Faces behind the making of Maheshwari sarees
Well this piece is not about fashion and fabrics, but this is about the faces who are and who were behind making of Royal Maheshwari sarees. I got the opportunity to photograph the organization ‘Women Weave‘ run by Sally Holkar, a great woman who was the co-founder of Rehwa Society in 1978 and then ‘Women Weave’ in 2003. Sally has brought smiles to hundreds of women in the marginalized sections of Maheshwar, to begin with, and other parts of the country through partner NGOs.
Maheshwar, A temple town, an ancient city, echoes the sound of mantras and bells. The sparkling Narmada with its stunning sunrises and sunsets, lazy boats, flickering diyas and women washing, bathing and worshipping on the ghats is a usual daily scene. Behind the ghat stands tall, the fort of Ahilyabai, who was the queen of Malwa in the 18th century. A devout worshipper of lord Shiva, the righteous queen not only gave the people many a great temples, but also a beautiful textile that is adored by women even today. Maheshwari textiles were spun by expert weavers that Ahilyabai brought in from Surat, Varanasi and Chennai to weave saris for the royal household and also as gifts for Peshwa kings and visiting dignitaries.
Have a look at the ceremony of Supermoon (narak chaudas) in Maheshwar
The origin of Maheshwari sarees is traced to the establishment of Rehwa Society, an NGO founded by the Holkars, in 1979 to give women employment and revive the town’s textiles. Though the Maheshwari sari is not made by one person or one community, but the entire town is involved in this craft in some way or another. This craft weaves Hindus and Muslims, men and women together in its sublime fabric. In the weavers’ colonies, every street is filled with the continuous clacking of wooden looms; the craftsmen are busy creating poetry in colour.
I talked to women who were working with ‘women weaves’ since it was established, some of the women were locals and some travel from the nearby towns to work under this trust. Shakeela, a lady in his 70s stays alone and work to make the earnings. Inspite of her old age she is independent and confident about her life and work. The works starts early morning and finishes up by 5 pm as the natural light is needed for the intricate weaving. Another Muslims lady Farzana who looks comparatively younger has four daughters and two of them to be married yet. The income earned from weaving helping her family, yet ironically she is not allowing her daughters to work as she says no one accepts the working girls for marriage from her community. She can work after marriage if she likes and if her in-laws allow the same.
The situation of Indian women when it comes work is always complex. Society norms, social pressure and they mostly need permission from everyone before they make their own career choice. In such complexities, ‘Women Weave’ provide a safe and healthy environment for women to work. Well, I can’t talk about their quality, as I rarely shop during my travels but I am sure the sarees are being made of so much love and care.
Also read about the Sacred River Festival in Maheshwar.