Shatipedia – The Sari Encyclopedia



Maheshwari Sarees

Home to India’s finest hand loom fabric traditions since the 5th century, Maheshwar, a city in Madhya Pradesh, is noted as a centre for weaving colourful Maheshwari sarees. Conceived and designed by Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar of Madhya Pradesh herself, each Maheshwari Sari Conjures up a picture of royal Elegance. These saris are weaved with distinctive designs involving stripes, checks and floral borders. They are woven from silk and cotton fibers and embellished with golden zari. The new trend in Maheshwari Sarees is the Maheshwari Silk Cotton Sarees. A good mix of silk and cotton, they are available in spirited colors and diaphanous texture. While the Pallus are particularly distinct with their five stripes, Maheshwari sarees are also famous for their reversible Borders, that can be worn either side. Once an exclusive privilege of the royalty, all the three, Maheshwari silk sarees, Maheshwari cotton sarees and Maheshwari silk cotton sarees have now become a preferred choice of every woman.

History of Maheshwar:

Maheshwar is a City in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh state, in central India. Itis handsome and is built on the site of the ancient city of Somvanshya Shastrarjun Kshatriya, and was the capital of king Kartavirya Arjuna, (Shree Shastrarjun) who is mentioned in the Sanskrit epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Maheshwar was known as Mahissati (Mahishamati in Sanskrit) in ancient times and was the capital of Southern Avanti. Maheshwar on the banks of the Narmada was capital of King Sahasrarjun.

Jagad guru Kripalu ji Maharaj has performed various akhand (continues) sankirtan outside shiva temple at maheshwar for more than months.Even though Kripaluji was from mahu (30km from maheshwar) ,He frequently visited this place in his early life with devotees of lord krishna to perform sankirtan on the banks of the Narmada river in Maheshwar.

In the late eighteenth century, Maheshwar served as the capital of the great Maratha queen Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar, Holkar. She embellished the city with many buildings and public works, and it is home to her palace, as well as numerous temples, a fort, and riverfront ghats (broad stone steps which step down to the river).

Origin of Maheshwari Sarees and Role of Rehwa Society:

Maheshwar has been a centre of handloom weaving since the 5th century. Maheshwar is the home of one of India’s finest hand loom fabric traditions. Maheshwar is noted as a centre for weaving colourful Maheshwari saris. These cotton sarees are weaved with distinctive designs involving stripes, checks and floral borders. The hand looms also make fabric material used for making kurtas and other clothings.

The origin of Maheshwari saris 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. About 130 weavers associated with the society produce over 100,000 metres of fine fabrics a year. The weaving centre is located in one of Maheshwar’s historic buildings. Rehwa Society also provides a free school for weavers’ children and runs a low-cost health scheme. There are few other small local organisations involved in weaving of saris and other fabrics.

Ahilya Fort is now heritage hotel, founded by Prince Richard Holkar, a descendant of both Ahilya Bai Holkar and the last Maharajah of Indore.


Process of Maheshwari Weaving

The Maheshwari weaving process has the following steps:


Maheshwari handlooms use a lot of traditional sari designs, many of which have been prevalent in the areas since historical times. Many such designs are being used in their original form and many others with minor modifications in them. Interestingly, for the borders of the saris, the designs engraved on the walls of the Maheshwar fort are used. Based on the design of the border, there are the following types of Maheshwari saris: Maheshwar bugdi kinar, zaripatti, ruiphoolkinar, phoolkinar, chataikinar, Vkinar, kaharkinar, bajubandkinar, etc.4 Sometimes the designs are inspired from saris from other parts of the country. The design may depend on the order placed, which comes with the demand for a specific design.

Raw Material Procurement

Raw materials for the process (cotton, silk and zari) are procured from Bangalore, Coimbatore and Surat. They and are further processed to make suitable to work upon. These processes are discussed in detail in the following sections.


Dyeing is an important part of the whole process. Both cotton and silk require dyeing before they can be used on the loom. The process is normally carried out by the weavers themselves or specialized dyeing technicians who charge for their services depending on the material and the kind of dyeing required. There are different kinds of dyes for coloring silk and cotton. For coloring cotton thread, three types of dyes are used—napthol, wet dye and procion dye. In case of cotton, dyeing is done not with a single dye but with a combination. For coloring silk, special dyes called Sando Silk are used, which are ready made dyes and do not need to be mixed with others. The process of dyeing starts by dipping the raw threads in TR Solution (a combination of Turkish oil and bleaching powder) for at least four hours for bleaching.. This is followed by the actual process of dyeing. First, dyes are mixed in warm water in big metal tubs to obtain the desired colors. The threads are dipped in the tubs for a while and then dipped in the tank containing napthol to provide stability to the color. They are then washed in other tanks containing plain water and then put in tubs containing solutions of detergent and soda in warm water. Thereafter, the threads are washed again and are hung on bamboo poles for drying. Once the threads are dry, they are sent back to the weavers for further processing.

Yarn Opening for Weft and Warp

After dyeing, the yarn is normally received by the weavers in the form of bundles. Both in the case of weft and the warp, the thread needs to be freed from tangles and stretched in order to make them tighter. They are then are taken through a process of reeling by using a charkha, thus converting the bundles into small rolls. In case of warp, a big motorized charkha is used; in case of weft, a small, hand‐driven charkha is used, which makes bobbins.


