Initially Patola was the restricted as an attire worn only by royalty. It later developed into being woven into a sari, with lengths of 5 to 9 yards by 45" to 54" width. Patola is considered highly auspicious and when draped during important occasions is said to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.For this reason it is also kept in houses, usually framed, as a protective talisman.
Along with this traditional usage, Patola fabric has come to being used in contemporary attire and to make products like scarves, bed spreads etc.
The tie and dye work takes place on the yarn itself, before it is woven together. This means that the design exists solely in the craftsmen's mind until it emerges on the woven fabric. The designs are thus fascinatingly pre-determined on both and warp and weft yarns (double Ikat), which requires a high level of creativity, premeditation, concentration and skill.
Patola has traditionally been considered auspicious among certain Gujarati communities such as the Nagar Brahmins, Jains, Vohra Muslims and Kutchi Bhatias. During weddings, the couple's family often adorns this fabric as a sign of prosperity, religious feeling and traditional way of life. It is a garment portraying prestige and is even exchanged as bridal gifts. It is also believed to be a lucky charm. This aspect makes the bridegroom drape it around his shoulder or on the horse which he rides on during the wedding procession. The Patola fabric is also safely passed on as heirlooms across generations. When draped during the Simanta or Agharni ceremonies, which happen during the 7th month of pregnancy, Patola is believed to have the power of blessings, ward off evil and protect the wearer from misfortune.In Tenganan, on the island of Bali, fragments of Patola are considered magical and used in healing ceremonies along with locally woven Geringsing (also a double ikat textile).
This fabric was one of the main items of export to Indonesia and Malaysia. Patola's fame and reverence spread and it came to be a symbol of power and authority. They even attributed protective, curative and magical powers to this fascinating fabric. It was prominently used as a marker of their social status and economic standing.
Patola is highly lauded in Gujarati literature and folklore, from the 17th century poem 'Kunwarbai nu Mameru' to recent popular songs such as Chelaji Re. 'Padi Patole bhaat, phate pan fitey nahin' is a Gujarati saying which means 'the design in a Patola may tear, but it shall never fade'.
Myths & Legends
As recorded in religious epics like Ramayana and Narshinha Puran, the Patola fabric was used in crucial ceremonies. Raja Janak (1) had presented Patola to Sitaji and during the period of Krishna, Narsinha Mehta (2) gifted a Patola saree to Kunvarbai.
The great Moroccan traveller from Tangier 'Ibn Batuta' (3) used to get Patola fabric from Patan and gift it to the king of the kingdoms he visited. This is how the fabric became very famous in south-east Asia and it was exported to Indonesia and Malaysian kingdoms.
In Gujarat literature the earliest mention of patolas appears around the eleventh century. Patolas are also frequently mentioned in the Kunvar-bai-nu-Mameru of Narasimha Mehta, a fifteenth century court poet, by Premchand, a seventeenth century poet, and several others
The technique of Ikat weaving is one of the oldest textile decoration techniques in the world. The process consists of resist dyeing (normally by tie-dye) the warps and/or wefts before weaving. Though it has been practised in African, South American and Asian countries for centuries, the craft of 'double ikat' originated through the Patolas of Patan. To this day, it remains the best example of this skill.
The seeds Patola weaving were sown in Patan during the rule of King Kumarpal of the Solanki dynasty (1) around the 12th century AD. The king was a follower of Jainism.He would visit the Jain temples without fail to worship and would wear a new robe or 'Patolu' every time. One day, the temple priest barred Kumarpal from entering the temple by saying that his clothes were 'impure'. An inquiry into this led to the finding that the king of Jalna was exporting the fabric after first using them as bedspreads. Deeply offended, Kumarpal fought and defeated the ruler of Jalna and brought 700 Salvi craftsmen to Patan so that he could be assured of procuring unsullied fabrics. They settled in Patan and over time brought innovations to the fabric. Changes were made to the existing loom to accommodate two weavers. It also incorporated Gujarati sensibilities and designs from the surroundings of Patan.
The oldest evidence reflecting on the history of Patola is the frescoes at Ajanta and in Kerala wall paintings (2) of Mattancheri and Padmanabhaupurum palaces (17th centiery AD)
The patterns in the Patola fabric are inspired from nature and the local architecture. The carved stone panels of the 11th century (1) Rani ki Vav (Queens stepped well) in Patan have lent their designs to the elaborate fabric.
Patola patterns are very uniquely pixel like and geometric.The elephant (kunjar), flower (phul), girl (nari) and parrot (popat) (2) designs are very common in Patola saris worn by Gujarati women and the elephant and tiger motifs are considered particularly auspicious. The Pan Bhaat (Leaf Design) is one of the most frequent patterns. It is a motif indigenous to India and can be traced back as far as the pottery of the Indus Valley culture.
The popular and most used patterns are are Narikunjar, Ratanchawk, Navaratna, Voragaji, Chhabdi Bhat, Chokhta Bhat, Chanda Bhat, Pan Bhat, Phul Bhat, Laheriya Bhat, Tarliya Bhat, Zumar Bhat, Sankal Bhat, Diamond Bhat, Star Bhat, Butta Bhat, Sarvariya Bhat etc.
Different patterns and motifs of the Patola have different significances in different communities. For example, Vohra Gaji Bhaat is a favourite motif among the Vohra community, who are Ismaeli Shi'ite Muslims whereas the Jains prefer abstract and geometric motifs.
Patola is a craft which is both time,labour and skill intensive. Largely, the masses have started to look for faster alternatives. This has led to the arrival of cheaper, single Ikat imitations, thereby tainting the delicate craft of Patola. The cheaper versions have also brought about replacement of natural dyes with the chemical ones and less detailed motifs.
Merely four families in Patan still carry about this weaving. They are the last embers of the craftsmen who have surpassed the ongoing threats like high investment of time and money, low returns, and lack of interest for continuing the craft among the younger generations. Patola weaving now solely depends on a few patrons who understand the efforts and precision required to create the beautiful fabric.