The sarees earlier used to be only made of cotton woven into heavy, flannel-like fabric. The weavers have now moved to silk and silk-cotton too and weaving elegant aesthetics out of the yarns.
The woven cloth is used to make sarees, stoles, salwar suits, accessories and home furnishings. In recent times, the weavers also weave Chanderi and Maheshwari fabric to support the clusters in meeting their high demands.
The Maratha and Telugu caste dominates weavers of silk and fine cotton cloth. They belong principally to the Nagpur and west Madhya Pradesh divisions of the central provinces.
The fabric from Waraseoni is sometimes also known as Wainganga cotton because river beside Waraseoni is called Wainganga. It is the largest sub-basin of Godavari river. The area is known for its weaving in very fine counts - 80s to 120s. Amongst the merchants, the sarees are known as 'Solah haath ki saadi' or saree measuring 16 hands, also called Lugda.
The sericulture and weaving is highly aided by the government. The sericulture holds great importance in forestry as a supplementary activity. It helps in arresting forest destruction. Tussar culture also provides great economical value due to its minimum investment requirement and high employment potential for both tribal and rural population. Traditionally the spinning and subsidiary activities are carried out by women and the weaving is done by the men.
The Handloom Census of India, undertaken in 1987-88, places the number of handloom textile workers at 65.3 lakh persons. This makes them the single largest group of artisans in India. The handloom production is the largest economic activity second only to agriculture in India, which provides direct and indirect employment to more than 30 lakh weavers. The Handloom Act passed by the parliament in 1985 aims to shield handloom weavers against power loom and textile mill operators by reserving certain textile articles (presently eleven in number) for exclusive production by handlooms.
Myths & Legends
The caste suppose themselves to be descended from the famous Saint Markandi Rishi, who, they say, first wove cloth from the fibers of the lotus flower to clothe the nakedness of the gods. In reward for this he was married to the daughter of Surya, the sun, and received with her as dowry a giant named Bhavani and a tiger. But the giant was disobedient and so Markandi killed him, and from his bones fashioned the first weaver's loom. The tiger remained obedient to MÄrkandi, and the Koshtis think that he still respects them as his descendants; so that if a Koshti should meet a tiger in the forest and say the name of MÄrkandi, the tiger will pass by without harming him; and they say that no Koshti has ever been killed by a tiger. On the other hand they will not kill or injure a tiger. Even at their weddings the BhÄt or genealogist brings a picture of a tiger attached to his sacred scroll, known as Padgia and the Koshtis worship the picture.
The craft of handloom weaving has survived for years due to its adaptability to meet the changing needs of the community. The Indian saree is fascinatingly more than five thousand years old. It is mentioned in the Rig Veda dating around 3000 BC. The Rig Veda is the oldest surviving piece of literature in the world. The Indus Valley civilization spun cotton since at least 3000 BCE, as indicated by the ruins of Mohenjo-daro. The saree, originally worn by both men and women, was called 'Chira' in Sanskrit, meaning cloth. This rectangular piece of cloth was usually 5-9 yards in length.
The East India Company imported raw cotton from India while they dumped the local Indian market with inferior machine-made cloth. This led to a great decline in the handloom industry. The Khadi weavers were first affected with the subsequent establishment of the power looms in India. Imitations of the hand-woven saris and garments were dished out, making it much cheaper and severely affecting the rural scenario. During the Second World War (1939-1945), majority of the Indians turned to hand woven saris. This was further supported by the Swadeshi Movement initiated by Gandhiji, where women turned to hand woven Khadi fabric in order to shun the English machine made fabric. The effect of the mill spun fabric continued to affect the handloom sector even post-independence. The extent was so large that the Government of India had to ban power looms producing certain textiles, one such being the sari. The Government took active interest in reviving traditional saris to prevent it from extinction and provide handloom weavers with a livelihood through the Janata Scheme. The Janata scheme involved a per saree wage to the weaver and was production centric rather than quality being a concern. The idea was to make the sari as economical and production as high as possible. More number of saris implied more wages for the weaver. This however did not last long. More recently, various state-run schemes are aiding the weavers.
