I woke up every morning to the melody of neighbourhood children doing their riyaaz. I would put on my best khadi and take a stroll to the ghat. There it stood, the gleaming red sandstone fort Ahilya, by the glistening liquid gold river Narmada. As I would walk up to the fort, past the stunning hand-carved Shiva temples, I would hear it; the music of handloom from Rehwa society.
Ahilyabai Holkar or as she’s revered, ‘Maa Saheb’, is the patron of Maheshwari weaving. Her reign (1767-1795 AD) was considered to be the golden age of crafts and culture. As a widow herself, her wardrobe was spartan and her style of dressing was simple and elegant; which reflected in the fine textiles she commissioned to offer to the Peshwai and several other royal guests. It was in the dusk of declination of the craft, that Rehwa society became a pioneer in the revival of the art of Maheshwari weaving - An initiative by Richard and Sally Holkar in order to protect the legacy of Ahilyabai. They have strived not only to provide livelihoods to several men and women, but also provided their children with free education. They have managed to give the craft an identity- in terms of design as well as technique.
Being a design student, everything I observed in my surroundings was inspiring- the lilac evening sky, the blue tranquil waters of Narmada, the rich red-brown of the sandstone architecture, or the bright orange of hot jalebis. or the bright red spicy curries. The textiles woven in Maheshwar are known for their breathability, subtle sheen, understated and elegant borders. The design language of these textiles is versatile due to the adept skills of the artisans. This is how Maheshwar turned out to be the perfect place to complete my graduation project!
I usually spent my afternoons at the weaving unit observing my designs come to life. While working with the weavers I learnt everything I now know about handlooms. Their quick grasping skills and curiosity came with multiple questions which always kept me on my toes. Closely monitoring all the processes like warping, dyeing, chhatni-judni (separation and joining of warp) and weaving, I was filled with admiration to see the symbiosis within the handloom cluster. The entire cluster is thronged with talent and creativity; bound together by the passion towards this fine textile- despite the age, religion, or gender. I was not the only person with creative instincts. I shared my profound love for design with Mujaffar, a 22 year old craftsperson who runs a handloom unit owned by his family. Due to the worsening of his father’s health, young Mujaffar had to take over the unit and take care of the business. He always told me, “I wanted to be like you, a designer”, but he knew he did not have to go to a design school to become a designer. He was smart, witty, a great businessman and I would love engaging in conversations with him about design and culture.
As the sun would set over the horizon, scorching heat would turn into cool breeze. There is something very calming about the daily aarti at the ghat at sundown. The people of Maheshwar, who call themselves the children of 'Maa Rewa', the Goddess Narmada, would offer flowers and float lamps into the river. They prayed not only for the well-being of their families, but for their beloved town as well. Maheshwar is a quintessential amalgamation of history, art, culture and spirituality. I felt blessed and inspired every single day I spent there. The people of Maheshwar made me feel welcome into their homes, and just like them, I became a child of Maa Rewa.
Yash Sanhotra, Textile Designer, The Registry of Sarees