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PATOLA One of the most complex techniques for creating multicolored patterning is the double ikat, in which warp and weft are tied and dyed in three to four colors, then woven so that the weft pattern is synchronized perfectly with the warp. There are only two countries where double ikat is woven: India and Indonesia. The finest double ikat is woven in Patan, Gujarat, by the Salvi community and is known as Patan patola; the others are the Vachitrapuri saktapar pattern in Orissa, known as bandha, and rare examples of Tilia Rumal in Andhra Pradesh. In Indonesia it appears as the sacred gringsing, woven in Tenganan in Bali.

From a study of ancient murals, it may be concluded that ikat was practiced throughout southern India. Sarongs with ikat technique were found in the Ajanta cave murals (6th–7th century a.d.) and later noted in the temple murals of Kerala. The murals of Mattancheri Palace in Cochin (16th century) depict patola. Literary references to double ikat do not occur prior to the fourteenth century, when Ibn Batuta mentions that Sultan Alaʾ-ud-Din Muhammad Khalji (r. 1296–1326) received a patola from Deogiri. Malayan Annals refer to cendai, a Malayan word for Indian patola from an earlier date. The oral tradition of the Salvis implies that the technique had evolved in the Deccan. The Salvis were Jains originally belonging to the Digambara sect, which dominated in southern India. They traveled with their family Trithankara. After moving to Patan they converted to the Swetambara tradition and covered the Trithankara with a brass sheet. Another factor that supports this assumption is that Patan is the only center in north India where ikat was practiced, while single ikat was widely used throughout the Deccan, specially for ritual purposes.


The complex technique of tying is carried out by masters by first degumming the silk and preparing the warp thread. The warp is divided into bunches, then stretched in preparation for tying. A grid is prepared, using coal dust, and the border and cross border are demarcated. The outline of the pattern is tied down, along with those areas that are to be dyed a specific color. First the lightest color, generally yellow, is dyed. The areas that are to remain yellow and green are tied and those areas that are to be blue are opened and immersed in blue dye. The ties in areas that are to be green are opened when the threads are dyed with blue. In fact, when a pure color is to be obtained without any hues of the previous dye, the original ties are opened. Using a highly complex system of tying, dyeing, reopening, dyeing, and retying, the complete design is achieved.

After completing the dyeing of the warp and weft, the warp is stretched on the loom, where the warp beam is placed at an angle. The warp is approximately 49 to 59 feet (15 to 18 m) in length for weaving three saris. The tie-dyed weft is reeled into bobbins and placed in the shuttle. The fabric is a simple plain weave; two people, often husband and wife, sit and weave the sari. The weft thread is thrown across, and the weavers check both ends to see that the threads have matched the end border of colored stripes, as it is not possible to create patterns at the end. Further adjustments of the weft are made with a long needle, so that it lies exactly on the matching color of the warp. The weavers' aim is to create as perfect a line as possible and to prevent blurring of the outline. The weavers of Patan are known for their meticulous precision.

Ceremonial Use

The use of patola was essential in the ceremonies of well-to-do communities, supposedly providing magical powers of protection against evil. Except for Surat's Bora community, it was not used by the bride, but was worn by the mother of the bride at the most important part of the wedding, kanya-dan (bestowing of the virgin). Patola was worn by an expectant mother at the simanth ceremony, for the seventh month of pregnancy, to protect the mother and the unborn child. In some cases, the bridegroom wore a sash of patola as protection against the evil eye.

The patola was never discarded. Worn-out saris were used to make a quilted wrapper for a newborn baby; rags of old patola were tucked into the cradle for protection. The lamp wick for the newborn baby was made from old pieces of patola, so that the child's vision would be pure.

The use of patola in India outside Gujarat is found only in Kerala. Known as virali pattu, it was used by priests in the worship of the Mother Goddess Badrakali, and it was painted as a powerful symbol on temple murals, as well as at Cochin's Mattancheri palace. Cochin, the entrepôt of India's spice trade, was the center from which patolas traveled to Southeast Asia, where they became an important part of ceremonies and rituals. Known in Malaysia and Java as cendai, it was an essential part of the dress of royal couples and was used as hangings for rituals and as canopies for processions. An extraordinary patola made for the Indonesian market has a repeat of two pairs of juxtaposed large elephants, with foot soldiers, horseback riders, lions, and chariot. In the covered howdah (seat), the elephant's mahout (driver) is seated in the front, holding an ankush, or elephant ear hook. Behind him is the seated king with a flower in his hand and possibly a huqa (smoking pipe), a typical portrayal of royalty. These ceremonial cloths, which were found at Toraja, have been carbon-dated to the fifteenth or sixteenth century.

A popular pattern for export was a circle of lotus flowers, buds, and leaves. Known in Gujarat as chabardi bhat (basket design), it was associated with fertility and was used in the wedding ceremony. This pattern was copied in single ikat and batik throughout Indonesia. Patolas in Southeast Asia were considered the "wealth" of women. In some areas, particularly in Sumba, the burial of a head of a family could take place only when the body was covered with a number of patolas.

The Patan patola has a market as a speciality sari throughout India. Three families of Salvis continue this work, which remains distinctive; though the ikat weavers of Poochampalli imitate the Patan patola, to the discerning viewer their work remains a pale copy of the original.

Jasleen Dhamija

See alsoTextiles: Early Painted and Printed


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