Needed: Weavers for Patan’s Patola
At a recent Diwali Bazaar in Delhi, a shop selling colourful Ikat saris added variety to the usual gotapatti and sequin-embroidered dresses on sale. “It’s a Patola. Made in Patan in Gujarat. ₹15,000,” the smiling old lady at the stall told buyers who stopped by.
If Rohit Salvi, the national award winning weaver from Patan had heard her, he would have shaken his head in disagreement. “Patola is a kind of double ikat handloom fabric. A sari costs upwards of ₹ 1.5 lakh. The ones that sell for ₹12-15,000 use a single ikat pattern and they’re not traditional Patola saris,” he would have said.
If the Rani Ki Vav is the pride of Patan, the other thing that this little Gujarat town can claim to have a national monopoly over, is the double ikat silk weave.
One of the walls at Patola House - a double storeyed space that acts as Rohit and his family’s workshop and an exhibition area, is covered with awards, letters of commendation and certificates of participation in exhibitions across the world received by various members of the family. In another section are displayed samples of various kinds of Ikat weave.
The story goes that Kumarpal, a ruler of Patan, was so fond of the Patola weave that he brought 700 families of weavers – who all shared the community’s last name of Salvi – from Maharashtra, where this weave had originated, to Patan. Another story connected with the weave is that an Indonesian king during a visit to India, saw the handloom here and was so mesmerized by its beauty that he took the art to his country with a decree that only allowed Indonesian royalty to wear this weave.
But over the years, in Patan, the number of traditional Patol weaver families has dwindled from 700 to just two or three. “There was a huge demand of Patola abroad and traders used to come via the Multan route. During the second world war the trade was disrupted and thus started the downfall of the weavers. Many preferred to take up jobs for an assured earning,” explains 63-year-old Bharat Kantilal Salvi, Rohit’s younger brother.
Now even though there is demand for the fabric, there aren’t enough weavers left, says Rohit’s nephew Rahul, a weaver and trained architect. He is the one who has designed Patola House. Two of his cousins are doctors and have nothing to do with the family trade. It’s time consuming work, and it is labour intensive. Multiple rounds of tie and dye are done before the weaving begins.
A short distance from Patola House is Patolawala Farm House, where another group of Salvi weavers are engaged in their traditional art. “We have 25 looms and 150 workers,” says Mehul Salvi. But many of them are from outside the community and first generation workers.
The shrinking Salvi hold over the trade has helped others in getting a foothold. Twenty-nine-year old Shyam Soni’s father learnt the art of Patola from a friend in the Salvi community and started Madhvi Handicrafts 35 years ago. Today the business – the Sonis have 18 looms and 75 employees working for them – is primarily managed by Shyam. The Sonis even have a GI tag for their Patola, though, like Rohit and his family, they also weave the cheaper single ikat for the mass market. But unlike the Salvis, who still use natural dyes for their fabric , Soni uses chemical colours. Royal patronage has given way to affluent new customers, but what is worrying is the loss of the traditional workforce.
The waning interest among traditional artisans is something Patola shares with Mashru – a handloom that was once woven across India but is today believed to be made only in Patan. Even here its production is shrinking. “Young not interested,” says Jagdish Khatri. His own son has a corporate job. His nephew runs a garment shop. “The number of looms have gone down to 30-35 from 250, three-four decades back,” he says. There are few like Maitik Khatri, a master-weaver who is putting his textile engineering degree to use by innovative uses – bags, shoes, interesting prints and embroidery. But few in this generation want to do the actual weaving. One reason for this, according to some, is because earnings are little compared to the work they put in - “ ₹100 a day after eight hours of eye-straining work” - says 68-year-old weaver, Sudhakar, whose daughter is a teacher and son has a corporate job.