Raksha Bandhan is conventionally known as the festival commemorating the love between a sister and her brother. Each year this love is renewed and strengthened by a symbolic gesture – the sister ties a piece of thread – a rakhi – on the wrist of her brother. The thread represents the brother’s commitment to protect and safeguard his sister from ill will and danger.
This tradition was reinvented by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar in the 1800s when she tied a rakhi to the erstwhile Mughal emperor so that he would protect her and not invade her kingdom. With this insightful and strategic move, she diffused the situation and her diplomacy and statesmanship ensured the queen’s reign continued with the peace and calm it had come to be identified with. It also gave the festival of Raksha Bandhan a renewed vigor and to date the festival is celebrated with enthusiasm in the erstwhile Holkar realm.
During her remarkable reign in the 18th century, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar also patronized the art of handloom weaving in Maheshwar, an art that dates back to the 15th century. She encouraged weavers from all over India to settle in Maheshwar and promote their craft and it was under her patronage that the town of Maheshwar became famous for handloom weaving. In the years following her death, the influence of the craft waned due to the loss of royal patronage after India gained independence, changing tastes and eroding markets, leaving the weavers with diminished incomes. To counter these developments and to revive this magnificent craft, the scion of the Holkar dynasty Richard Holkar and his wife Sally Holkar founded Rehwa Society in 1978 with a grant from the Central Welfare Board.
The Rehwa Society not only aims to sustain the hand weaving tradition of Maheshwar but also endeavors to empower the women weavers by giving them sustained employment and financial independence. The society also provides housing, subsidized healthcare and education to their children through the Ahilya School. Today the children of Rehwa’s weaver partners are the biggest beneficiaries of the organization’s efforts to keep the weaving tradition alive.
This year, blending the historical significance of Raksha Bandhan to the Holkar kingdom and the region’s iconic weave, Rehwa brings a collection of beautiful rakhis made by the children of the Ahilyabai School. Children have come together to create these rakhis from threads on the weaving looms that were going to be wasted and discarded. These amazing threads not only strengthen the bond between brother and sister but are also a reflection of the beauty of traditional crafts, what they mean to a people and how they can transform lives. They also ensure the children stay interested in the craft of their forefathers and take it up when the time to step into their parents’ shoes comes. And that is the surest way to keep Maheshwari’s looms alive.
Shop for Rehwa Society’s latest collection here.