A Sun Temple, A Queen’s Stepwell and a Saree for One | Patan, Gujarat – India

Rani ki Vav, the stepwell (baoli) in Patan
Rani ki Vav, the stepwell (baoli) in Patan

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. It is famous for the Patola saree, the exquisite Rani ki Vav stepwell and a Sun Temple in Modhera close by.

The Famed Patola Saree of Patan

Rohit Salvi (in background) weaving a Patola wall piece with his brother. A design is repeated only once in many years. The design for the wall piece that was work in progress when I visited was last used 150 years ago.
Rohit Salvi (in background) weaving a Patola wall piece with his brother. A design is repeated only once in many years. The design for the wall piece that was work in progress when I visited was last used 150 years ago.

The Patola saree is 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 settle 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 South-East 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.

Order Now, Delivery in Six 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.

Recommended Read
The Patola of Gujarat by Swiss writers Alfred Buhler and Eberhard Fischer. They took 34 years to complete this book in 1979. It may not be easy to locate the same though.

Contact
Patan Patola Heritage
Patolawala Salvivado, Patolawala Street,
Patan 384 265, Gujarat, India
Tel: +91.2766.232274 / 231369
Email: patanpatola@gmail.com
Web: http://patanpatola.com

A 300 year old piece on display
A 300 year old piece on display
The ‘tie and dye’ or Bandhani process
The ‘tie and dye’ or Bandhani process
A recently finished piece being displayed by the Salvis
A recently finished piece being displayed by the Salvis

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Rani ki Vav: A Stepwell or a Work of Art?

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Would you associate a reservoir of water with a work of art? In the case of Rani ki Vav in Patan in Gujarat, you certainly would.

It is one of the most intricately and beautifully carved structures you will come across. Stepwells were historically used not only as reservoirs for water, but also as a place to stay cool in the summers and a venue for social gatherings.

Credit for its construction goes to Udayamati, Queen (Rani) of the then ruler Bhimadeva I in the late 11th century. The latter’s father had founded the Solanki dynasty of Anahilwada Patan. Patan was the capital of Gujarat for over 600 years between the 8th-14th centuries. Its earlier names were Anahilwada, Naharwalah and Analavata and it lay on the left bank of the Saraswati river. The Rani ki Vav lies a wee bit off the Tropic of Cancer at 23 degrees and 51’ North of the Equator, 2 kms (1.2 miles) northwest of Patan town.

The stepwell is 64 metres long, 20 metres wide and 27 metres deep. Laid out in the east-west direction, with the well on the west end, its pillars hold up multi-layered pavilions. It was discovered only in the 1960s, lying buried with only the top showing. It has since been carefully restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. They have also developed well manicured lawns around it. Pity the stepwell is mostly dry, filling up only during the monsoons.

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Sun Temple Few Shine a Light On

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It may not be as famous as the Sun Temple in Konark in Orissa, but the one at Modhera near Patan is a gem in itself for its exquisite workmanship.

It was built on the banks of the Pushapati river during the reign of Bhimadeva I (1022 – 63 A.D.). The temple has three parts: a Surya Kund or a tank surrounded by many small temples, the Sabha Mandap or the general assembly hall and Guda Mandap or the main temple dedicated to Surya, the Sun God. The walls and pillars are marked with fine carvings including those of holy figures and animals; must have taken even the most skilled of workers a long time to complete it.

Visit the temple, relax and take in the peaceful environment – and think of the artisans who created this marvel. And spare a thought for the Sun, a natural marvel giving life to us all.

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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.

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