“Chelajire Mare Mate Patan Thi Patola Mohnga Lavjo”(Bring me an expensive Patola from Patan),goes an old Gujarati song.In fact,the fascination of Patola Saris,mentioned in mythology,is now on the verge of extinction.
The saree gets its distinct look from the use of raw silk and organic colours.The weaver draws floral and or animal motifs into paper, tying warp and weft into knots and dyeing it with organic dyes.
Not only is this saree exquisite, but it also has a historic importance to it. In eleventh century, Raja Kumarapal of Solanki dynasty brought 700 weavers to Patan from Jhalna,the hub of ikat (Ikat, or Ikkat, is a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles that employs a resist dyeing process similar to tie-dye on either the warp or weft fibres).
According to a folklore, the king used to wear robes made out of this Patola fabric each day for worship as it was considered a holy cloth with supernatural powers to ward off evil, bad luck.
The saree uses double ikat weave considered as one of the most complicated textile designs of the world. A double ikat involves dyeing both warp and weft.And the dyeing involves tying, knotting, stitching or using wax with a hawk eyed precision to prevent the dye from bleeding onto entire cloth. This process acts as a differentiator between motif and field of saree. Each Patola is reincarnation of luxury and speaks of visual finesse.
Patan, the birthplace of these exquisite Patola sarees is roughly five hour drive from Gandhinagar. The art,known to hundreds in the past,is now known just to Salvi family who has managed to pass this ‘secret’ of weaving from generation to generation.
This family collectively makes only about 4-5 sarees every year. The cost of each work runs in lakhs,minimum price tag being Rs 3.5 lakh. Originally this saree was woven in four distinct styles according to communities – Jains and Hindus, dancing figures, elephants, flowers and parrots formed the design.
For Muslims ,these sarees were woven with geometric and floral designs and for Maharastrian Brahmins they contained dark color body with borders carrying birds.
The designs act as symbolism in this saree. The geometric square forms core of saree representing security whereas floral and animal motif represents luck. Salvis use dyes made of turmeric, marigold, onion, pomegranate bark, lac and indigo. It is then bordered with a slim zari to give it that rich look.
It takes four to six months to make one saree; and it takes at least seven to eight years to learn. Though there are other patolas in India,none can match the beauty,clarity and design of Patan Patola.
The authentic Patola contains autograph,weaver’s name and date of completion. These authentic Patolas are not available in the market and have to be ordered from Salvi’s residence or on their website. Affluent Gujarati and Maharastrian families make 90 percent of the order and the remaining 10 percent is made by private museums or collectors.
Queen Elizabeth, on her visit bought two sarees.Both are hanging on the framed walls of the Swiss and London museums. However now the fate of this rich, exquisite weave hangs in limbo as Salvi’s find it tough to market them. Even they somehow manage to rev up the market, the talent crunch in weaving impacts their production. The Ministry of textile and private entrepreneurs are working to “add a contemporary touch” to several Indian weaves and textile.This runs the risk of robbing the basic essence of Patola saree. The Salvi’s on the other hand,want to regain Patola in its purest form without turning it to skirts and gowns.
Given its rarity, NID Ahmedabad has made a recommendation recently to include it in UNESCO’s global list of intangible cultural heritage. It’s time to get your hands on to them before it can only be seen adorning walls of some museum.