As being Gujarati, from childhood I am hearing folk song ‘Chhelaji Re Mare Hatu Patan thi Patola Mongha Lavjo’ means ‘O my dear, Do Bring the Precious Patola Sari from Patan for me’!. As like this song, charm and fame of hand-woven Patola is also same today.
India has rich ancient heritage in textiles. The double Ikkat Patola Sarees of Patan also glorifies the heritage in terms of gorgeous colors, design and durability. Each and every thread is individually colored and put together to obtain beautiful design, so that not a single piece can be reproduced due to intricacy of work. It is not just an ordinary Sari after all; it tops the handicraft in the world. It is epitome of luxury as tremendous hard work and skills goes in making it.
History behind Patola:
A double Ikat weave, Patola saris originated in the town of Patan in Gujarat; former capital of Gujarat. It is believed that the 12th century ruler, King Kumarpal of solanki dynasty used to wear Patola silk for his daily worship. He was wearing new Patola silk as Dhoti everyday which was supplied from the parts of Mahrashtra to Patan. The silk weavers of the salvi caste from the Maharashtra were involved in weaving it.
After that when the King conquered the parts of Maharashtra, he had invited all 700 silk weavers living in Jalna, Maharshtra to come and settle down in Patan, Gujarat. From that time onward Patolas are made in Patan only. The King Kumar Pal popularized Patolas by donning them for all festivities and significant occasions. After the decline of Solanki Empire, Patola silk became popular among Gujarati women as a sign of rich social status.Today only three Salvi families are involved in this precious Patola weaving art.
As I moved from Rani ki Vav towards Main cross-road, modern building grabbed my attention. The building named as ‘Patola Museum’; unfortunately it was closed at that time and I inquired for Patola weaving workshop. The museum is dedicated to familiarize the tourists for Patola making process.
The road beside the Patola museum led towards the workshop of one of the Salvi family. I was keen to understand how they do this complex process.
Difficult Weaving Process:
As I saw, it was about forming and arranging threads, tyeing and dyeing and then adjusting it on yarn to weave majestic Patola. As it looks simple; but it is the most complicated process I ever seen.
First of all, design graph is made as per the requirement of customer or designer. Then comes to choose the thread. Mostly Patolas are made using silk thread as cotton fade away with the time. They are generally imported from Bangalore or china.
These threads are set in particular number like six threads or eight threads to make weft. After that knots of cotton thread are made on warp and weft as per the pattern decided. The tying is done by experienced master artist as it involves intricate complex process. The pre calculation of where the dye should come on the warp/weft, for it to accurately form an overlap with the same or different colored stretch on the second weft/warp to weave a majestic textile called double Ikkat fabric. What a genius mind the artists have!!
After making knots on warp and weft, it undergoes multiple processes of dye and tie following specific orders of colours. The tied portion is meant to remain unexposed to the color while dyeing. United portion, which has absorbed one colour, may be tied while dyeing in another color. Tying, untying, re-tying and dyeing in different shades are the main features of this process.
After completion of dyeing work,it put together in a sequence on the loom and threads are separated using needle so that the design becomes visible. The process is highly laborious, time-consuming and requires a high amount of skills, precision and patience. Even a smallest mistake will make design unfinished.
The unique feature of the sari is that three differently skilled craftsmen work on one sari; they can weave just about 8 to 9 inch in a day. It can take six months to a year depending on the length and intricacy of design to make one Patola Saree.
The person at workshop led us towards a room where dyes were stored. He informed that natural colours are made out of natural resources and plants like indigo, kesudo, pomegranate skin, turmeric, henna, marigold flower etc. Today modern chemical dyes are also used to make rich vibrant colours like red, dark green etc due to cost and efficiency concerns.
A gujarati folk song “Padi Patola Bhat,Fatey Pan Fite Nai’ (means Patola can tear off but its design will not); that shows the richness of the colour and design that is used in Patola. Each saree can survive over century without losing colour and grandeur!!!
The designs that were used during King Kumarpal are still alive today in making Patolas. Be it the Jains, Hindus or Muslims, every community added its own value to the Patola silk. While the Jains prefer geometric patterns, the Bohra Muslims prefer the Vohra Gaji Bhaat and Gujarati Hindu women prefer the elephant, flower, parrot and Paan designs.
Speciality of Patola:
Both the warp and the weft thread are dyed in double ikat Patolas. Because of the unique technique, Patola sarees are reversible and look exactly the same on both sides. Both the sides have same colour and design; you can wear it on either way. Hence it is said to be most complicated textile design in the world.
Patola Sarees and Art Today:
This precious Patola saree is priced at INR 100000-150000 and up which makes it favourite among celebrities and their designers. Designer Gaurang Shah Showcase this art at many of his shows. This declining art form has transcribed to shawls, scarves, duppatas and handkerchief to introduce among wider audience.
As Patola being a precious piece, ordinary people cannot afford to buy it. Today single ikkat Patola imitations are flooded in market with chemicals dyes that is replacing natural dyes which is threatening to genuine Patola weaving art. There aren’t many weavers who are expert at this art and few numbers of weavers make the weaving process tedious and long. The younger generations has to be trained in preservation of such beautiful and heritage crafts.
But despite of so many facts, till today Patola remains priced possession in women’s wardrobe.