They are light, with patterns trendy; Chanderi and Maheshwari sarees made in Madhya Pradesh are quite summer friendly, says Aruna Chandaraju.
The gorgeous Chanderi sarees famed for their sheer texture and glossy, delicate appearance all enhanced by golden zari, are a favourite of many Indian women.
The lightweight nature also gives them an appeal for women who want to wear showy or elaborate sarees without the heaviness (of weight) that characterises most other varieties of traditional silk sarees.
Dress material, stand-alone dupattas and stoles also form part of the Chanderi range now. Maheshwari sarees and dress materials are also made in the same state of Madhya Pradesh.
Many of the sarees and dress material from these two places also tend to have subtler/lighter hues compared to the south-Indian silks or Banarasi ones.
However, like these latter silk varieties, the more dressy Chanderis and Maheshwaris also sport rich golden zaris on the borders and pallus.
They are also enhanced by butis or motifs of various sizes and shapes across the body of the saree and on the pallu.
Impressed by the diaphanous appearance and delicate sheen of the Chanderi and Maheshwari products, I spoke to the weavers and learnt that it could be attributed to the very fine yarn used for weaving them.
Traditionally, Chanderi weavers used silk for the warp and and fine cotton for the weft of the saree.
However, nowadays, silk is used for both warp and weft, they told us.
These sarees and dress material come in silk, cotton and a silk-cotton mix, which is also known as sico.
The cotton sarees are ideal for office wear or other daily-wear needs. The more elaborate silk sarees with a profusion of butis, elaborate pallus and rich, pure zari are dazzling and fit for party and bridal wear.
In many parts of central and north India, richly embellished Chanderi silk sarees are part of the wedding trousseau.
Maheswari sarees are made of 20 by 22 denier mulberry silk and mercerised fine-blended cotton yarn.
They are also available in silk and silk-cotton mix.
The products of the Maheshwar handloom weaving tradition — whether sarees or dress material are relatively light in weight, translucent and use stripes, checks and floral borders.
Many well-known ethnic Indian sarees — Banarasi, Kanjeevaram, Pochampally, Mysore, Venkatagiri etc are named after the village/town where they are made.
So it is with Chanderi sarees that are created in a small and historically important town in north Madhya Pradesh.
Maheshwari sarees and dress material also come from a historically rich city called Maheshwar, which is associated with the Holkar dynasty and the Sahasrarjun temple.
Maheshwar is about 80 km from Indore, in west Madhya Pradesh.
The Chanderi weaving tradition once enjoyed great patronage from the erstwhile Scindia royals. Even in Maheshwar the erstwhile royals — the Holkars — run a weavers’ society called Rehwa, to support the weavers and keep alive this beautiful handloom tradition.
In Maheshwar city, you will find clusters of stores near the erstwhile residence of the famous Maratha rajmata Ahilyabai Holkar, as also Rehwa outlets. In the town there are at least two large weaving centres where one could watch weavers at work.
At one time, all that you could get from both these weaving traditions was sarees.
However, the weavers have learnt to move with the times and tailor their creations to market demands.
Now, there is a wide range of fabric material that can be used for curtains and kurtis, as well as stand-alone dupattas, salwar-kameez material and of course, stoles.
The last two are popular, and stoles are big sellers, considering they suit both Indian and Western wear.
They are a big hit not only with Indian customers but also hold much appeal for foreigners since they can use it easily along with their traditional attire, like the shirt-trouser or shirt and skirt.
“Many of our foreign customers start using our stoles immediately, wearing it even as they are leaving the shop,” explained Dilip Singh, one of the retailers at Chanderi town.
“So, we often show them our stole-range first.”
Besides the eponymous sarees, Chanderi is also known for its beautiful muslins and brocades. There are hundreds of families engaged in weaving across Chanderi, where there are thousands of looms.
The sound of clacking looms fills the town throughout the day. In each family you will find several members contributing to the making of a saree.
We also noticed a a flow of technical work — certain families will provide some inputs, while the rest of the work will be done by other families.
Creating these elegant sarees is all about high skill, hard work and attention to detail.
The silk threads are extremely fine, the motifs have to be consistent in colour and shape through the saree and geometric precision is called for this and in handling aspects like borders, butis and pallu dimensions.
Nowadays, modern motifs are making an appearance on these sarees.
Several well-known fashion designers who work with traditional Indian weaves are giving new interpretations to the Chanderi weaving traditions.
Their Chanderi sarees and stoles sport a strikingly novel appearance while still being recognisably Chanderi.
As with many great handloom weaving traditions of India, the fame of the Chanderi saree has spawned many lookalikes that are of inferior quality and sold in many stores big and small at cheaper rates.
Fortunately, the Chanderi saree tradition has now received protection, thanks to the Geographical Indication or GI tag.
The Maheshwari saree is yet to acquire that status.
Your best bet for guaranteed originals are of course Chanderi town and Maheshwar itself. However, if you are not lucky enough to visit the town, look for central or state government-run outlets called Mrignayani, which are present across the metros.
Also, the locals in these two places and around Bhopal, Indore know private showrooms and small shops known for retailing genuine Chanderi and Maheshwari creations.