The weaving in Waraseoni in the Balaghat district is known to be happening for over 250 years. Raja Raghuji Bhonsle had taken over the Balaghat region during 1900 AD and the craft flourished under his patronage. Earlier the weavers used to make thin dhotis and Lugda and used to sell it in the open markets. The weavers used to use 10s to 100s counts of cotton for weaving. From around 1920, they started weaving in only 10s and 20s. Heavy Maharashtrian influences are seen due to its proximity to the state. Initially, only cotton was woven extensively. As the demand and sale for the cotton fabrics reduced, the weavers started working on silk. From 700 looms, it has diminished to 70-80 looms, which also weave Chanderi and Maheshwari fabric. Silk weaving in Waraseoni was an initiative of the Madhya Pradesh government to aid the dwindling population of weavers. Identified after 1999, this small scale industry is operational under the Madhya Pradesh Hastshilp Vikas Nigam (MPHSVN). Most weavers have shifted to silk from cotton, as that ensures more wages for their efforts.
Design work on the bases of hand measurements -
Ekungal - one finger, Do ungal - two fingers, Teen ungal - three fingers,
Char ungal - four fingers, Paanchungal - five fingers, Ekbhitha - one hand span
'Ekbhithakinar', which forms a complete veil over the head.
D - Ekhaath - one arm length from elbow to fingertips.
Colours - There are a variety of body colors - deep maroon, haldi yellow, blue-black. The colors used in these sarees are named interestingly -“ Purple is Baingani (Baingan - Brinjal), Pink is Gulabi (Gulab - Rose), Red-Brown is Eent (brick), Pyaazi for lavender (Pyaaz - Onion) etc. Others are Firozi, Mehndi, Chutney, Aasmaani etc.
Border - It always has a red ground and is called Nakshikinar (flowering wine border).
Selari pattern - The saree is referred to as Selari if the body is striped.
Bhaga - If it has variegated stripes, then it is called Bhaga.
Moongia pattern - A saree with a 4'X 4' check.
Mukhtiya pattern - Sarees with 2' X 2' checks, made using a two shuttle technique.
Dhoop-chaon- When the saree has two shades - a lighter and darker one.
Warp border motifs - Ruiphool, Jai phool, Karvati or double Karvati (saw-faced motifs), Shahpuri or Gom (arrow-head pattern).
There are various traditional sarees which characteristically incorporate these motifs and patterns in different ways.
Reshmijote saree - This type of saree has a cotton body of 18s to 24s counts. The borders are made of heavy two ply Malda silk from Bengal, completely hiding the cotton weft.
Baal saree - This type of saree either has a silk warp and cotton weft body with a 7' silk Dhodhadirui phool or double flower pattern, or it had a dark blue-black cotton body with yellow Mukthiya check in silk with red silk border. Also called a Kothi (checked) sari.
Anjari or Aanjanasaree - These sarees are made of pure silk and are used mainly for marriages. They are also called the Bhanwarai saree. It had 'Mukthiya' checks in red or 'Cheechpopdi' check (named after a large lentil seed which it is said to resemble) in deep blue and yellow. A broad red border is a characteristic. Pure black color in the body is avoided as it is considered inauspicious.
Pitambari Aanjana - This has a yellow body and a red border. The border is adorned with the 'Gom' motif. It often has Zari in the end-piece and borders. This saree is traditionally worn by the women of wealthier communities like the Baniyas and the Lodhis.
Handloom weaving is under the constant threat of power looms and mill made fabric. The designs are also slowly getting redundant and are in need of new inspirations and contemporary modifications to suit the present needs. The market links are weak and the cluster has no stark brand name for their products and hence it is very difficult to place them. Chanderi and Maheshwari still remain well known but Waraseoni weaving has not caught up yet.
Most weavers are of the older generation and the craft seems to be dyeing down with them. The younger generation has moved onto faster paying jobs in the neighboring towns.