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There is a small town on the banks of Maa Rewa (Narmada river), quite historic. Time stands still here in the Indian middle ages, with antiquated buildings and shops. And this beautiful little town is the birthplace and the only origin of the internationally known Maheshwari sarees.
In the apex of Indian saree fashion, the sarees take their name from the town’s name — Maheshwar — and are one of the brightest examples of how beautiful and powerful Indian handloom can be. The Maheshwaris can be easily recognized by the trademark reversible border better known as the Bugdi to the locals.
Dating back as far as the 5th century, the Maheswari sarees are as glorious as they are beautiful. Legend has it that when Queen Ahalyabai Holkar wanted to charm her guests on the occasion of ascension to the throne, she wanted her weavers to produce something truly unseen before. But not happy with their work, she herself designed a 9-yard cotton piece, which was an instant hit in her court and indeed was the first Maheshwari.
Though it has evolved since then, a Maheshwari saree still bears the same regal attitude it had then. With pallus on both ends, this saree can be draped on either side, making it as versatile as it is durable. An apt garment to be worn on any prestigious occasion — from royal gardens to holy temples — this saree has become the fashion icon of Madhya Pradesh.
Naturally, it is not easy to produce something as rich and prestigious, especially when you have to do it by hand almost entirely. The fabric is soft and lightweight, to begin with, being produced by sturdy pit looms fixed to the ground. Then it is enriched by weaving traditional patterns with zari, kinara, gold and gemstones. The saree also gets a kind of glossy finish, putting the royal signature touch.
There are five types of Maheshwari sarees, depending upon the quality and type of the weaving work done on the cotton. The rather plainer and thus cheaper (still beautiful) ones are grouped into Chandrakala and Baingani Chandrakala types. The Chandratara, Beli and Parbi, on the other hand, display bold stripes and checks.
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