paithani was drawn from pure gold. However, silver is the affordable substitute today. Due to proximity to the Ajanta caves, the influence of the Buddhist paintings can be seen in the woven Paithani motifs, Small motifs like circles, stars, kuyri, rui phool, kalas pakhhli, chandrakor, clusters of 3 leaves, were very common for the body of the sari. The dominant traditional colours of vegetable dyes included.