As I entered the room, the ‘click-clack, click-clack’ sound of the traditional handloom filled my ears. That huge setup and the intricate colorful design on the fabric was a pleasing sight to watch. The master weavers, Vinodbhai and his wife were completely engrossed in weaving beautiful and delicate patterns. Each of the warp threads were being tied and dyed with such precision and skill that I found it incredibly amazing. Such is the exclusive creation of the ‘Queen of Silks’: Patola Saris. [caption id="attachment_6126" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Vinodbhai and his wife engrossed in making the beautiful Patola sari[/caption][caption id="attachment_6127" align="aligncenter" width="850"] The handloom for weaving the Patola[/caption]Royal and Envious HistoryThis art dates back to as early as the 11th century. Patola, has been one of the major export elements to Southeast Asia and the Dutch Indies. In the Malayan archipelago, it even derived a name for itself. It was called Mengikat there, a title later shortened by the Indonesians to Ikat which became the internationally accepted nomenclature for this fabric.It was Gujarat’s Solanki royal family who invited weavers from Jalna centuries back, now in the state of Maharashtra to settle in Patan and explore the full potential of the weave construction. This is how Patola gained its popularity right from that point. Here changes were also made on the existing looms requiring two people to operate it and the creativity of the Patola incorporated Gujarti sensibilities and design variations. And today it is the Salvi family at Patan that has kept this traditional weaving Patola art alive.The Making of the Most Beautiful TextileThis is the ‘Double Ikat’ craft form as practiced in Patan, a district in North Gujarat. What does ‘Double Ikat’ stand for? It is the technique of dying both the warp and weft before weaving. This craft is also practiced in various other districts of Gujarat. I was lucky enough to witness its making in the Surendranagar district. From what my eyes saw, it can be undoubtedly said that its making is a very creative and labor-intensive process. One, who owns this treasured possession, is actually holding the work of art which took almost 3-6 months in its creation.Using natural dyes like catechu, cochineal, indigo, turmeric, Natural Lakh, Harde, madder roots, manjistha, ratnajyot, katha, kesudo, pomegranate skin, henna, marigold flower, etc to display vibrant colors in the silk sari or fabric has become one of the major processes these days. Alum, copper sulphate, ferrous sulphate, tin chloride, potassium dichromate and other mordents are also used in the dyeing process.The weaving process is so complex that various members from the same family work altogether for months at a stretch and then are they able to produce this famed piece of beauty. The time taken to weave it depends totally upon the how intricate is the design and pattern. Both sides of the Patola have the same look and feel which perhaps makes this textile so unique.Some Interesting Facts about Patolas that might end up astounding you
- The great Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta presented kings with Patolas so as to develop good relations with them.
- A design of the real and true Patola is repeated only once in many years.
- True Patola promises to last for hundreds of years even if the fabric tears.
- One of the notable pieces that describes this art in-depth: The Patola of Gujarat by Swiss writers Alfred Buhler and Eberhard Fischer. It took 34 years to complete the book.
- At present, the Salvi family in Patan is regarded as one of the few authentic traditional makers of Patola. For over 900 years, generations of this family have been involved in this craft.
- These Saris are regarded as status symbols, considering the sky-high prices. So if you possess one, it indeed is a matter of great pride.
- Patola, right from its very beginning has held a supreme place. This is quite apparent in the folk song, which the Gujarati women used to sing for their husbands who would keep on travelling all the time: “Chhelaji re, mare hatu Patan thi Patola mongha lavjo.” (“O my dear! Do bring the precious Patola from Patan for me.”)
- It is believed that in Bali, Indonesia, Patola was considered to be a magic cloth that would protect soldiers in battle and from evil and bad health.