Patan Patola, a traditional form of silk textile that is more than 750 years old, is on the verge of extinction. This ‘dyeing’ art is currently pursued by only four families in Gujarat. Can it be saved and can production of this kind of intricate silk textile be encouraged by people living in Patan? Will the protection of this tradition under Geographical Indications help these producers in commanding a better premium in the market place and thus attract more workers and producers to this tradition? What are the problems that SRISTI faced while trying to bring these families together to protect this tradition? What are the lessons that others wanting to extend similar support to other traditional, regionally known and reputed products (agriculture or otherwise), can draw from the experience of SRISTI? Efforts have been made to address some of these issues in this article.
SRISTI initiated the process of documentation of the patola tradition a few years ago. Some students from IIMA also studied various implications of Geographical Indications (GI) for preserving the Patan patola tradition, as a part of their course. Recently, all the four families that are currently involved in practicing this art were invited by SRISTI to a meeting held at IIMA. The purpose of this meeting was to evolve an association so that they could take responsibility for protecting their traditional skills, rights and markets. Prior to this, all the documents related to GI protection were sent to them so that they could familiarize themselves with the subject. It was apparent that application of GI not only required establishing a link between the production process and the natural and human factor in the region where the tradition has evolved or continued, but also creating a body that will protect GI in future. SRISTI also wrote to the Gujarat government so that it could, if it wished, take initiative in this matter. SRISTI would help in preparing the case and pursuing the matter with a pro bono legal firm willing to help in filing the GI. However, the responsibility for maintaining the tradition and enforcing GI would rest on the shoulders of the four families collectively. GI cannot be protected by one or two producers. It is a collective right and has to be protected in that manner. However, consensus on what constitutes the collective tradition of Patan patola and how it should be managed still remains to be achieved. Meanwhile, the Gujarat government has also shown interest in supporting the process.
Historical context of Patan patola
Patan, founded by Vanraj Chavda in 746 AD, is situated 130 kilometres from Ahmedabad on the banks of the River Saraswati. It was the capital of Gujarat f r o m 746 AD t o 1 4 1 1 A D . Three major Rajput clans the Chavadas ( 7 4 6 - 942AD), Solankis (942-1244 AD) and Vaghelas (1244-1304AD) — ruled from here. The Solanki rule is considered as the golden age; prosperity peaked during the reign of King Kumarpal. Patan became a centre of patola weaving during his reign (1143-1173AD). Kumarpal had deep respect for Jain traditions. He was very scrupulous about his attire and always used new patola clothes while going to temples. The ‘patolu’ worn by king Kumarpal used to be specially imported from South India. One day, the temple priest barred Kumarpal from entering the temple by saying that his clothes were ‘impure’. An inquiry into this led to the finding that the king of Jalna was exporting the fabric after first using them as bedspreads. Deeply offended, Kumarpal fought and defeated the ruler of Jalna and brought 700 Salvi craftsmen to Patan so that he could be assured of procuring unsullied fabrics. It is believed that some weavers also came from Karnataka in addition to those that came from Maharashtra. At a later date, Kumarpal converted the Salvi families into Shwetamber Jains. Today, this tradition is being practiced by only four families. One of them has moved to Baroda, but some of their work is still done at Patan. The four Salvi’s are: Shri Kanubhai Mafatlal Salvi, Shri Satish Chandra Kantilal Salvi, Sevantilal Lehar Chand Salvi, Vinayak Kantilal Salvi.
Vinayak Bhai Salvi:
The family comprises three brothers, Vinayak, Bharat and Rohit and their wives, a cousin Jaya settled in Patan and children. Vinayak Bhai’s son, a trained architect, has now taken to this tradition full time. They claim that they use vegetable dyes in dyeing the yarns for some colours (depending upon the demand from consumers). Since they live in the first house in the lane called Shalviwada, they attract the maximum customers.
The family includes two sons, Ashok and Vijay, and three grand sons Viral, Ujjwal and Nirmal. They have been teaching the craft to people outside the Salvi community also. They have used PVC pipes instead of traditional wooden frames in their looms.
The family comprises two brothers, Paresh and Satish, who get a portion of their work done by people who are not a part of the Salvi community. They claim high quality and perfection in their work.
His father, Mafatlal, and his two daughters, Neepa and Hetal, are carrying on this tradition. They migrated to Baroda about twenty years back and have been practicing the craft since then. They claim to have the highest production among the four families, but face problems in marketing their products. The family says that it uses natural dyes.
Features of Patan Patola
- At least 500-600 g of silk is required to make one patola sari. The silk is bought from Bangalore or is imported from China, Japan, Korea or Brazil. The silk costs around Rs 2,000 per kg and the dye cost (per sari) is about Rs 2,500. In the case of vegetable dyes, the cost is likely to be much higher. A single Patan patola sari with synthetic dyes would cost a minimum of Rs 90, 000.
