If you want to gift your lady an authentic Patola saree, then be prepared to wait for years before you get one. For it is made by hand only in Patan in Gujarat, and orders take years to be delivered. Did we mention it makes this garment a little pricey too? If you didn’t know any better, you would drive by the dusty town of Patan in Gujarat and miss fascinating nuggets of history and culture going back centuries. Including the famed Patola saree, perhaps the most coveted dress an Indian woman’s vanity could aspire for. While the mass produced ones are easily available, the original art is practiced by only one family in the country.
Back in the 11th century, 700 families were engaged in Patola art under the patronage of the Solanki kings who ruled from Patan. They were invited to migrate from Jalna in south Maharashtra and settled here.
Patola was always coveted — a popular folk song sung by women for their traveling husbands in Gujarat, goes “Chhelaji re, mare hatu Patan thi Patola mongha lavjo” translating to, “O my dear! Do bring the precious Patola from Patan for me.” A further testimony to their value: traveller Ibn Batuta presented kings with Patolas to gain their friendship. These also found their way to Malaysia, Indonesia and other SouthEast Asian countries as dress fabric and decorative material.
Unfortunately, many artisans migrated or sought alternate professions over time, and the art has since then become near extinct. But the Salvis have hung in there as the last outpost of this tradition. On the same plot of land in Patan for over 900 years.
Go to Patan, and just ask for the Patola workshop and everyone will direct you to Rohit Salvi’s house.
Watching him weave a saree tells you why it is so highly valued. One 6-yard long saree takes 4-6 months to make. Two Salvis manage to progress only 8-9 inches a day on a cloth 48 inches wide. The finished product sells for Rs. 1,50,000 – 4,00,000 (US$ 3,000 – 8,000 in 2012). Willing to make an investment?
Wait for six years for delivery – the Salvis are booked till then. But prices agreed upon today will remain unchanged. If you get it any cheaper elsewhere, it may not be a true Patola.
Weaving is done on a slanting hand operated harness loom made of teakwood and bamboo strips. Rohit Salvi says anyone who claims to make Patola is not doing it the true and original way. Their technique is called ‘Double Ikat,’ others follow ‘Single Ikat.’ Patola art involves colouring silk threads by ‘tie and dye’ or Bandhani method when the desired pattern is created before the weaving stage. You have got to see it to understand this. And there is no reverse side — both sides have the same intensity of colour and design.
Natural vegetable dyes are used; some raw materials include turmeric, marigold flowers, onion skin, pomegranate bark, madder, lac, catechu, cochineal and indigo. True Patola comes with the promise of its colours lasting hundreds of years even if the fabric tears. A framed piece on the wall was 300 years old. A Gujarat poet wrote, “Padi patole bhat faatey pan phite nahin” meaning, “the design of Patola may be torn, but it shall never fade.”
Can’t non-family members be trained to make Patola? Rohit Salvi says they trained some, but they turned art into imitation. Will Patola art die after Rohit Salvi’s generation? He is confident the baton will continue to be passed for many more generations. We certainly hope so.
Patan: Travel Tips
* Getting there: Patan is located about 125 kms (78 miles) and Modhera is about 100 kms (62 miles) from state capital Ahmedabad.
* Accommodation: You may not find comfortable stay options here – best to visit on a day tour from Ahmedabad or Dasada in the Little Rann of Kutch.
* Best time to visit: October to March. You can go any other time too if you don’t mind the heat or the rain in the summer and monsoon months respectively.