Paithan has been under continuous occupation since the 2nd century BCE. It enjoyed prominence especially in the Satavahana, Yadava and the Peshwa dynasties but was also an important regional centre during the reign of other dynasties such as the Chelas, Rashtrakutas, etc. It was also briefly the origin of the Dakshinapath which further joined the Uttarapath before the capital moved to Amravati in the 1st century CE. The Uttarapath was a trade route that connected the northern part of the Indian subcontinent with Central Asia and China, while the Dakshinapath connected the southern part of the Indian subcontinent with the Uttarapath at Shravasti.
The Paithani was a treasured heirloom. The zari was a mix of gold and silver and often weighed more than 150 gm. Once the silk was too worn out to wear, the saree would be often burned and the silver and gold extracted and made into jewellery. This ensured that the saree lived on across generations even if it no longer existed in its original form.
The silk from the Paithani is mulberry silk sourced from southern Karnataka, while the zari is sourced from Gujarat. The silk was originally dyed in Paithan itself with organic colours while the Sonarali and Jargalli settlements used to prepare the zari used in the saree.
The industry of Paithani was so important that the entire urban settlement of Paithan evolved around the various tasks involved in making the Paithani saree. Each part of the town has a specific name for the community which were involved in making the Paithani, such as the Saliwada, zargalli and Rangarrahati. The settlement pattern of Paithan also evolved according to the needs and requirements of these communities such as the dyer’s settlement was located near the river and the gold and zari workers settled in the central part of the town as it was the most secure.
Today, the Paithani is a dying art form due to its high price, exclusivity and the market being flooded with power loom copies. However, Paithanis are continuously evolving fabrics which are now being used as dress materials, pillowcases, bedcovers and even wall hangings. The traditional Maharashtrian bride still prefers to get married in a Paithani from Paithan, even preferring it to a Banarasi Shalu.