Patola is the name of the silk saris unique to Patan. One version of the Patola legend is that King Kumarpal (12th century) commissioned Patola robes from Jaina (South Maharashtra), a new one for every daily puja. When he learned the King of Jaina was sending him used clothes, he went to the south to attack and defeat the southern ruler. He brought back 700 Patola weaver families to Patan. Of those families, only the Salvis continue the craft today.
Patola is one of the most difficult forms of weaving in the world. It uses a double ikkat style where the warp and weft threads are dyed meticulously before weaving, according to a pre-designed pattern. The weaver then aligns them perfectly on the loom, which naturally creates a unique combination of geometric delineation with soft hazy outlines. Besides in Patan, double ikkat is used only in Bali, Indonesia. It is said that an Indonesian king visited India, was awed by the Patola craft, and took it back to his land saying that only Indonesian royalty would be allowed to wear it
The saris take 4-6 months to make, with more than 70 days for the coloring of the silk threads, and about 25 days for the weaving. They come in four styles: 1) for the Jains and Hindus, with flowers, parrots, elephants, and dancing figures, 2) for the Muslim Bohras, with geometric and floral design, to be used at weddings, 3) for Maharashtrian Brahmins, in solid dark colors bordered with designs of women and birds, called Nari Kunj, and 4) for traditional export markets in the Far East. Immense dexterity is required of the dyer, for visualizing the pattern of dyeing, especially for the weft threads which are woven in zigzag, and also of the weaver, for working at an even pace, so that the warp and weft meet at precisely the right place without breaking the silk threads. These extreme levels of craftsmanship give Patola artists enough reason to put a high price on their work, and to guard closely their patterns as a trade secret.
To watch the masters of the craft at work, or order your own piece, visit Vinayak and Bharat Salvi at Patan Patola Heritage +91 2766 231369, Patolawala Salvivado, Patolawala St. or Ashok Salvi at Patolawala Farm House +91 2766 232172, outside Phatipal Gate. The price of saris start at Rs. 90,000. There are also smaller scarves available, starting at Rs. 5000.
How to get there
By road: Intercity buses from Ahmedabad to Patan take 3.5 hours, and 1 hour from Mehsana. Shared jeeps are slightly quicker, but less comfortable.
By rail: The train can take you as far as Mehsana (1.5 hours). From there you will need to catch a bus to Patan.
By air: Nearest airport is Ahmedabad.