Weaving saris and dreams

Classic silks

Weaving saris and dreams

Aurangabad has always been a silk and cotton textile production centre. In the old days, a fine blend of silk with locally grown cotton was developed here and became famous as Himroo.

The other classic was Paithani silk from the nearby taluka town of Paithan where we were currently headed. Till 1960, Aurangabad languished as a city, remaining industrially backward. In 1960, the region of Marathwada merged with Maharashtra. This was when the industrial development of the Marathwada region began through designated backward area benefits.

Today, Aurangabad has become home to some well-known brands and the Indian government has approved a number of Special Economic Zones here. The road was lined on both sides with industrial houses.

This was the corridor through which we entered ancient Pratisthan (Paithan), the capital of the Satavahana dynasty from the second century BC to the third century AD. We thought of these industries as the ‘temples of a new civilisation’ who were conveying us to the old civilisation...

Once we reached Paithan, we went to the large retail store, which had been kept open for us despite the lateness of the hour. Splendid Paithani saris were on display. Made with heavy gold zari thread from Surat and silk thread from Bangalore, it takes anywhere between two months to two years to make a single sari.

Next to the showroom was a weaving centre with 150 weavers. We met 60-year-old Sainath and his son Chintamani. In addition to what we saw there, another 30-40 weavers worked in the village, we were told.

They earn between Rs 3,000-3,500 per month. A weaver gets Rs 11,000 for a sari that sells for Rs 40,000 and may take over six months to complete. Most weavers were men; women helped with yarn work. “Some of us have been weaving for 300 generations. The Paithani weave itself is over 2,000 years old,” said Sainath with a toothless smile.

First look

By the time we returned to the city, it was late into the night. But it was our only chance to look at the 600-year-old Himroo craft. As children, we had heard of Mashru and Himroo fabrics made of cotton and silk but with the lustre of satin. We had never asked where they originated from.

It was that night that we learnt that the Himroo was originally known as kamkhwab. Syeda recollected the word from her childhood. In her grandmother’s stories, the princess of Paristan (fairyland) used to dress in flowing garments of kamkhwab. The word literally translates to ‘little dream’.

Mohammad Tughlaq introduced the craft to Aurangabad when he shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. At the time, it was the members of the royal family and the nobility who used the fabric. We found ourselves in a shop with a few looms. This was one of the last repositories of this dying craft. At one of the looms sat an ageing weaver with a white cap and a grey beard.

His name was Mohammad. “I learnt Himroo weaving as a child. I used to sit on a plank and manage the threads. That is how I picked up the skill. It takes 20 days to weave a shawl that sells for Rs 2,500. We earn Rs 100 per day. There are only five people left in Aurangabad who know the original Himroo,” he said.

Advancement

Mohammad’s sons are cycle mechanics. According to him, 300 years after the art of Himroo came to the city, the jacquard weave was introduced. The shawl, which took 20 days earlier, could be woven in four days with this technique using a mechanical loom. Its product was more reasonably priced.

Abbas Khan, who learnt how to use the jacquard at a factory as a child, said he has no sons to pass on the knowledge. “I had shifted to powerlooms in 1952. For 30 years I worked on the machines, but this handloom weave, it has a charm of its own. In 1982, I came back to Aurangabad and went back to Himroo. My eyes are not as good as before, but I still weave.”

Majid Pawar, an elderly man in white kurta-pyjama, has been weaving for 40 years. He is one of the five people who know the original Himroo handweaving. “In 1968, I started using the jacquard. We have been in this business for three generations, but my son is a BCom graduate. After me, there is no one.”

(Excerpted from ‘Beautiful Country – Stories From Another India’, by Syeda Hameed and Gunjan Veda)

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