World's expensive sari makers fading away from Gujarat

World's expensive sari makers fading away from Gujarat

If you want the costliest and the best among saris, you will have to opt for  the Patola sari made in Patan in Gujarat.

Even in Gujarat, there are two types of Patola saris. The Rajkot Patola is only vertically-resist dyed (single ikat), while the Patan Patola is horizontally-resist dyed (double ikat). The yarn is resist dyed before it is used in weaving.

There are Patola saris made in other important textile towns, too, like Surat, Cuttack in Odisha and Pochampalli in Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad in Telangana, but Patan Patola is said to be the best of the lot. They are known for their flaming bright colours and geometric designs interspersed with folk motifs.

Centuries ago, the Salvi silk weavers from Maharashtra and Karnataka opted to make Gujarat the home for their renowned Patola fabrics. The Salvis are said to have arrived in Patan from Maharashtra and Karnataka in AD 1200. They made the most of the patronage of Solanki Rajputs, who then ruled all of Gujarat and parts of south Rajasthan and Malva with the capital at Anahilwad Patan.

According to folklore, 700 Patola weavers were in the employ of Raja Kumarapala of Patan, and the ruler himself wore a Patola silk robe. After the fall of Solanki dynasty, the Salvis found patronage in the affluent Gujarati merchants, and the Patola saris soon became a status symbol with Gujarati girls and women, especially as an important part of “streedhan” for the departing wedded daughter.

The Patola of Patan is done in the double ikat style, which is perhaps the most complicated of all textile designs in the world. Each fabric consists of a series of warp threads and a single weft thread, which binds the warp threads together. Each one of the warp threads is tied and dyed according to the pattern of the sari, such that the knotted portions of the thread do not catch the colours.

The result is not only a tremendous richness in colour of the fabric, but enables both sides of the sari look exactly alike, and can be worn either way. For a layman, a Patola looks like a piece of silk fabric, printed on both sides in the same design.

The weaving is done on simple traditional handlooms and the dyes used are made from vegetable extracts and other natural colours, which are so fast that there is a Gujarati saying that “the Patola will tear, but the colour will not fade.” There were four distinct styles in the Patolas woven originally in Gujarat by the Salvi community. The double ikat saris with patterns of flowers, parrots, dancing figures and elephants were used by the Jains and Hindus.

For the Muslim Vora community special saris with geometric and floral designs were woven for weddings. There were also Patola saris woven for the Maharashtrian Brahmins with a plain, dark-coloured body and borders with women and birds, called the Nari Kunj.

Then there was a cloth, specially woven for the traditional export markets in the Far East.
But even among the Patan Patolas, there is a special type of Patola sari known as Aashavali. There is a little village in north west Gujarat called Aashaval and it is home to the Aashavali Patola sari. Creating an Aashavali Patola is a very tedious and time-consuming job, as the weaving is done using the age-old technique of jalas.

Each classic Patola sari can survive for about 300 years and retain the colour. The saris take four to six months to make, with more than 70 days for the colouring of the silk threads, and about 25 days for the weaving. At least 500-600 gm of silk is required to make one Patola sari. The silk costs around Rs 2,000 a kg and the dye (per sari)
Rs 3,000. The cheapest Patola sari starts at Rs 1.5 lakh and takes almost two years for delivery.

A good Patola costs Rs 3 lakh. Their costliest sari cost Rs 7 lakh which depicts the procession of Siddh Hemgranth. At least 12 people work for over two years to make it using materials required for 27 normal Patola saris.

For people who do not want to spend that much they have options of dupattas (Rs 40,000 to 50,000) or handkerchiefs (Rs 3,000 to 4,000). But Patan Patola, a traditional form of silk textile that is more than 750 years old, is on the verge of extinction.

This extremely complex and time-consuming dyeing art is currently pursued by only four families in Gujarat -- the families of Kanubhai Mafatlal Salvi, Satish Chandra Kantilal Salvi, Sevantilal Lehar Chand Salvi and Vinayak Kantilal Salvi. All those who have got the privilege of handling Patola silk want artisans of Patan Patola to survive.

Some of the families are trying to keep the tradition alive, but are unsure of its eventual fate. Thanks to efforts by some of the textile scholars, now there is a growing market for the Patolas.

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