The master weaver carries out the process of making the warp. Since the silk fiber used is very delicate, the warp machine for the process is radically different from the one used in case of cotton thread. The silk warp machine comprises an octagonal metal cylindrical frame that revolves vertically on the machine axis and a metallic rack on which the thread rolls are kept. The fibers from these rolls pass through hooks fixed on the rack on to a double metallic frame that moves up and down with the motion of the machine, and are wound on the cylinder in a criss‐cross manner that facilitates the detection of breach in the fiber, if one exists any where. This process starts from one end of the cylinder and goes on till the whole of the cylinder is covered with the thread. Using this machine, the master weaver converts the raw silk into single or double fiber warp, depending on the requirement of the loom. Once this has been achieved, the taana threads in the shape of bundles are taken to the loom where they are used as warp.


For weaving, one end of the warp is bound on main beam of the loom. The other end (in the form of a bundle) is taken under another horizontal beam parallel to the main beam and then across the overhead beam. Weights are hung on it on the other end of the beam to keep it tight, giving the warp a Z‐shape. There are up to 4,000 strings in a single warp. The length of warp is 50 meters and the width of weft is 48 inches. As the warp proceeds, the bundle needs to be opened up. The movement of the string that controls the shuttle (in which the roll of weft thread is kept) takes the yarn of the weft across the threads of the warp. With the motion of the pedal, the heavy frame sets the yarn of the weft along the thread of the warp. The weaver uses the zari threads and other colored threads across the warp depending on the desired design. The motion of the loom provides movement to the overhead jaquard‐like punch card mechanism called dobby (although smaller than the jaquard looms, these have a similar function of putting forward paticular hooks that are required for a particular border design) and helps in designing of the border of the sari. The process of weaving is very difficult and tedious in case of saris that have more design work. Therefore, the resulting products are also proportionately expensive.


Once a sari is completed, it is taken off from the loom and sent for cutting. The normal length of such a sari is about 11 feet. It is then folded properly and packed. No ironing or further printing is required. Once packed, they are ready to be marketed.




Weavers of Maheshwar:

Straight from Heart – Ahmad Hussain(Weaver, Maheshwar)

Taking pride in his creations, Ahmad Hussain, a traditional weaver of Maheshwari saris, says that with efforts being made by the MP government, the Holkar trust, and from students of various fashion institutes, this priceless heritage of Indian art has a fresh lease of life.

Maheshwari saris were born due to efforts of AhilyabaiHolkar who collected weavers from Surat, Varanasi and Chennai and settled them at Maheshwar, a small town on the banks of river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. “Initially, only saris and turbans for the royal household were weaved. Later, it became a tradition to gift one such sari called dalimbi, which was dyed green using vegetable colours, to the bride as she left her parents’ home,” says Hussain narrating the rich history of these drapes.

“Weaving these saris has been in our family for over seven generations. A lot of innovation in designs and styles is being done by us as we have picked up the traditional patterns popular in the times of Holkars and transferred them on the borders of these saris,” he says.

“Narmada lehar, chatai, hansa, bugadi or the bigger kel borders which are signature of a Maheshwari sari are all designs copied from the stone carvings on the magnificent fort of Maheshwar,” says Hussain whose family has pioneered the format of standard silk warp and cotton weft, creating the famed Maheshwari silk in the eighties. Till then, there were only cotton Maheshwaris. Hussain and his ilk made this sari legendary with the use of Mercerized cotton which gives the fabric a lustrous quality.

“The taana comes from China and Bangalore and the baana is 80-number cotton thread procured from Coimbatore. Initially these saris were available in very few colours like white, green, pomegranate pink also called anarigulabi or black with zari borders. They were called rasta,” he says.

There is an effort to preserve these designs now as MP government has set up a centre where the tribals of the region are learning to weave these saris. “Shalini Devi and Richard Holkar, the 7{+t}{+h} generation of Rani AhilyabaiHolkar, have done a lot to keep this handicraft alive,” says Hussain. They helped give a new look to these saris in terms of designs and colours, says the 60-year-old craftsman and adds that students from NIFT also come to Maheshwar and give them new patterns and colour combinations. “We are incorporating new trends without diluting the age old look. The results have been widely appreciated,” he says.


An Enriching Visit to Maheshwar by Shatika




Featured Articles

Six yards of elegance and comfort. That is what a saree is. We don’t think ….


Weaving a eNew Story – The Handloom Weavers of India

About Shatika

Since the dawn of civilization, handlooms have been associated with excellence in India’s artistry in textiles and fabrics, and sari which is considered to be the most ancient piece of clothing has been inspiring generations of artists and craftsmen to weave their dreams and visions into creating exquisite handloom sarees. However with passage of time, just like the clacking sounds of the looms, the dreams and visions of these weaves too are fading away.In an attempt to bring handloom sarees back in vogue, Shatika has begun a revolution; a six yard sari revolution is a humble attempt at bringing back the lost love for handloom sarees. Dedicated to creating a unique interpretation of the age old craft, we travel to all colourful corners of the country visiting weavers,guiding them on the latest trends so they weave out the age old tradition with a modern touch and bring them online so you can savor the delights of hand picking them from the comfort of your homes.