‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness …’
Romantic poet John Keats was not referring to the Patan Patola when he penned these lines but the lines could just as well capture the timeless beauty of these silks from Patan in Gujarat.
Considered more precious than gold, the Patan Patola silk garment is an heirloom passed down generations of Indian households.
But despite its fame and unmatched aesthetic appeal, the craft of Double Ikat Patan Patola is dying because not many artisans are left to carry on the tradition.
Rahul Vinayak Salvi, on his Facebook page, claims he is the only weaver in the world among the younger generation who knows the genuine double ikat Patan Patola technique.
Salvi, who was in Dubai for a colloquium on the art organised by Gulf Saree Pact, tracing his family history said that of the 700 weaver families that migrated to Patan from Jhalna in southern Maharashtra in the 11th century during the time of Raja Kumarpal, only his family has continued the tradition over 35 generations.
At present, only Salvi and his paternal uncle, Bharatbhai Salvi, are involved in the intricate craft. One of his brothers is a doctor, another a civil engineer. He himself is an architect who quit his well-paying job in 2002 at the behest of his late father to continue with the family tradition.
Now all his hopes are pinned on his son, Vashisht Salvi, to pursue the craft, or it will be lost for ever, he says.
But why let it die? Why not train others to keep it alive? The master weaver says it’s all in the family and passed down from generation to generation. Further, Patan Patola has a rich tradition of using only imported Chinese mulberry silk and natural dyes, whereas those who earlier learnt the weaving techniques are passing off tacky locally sourced silk and using chemical dyes.
A full-length Patan Patola saree weighs just 450 grams and rest assured, anything that weighs more than 500 grams is a fake, Salvi says.
A Patan Patola can be handwashed, while a chemically dyed saree has to be dry cleaned. “A Patan Patola may tear over time, but it will never lose its colour,” he says showing a 200-year old saree which has retained its pristine resplendence.
What’s unique about Patan Patola?
The double ikat technique involves both warp and weft yarn resist dyed separately and woven on a slanted loom. At least two people are needed to work simultaneously and this would not be possible if a weaver works on the traditional loom.
It requires vivid imagination, precise calculations, undivided attention and patience to create a masterpiece, says Salvi.
Each square, line or pattern has to be perfect with no hazy edges. That makes a Patan Patola different from other ikats. The mulberry silk from China is durable and holds colours much better. And this double ikat is reversible, so it can be worn either way, Salvi explains.
4 monthsTime it takes to weave a double ikat sari
Though usually they use traditional patterns and motifs, some patterns are made only once in a weaver’s lifetime. You will have to shell out at least Rs500,000 for a double ikat Patan Patola saree that takes more than two and half years to make as no outside help is taken from scratch to finish. Plus, you have to travel all the way to Patan in Gujarat to buy one as it is not sold in any showroom or retail outlet.
Most double ikats take four to five months to weave, while a single ikat takes only 10 to 12 days, Salvi says.
That explains why it is worth more than gold ounce for ounce. For example, in 1926, a Patan Patola was sold for Rs120 when the gold price then was just Rs5 a tola, Salvi informs.
Salvi, who has been involved in this craft since 2000, set up a museum dedicated to this weaving tradition in Patola that attracts enthusiasts and connoisseurs from India and abroad.
What are the traditional patterns/motifs used?
They have mostly remained the same for centuries, says Salvi, such as Pan Bhat (peepal leaf), Rudraksh Bhat (a dried seed from the Himalayas), Nari Kunjar (elephant), Navratan Bhat (nine gem stones), Popat Bhat (parrot).
The most challenging work so far?
“It’s the Shikaar (Hunt) Bhat,” says Salvi. “We were commissioned by the government in 2003 to make a unique Patan Patola to commemorate a historic event. We made just nine pieces. It took us three and a half years to make those. We have one of those, while most of the rest are on display in several museums around the world. One thing I am certain of is, we will not attempt to make anything like that again. It was infinitely intricate process with designs of elephants, horses, camels, king and soldiers in a procession, with various other details woven in as well.”
Says Effie Thomas, Gulf Saree Pact founder, “At GSP, we have set of traditions. One is to host in Dubai craftsmen, historians or people involved in craft revivals and preservation, while ensuring to keep out traders, middlemen or profit-making corporations.
“Last year, we invited textile historian and revivalist Pavithra Muddaya and this year we have master weaver and owner of the Patan Patola Heritage museum, Rahul Salvi.
“We heard him speak at our annual colloquium and learnt the best India has to offer.
“We endeavour to create and strengthen a community of informed and empowered buyers while understanding the craft from its true keepers and set into motion a chain of events that result in fair trade, an ecological and genuine market that ultimately gives the weaver or the artisan his much-deserved respect and identity.
“Ikat is a very elaborate, time taking process and in present times due to lack of knowledge, thousands of fake products have spawned killing the true craft. It is to stem this trend and to promote true craft we have taken the initiative to invite Rahul Salvi to speak to our members. In these times, it becomes increasingly imperative to take time to understand and learn not just as individuals, but as a community, how to make an impact and difference.”
— Effie Thomas, Gulf Saree Pact founder.