If one could talk of a legend in weaves, Patola silks would be the very epitome of it. Once an exclusive inheritance of royalty and aristocracy, patola sarees were and still are a prized possession, worn exclusively on special occasions like vedic rituals and weddings. Patola sarees are considered sacred in a number of communities. These handwoven wonders are the product of months and years of tedious work and each piece in itself is unique as they can never be reproduced. Its immense value is not just because of its intricacy but also because of the tremendous amount of skill and perseverance that goes into making it.
Origin and history
A double ikat weave, Patola sarees originated in the town of Patan in Gujarat. It is postulated that 700 silk weavers of the Salvi caste of Karnataka and Maharashtra moved to Gujarat in the 12th century to acquire the patronage of the Solanki Rajputs, the ruling class of Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan at that time.
The rosewood sword shaped stick called the ‘Vi’, which is used for adjusting the yarns is where the Salvis get their name from. In fact, patola silks became so popular that even after the decline of the Solanki empire, it was a sign of social status amongst Gujarati women. It formed an essential part of the stridhan or the part of a bride’s property that she got from her own home.
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The first step involves tying of the yarn with cotton thread according to the pattern that has been decided. The tying of yarn is done by an experienced master artist as it is an intricate and time consuming process. Measurements can be as small as 1/100th of an inch and requires careful scrutiny. The yarn undergoes multiple cycles of tying and dyeing, following a specific order of colours. Displacement of even a single yarn can disturb the design arrangement and make the entire set of yarns redundant. Every colour has a unique place in the saree and the design has to be carefully aligned while weaving. Such intricacy requires extreme precision and patience. A unique feature of the Patola loom is that it is tilted to one side and requires two people to sit and work together on just one saree. It can take six months to a year or even more, depending on the length as well as the intricacy of the pattern to make one of these Patola sarees.
Both the warp and the weft thread are dyed in double ikat Patolas. This means the weaving process requires that much more concentration and precision. Even a tiny mistake can ruin the entire design. Because of the unique technique, Patola sarees are reversible and look exactly the same on both sides. Often, even the weaver cannot tell the difference. They are also quite popular for their vibrant colours and geometric motifs.
Patola sarees make use of natural dyes like catechu, cochineal, indigo, turmeric, natural lakh, harde, madder roots, manjistha, ratnajyot, katha, kesudo, pomegranate skin, henna, marigold flower, etc in the colouring process. Alum, copper sulphate, ferrous sulphate, tin chloride, potassium dichromate and other mordents are also used, the result of which is vibrant colours dominated by patterns of bright red, dark green and yellow.
Be it the Jains, Hindus or Muslims, every community added its own value to the Patola silk. While the Jains prefer abstract designs and geometric patterns, the Ismaeli Shi’ite Muslims prefer the Vohra Gaji Bhaat and Gujarati Hindu women prefer the elephant, flower, girl, parrot and paan designs.
Based on their origin, there are essentially two varieties of Patola sarees – the Rajkot Patola and the Patan Patola. Rajkot Patolas are single ikat weaves that are vertically resist-dyed, while Patal Patolas are double ikat weaves that are horizontally resist-dyed. Needlessly to say, Patan Patolas are far more expensive as they are touted to be the most complicated textile design in the world. Both sides of the fabric have the exact same design and hence, you can wear a Patan Patola either way.
Patola sarees today
The biggest patrons of Patola are foreign nationals and non-resident Indians. Kanhaiyalal Salvi, a legendary Patola weaver has taught weaving techniques to students at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Surajkund Mela in Haryana, Crafts Museum in Delhi, Honolulu Academy of Arts in the US and even to former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife on their visit to India some years ago! His works have been on display at the Festivals of India held in Japan and the USSR.
Smriti Irani’s #IWearHandloom was one of the first events to rekindle interest in the beautiful Patola weave. Many Indian designers work tirelessly to revive ancient and valuable Indian handicrafts and Patola tops the list. This elusive art form has transcribed to shawls, scarves and dupattas to make them palatable to a wider audience. Designer Gaurang Shah credits weavers for vibrant Patola silks and has gone on to showcase this art at many of his shows. Bollywood beauties have jumped onto the bandwagon and have forged full force ahead to save this ancient art form.
Current state of the art
An interesting fact is that currently there are only four families that pursue the beautiful craft of Patola weaving. This highly prized craft is a closely guarded secret that is taught to just the sons of the family. A small number of hands working makes this a tediously long process. Even though the artists are packed with orders for the next couple of years, issues of investment, time and disinterest of the younger generation makes the survival of the craft very difficult. Coupled with cheaper, single ikat Patola imitations flooding the market and jarring chemical dyes that are replacing natural dyes, genuine Patola is dying out.
While Patola weavers prophesy that this art will die out in another 20 years in the face of many difficulties, it would be a shame to let something so seamlessly intricate and beautiful be lost. Patola silks are highly appreciated abroad, but their importance has yet to be identified within the country and the younger generation has to be educated in the preservation of such heritage crafts. Online portals like Craftsvilla have once more opened the wonderful world of Patola silks to one and all. Available in a variety of designs and hues, one can now become the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind Patola saree.
Each saree is priced at Rs.150,000 to Rs.300,000 and this makes Patola sarees part of an exclusive club. If that is too hefty a sum, you can always buy a Patola dupatta for approximately Rs.50,000.
- The mark of a genuine Patola is that even after heavy wear and tear the colour never fades, making it ideal heirloom material. The colours are said to last upto 300 years!
- Patola sarees are only made of silk as weavers consider cotton a waste for such a precious handloom.
- The price is also a key identifier for a handloom Patola saree. If the saree costs under Rs.1,00,000 you might just be buying a fake.
It is best to dry clean a Patola saree and store it in a saree bag. Do not use detergents on the saree or let it be exposed to harsh sunlight.
Shop the Patola saree collection.
Image credit: Shutterstock
|KNOW YOUR CRAFT: PATOLA
|Technique||Handloom||Distinguishing factor||Reversible with the exact same pattern on both sides|
|Place of origin||Patan, Gujarat||Materials used||Silk and natural dyes|
|Manufacturing hubs||Patan, Gujarat for double ikat weave; Rajkot, Gujarat for single ikat weave||Time taken to weave||6 months to a year depending on length and complexity of design|
|Type of fabric||Silk||Varieties||Patan Patola and Rajkot Patola|
|Colours||Bright colours like red, dark green, yellow||Price||Rs.150,000 to Rs.300,000|
|Motifs||Geometric patterns as well as elephant, flower, girl, parrot and paan designs||Care||Dry clean and store in a saree bag|