• Harshita Chaarag

The Patola House of Patan; An art as old as the Silk Route

Updated: Mar 30

In the rather rustic, yet charming town of Patan, the ancient Capital of Gujarat, lies the Patola House. Located in the heart of the town, it is easily accessible and is a beautiful building. Yet, that is not what the House is famous for. If a lady is asked, "What's your dream silk sari?" The response tends to be a Patola sari. These works of art are made here and cost upwards of 1 lac and therefore coveted worldwide. This is what makes the Patola House special.

One may ask, "What's all the hue and cry about?" Let's just say it's because of the hue of the shades in the sarees and the tears that are cried trying to weave them. But here’s an explanation to help you understand better.

Back in the 12th Century, a group of 700 families from Patan began importing Chinese Silk and after some processing, weaving beautiful sarees of mastery. The amazement of these were compounded by the fact that every piece was of a double ikat, meaning, both sides were equally coloured and each pattern was replicated symmetrically on each side. This is still the case, in modern times. Using a huge loom, working tirelessly, Patola sarees are now weaven in the Patola House, on order. If one was to take the time to visit them, astoundment is bound to occur. Not only are the display items wondrous, the story that unfolds is eye-watering.

The only raw material bought for the sarees is Chinese Silk, which is unprocessed. The silk is coarse and white. The thing that needs to be noted here, is that once an order for a saree is placed, of one of the few preset options, it takes 4-6 months to weave it. Once the silk is brought in, it is spun through wheels to make it fine. Through a continuous tie and dye process each thread is coloured individually as per the design of the saree. Depending on the design, sections of the thread are blocked out by tying thread over them to stop the unwanted areas from being coloured. The fine threads are dyed prematurely and set on a frame, to confirm the pattern. This is done by connecting the threads.

Once the silk is deemed fit, it is unravelled and re-spun, so that dyed thread is ready to be strung onto the weave. The weave in itself is an enormous, hand worked machine. The thread is strung in an optimal manner and weaving begins. It takes 4 people working together, a whole day's work to weave a simple 6 to 8 inch segment. The process is also punctuated by the precise rearrangement of threads as they get jostled and moved on the loom. Thus, the weaving is completed and after a final inspection, the product is delivered.

This is what a patola loom looks like. The patrons at the Patola House do not normally allow visitors to take pictures. Fortunately, after tons of grovelling, they agreed.

The museum at the ground floor shows the entire process in the form of photographs. One may find that the photographs are all of 1 family. This is because in the years until now, only one family has persisted in the art. The cost of labour and raw material justifies the aforementioned cost. Upon moving into the museum, one notices that a lot of sarees have been displayed, although they all have some aberration. Be it that they are single ikat or have faults in the doubles, they are all different. This is because each of these are attempts by other countries to replicate the Patolas, which failed. Thus, the Patola is a unique art.

Another striking fact about the sarees is that their colour hardly fades. At the Patola House, one may see samples from 100, 200 and 300 years ago whose colour is just as intact. It is seen that the first two are hardly different. The third was slightly off colour but it was more like a sepia tone than tarnish. It is said, 'Patola may be torn, but it won't lose colour'. This was proven when we saw a 300 year old Patola that was indeed torn, but the colour of the saree remained intact.

Near the samples, one may find that old invoices of Patola sarees from the late 1860's and onward can be seen. One such invoice from the mid-1930s is wonderous because it shows the cost of Patolas at that time which was 48 times that of Gold.

Some would look at the museum and walk away yet there's another, smaller wonder in the Patola House. On the first floor sits a corner where one may see paper carvings. Top quality paper is stencilled by hand and cut using refined tools. Extreme precision is taken to make these carvings with delicacy. The maestro behind this task is one Mr. Narendra Jadiya.

Mr. Narendra Jadiya

One paper carving by Mr. Jadiya

The art was passed on to him by his father, Ramprasad Jadiya. The delicate handiwork of their hands can be viewed from within glass panels. They shows figures of Gods, nature and even visual puzzles. The intricacy of this art is almost as hard as that of Patolas. The quality of paper used is also long lasting, with the oldest sample being 200 years old.

It is a must to see the display of the paper carvings because they are breathtaking. Even these are ranged from ₹500-5,00,000 in cost, depending on what is desired.

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