- Both the sides of the sari display the same design; if a sari has a geometric design, it can be worn from any of the four corners. Each sari can survive for about 300 years and even maintain the colour the shuttle.
- The designs are drawn on graph paper and then copied into the yarn. The number of threads required is calculated according to the design which must remain constant till the entire weaving of the sari. The measurement is made with a tape with the smallest measurement being 1/100th of an inch.
- Eight silk threads are enmeshed into one. Raw silk threads are thinner than hair and hence eight such threads are woven together and bleached.
- Next, they are twisted to make it strong. The process of dyeing the threads takes nearly 75 days. The dyed threads are then mounted on the loom in a sequence so that the design becomes visible. The threads of the wefts are wound on to bobbins and kept in the bamboo shuttle for the weaving process. It takes approximately 5-6 months to complete a sari with the help of 3-4 assistants. If a single person handles the entire process, it may take almost a year.
- Patolas cannot be woven in humid climate. This is because when the humidity is high, the yarn tends to tangle. During monsoons, a heater is kept under the loom.
- Starch is applied after every 8-10 inches of weaving so that the yarn does not get tangled.
- The traditional loom is operated only by hand, has no leg paddle and is slanted at one end.
- Maintenance of the tension of weft (tana) and warp (vana) is monitored during the weaving process.
- Both the sides of the sari display the same design; The design is refocused after approximately 6-7 inches of weaving by tugging the warp yarn with an iron rod. The bobbin thread has to be passed from one side to the other manually at every step with the support of the vee made of sesame wood. The inclination of the loom makes it easier to move the shuttle.
- Losing ground Because of high cost, most people could never afford to buy patola. The demand for patola, thus, kept receding. During the second world war, as many as ten to fifteen families were engaged in making patola in Patan. As the raw material (i.e. silk) had to be imported from the countries like Brazil, China, Japan and Korea, the war had an adverse impact on the industry and there was acute shortage of raw material. There was a significant decline in the production. But for the efforts put in by Vijaybhai’s grandmother Motiben Damodar Thakarsi and Shri Vallabhadas Jethabhai Kapadia, the craft of weaving Patola would not have continued. They continue to inspire the four families that are trying to preserve the art of patola.
Given the extreme complexity and time consuming process, very few weavers continue the practice. Those who have continued, do so mostly out of sheer passion for their work. For preparing a patola, skilled labour, precision, calculation and patience are of utmost importance. At the end of the day, it is not possible to weave more than 8-9 inches of the cloth. And for the same reason, it’s difficult to get persons who could be trained to weave a patola. Though, each member of the Salvi family is quite familiar with all the processes and do help in making the saris, yet many of the children are reluctant to earn their living through this trade (particularly after having acquired higher education).
Also, the changing times have prompted simplification of many of the intricate motifs. Due to contemporary market demands, weavers have slowly evolved their own style of motifs and designs that are being used in designing salwar kameez, duppattas, tie and accessories like bags, purses, file covers and home furnishings. Designers believe that such attempts will help in retaining traditional skills and also appeal to modern tastes. However, those who are familiar with patola believe that there is a need to rediscover and retain some of the old designs to prevent these from fading away forever.
Geographical Indications (GI): context The Indian Law on The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 defines GI as:
“Geographical Indication, in relation to goods, means an indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods, or manufactured goods as originating or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation, or other characteristics of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods, one of the activities of either the production, or processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality as the case may be.”
Relevance of Geographical Indications
“We need to develop a brand… so that people know that they can get real patan patola only from us. Perhaps this could be achieved if government or any other institutions came forward to help us,” says Kanubhai Salvi.
The basic idea is to encourage the producers to label their products to indicate quality and reputation that originates from that region. Consumers also benefit as they then get information about quality, authenticity and genuineness from these labels. Producers get protection from infringement and unfair competition. Nobody else can use these labels and thus mislead consumers or take advantage of the reputation of the original good manufacturers or growers. GI are part of Trade-related Aspects on Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and are operational in India since September 21, 2003. However, it is important to note that an instrument of intellectual property right is valid only when it is enforced. That requires monitoring wrong use, issuing of notice to such parties and if necessary, filing cases against infringement of one’s rights. In some cases, conflict may arise on account of unfair competition.
Location and production process
Each of the Salvi families would be interested in involving their family members who are staying elsewhere in the same profession. If members migrate to another place after the identification process (as part of GI), then this could lead to complications. In a recent discussion with all the four families at IIMA, three regions have been identified so far where family members of existing practitioners reside. These are Patan, Baroda and Surat.
Availability of vegetative dye plants and processes
Given the rise in demand for naturally dyed fabrics throughout the world, availability of plants for making vegetative dyes in good quantity is likely to be a problem. Many of the processes for making such dyes also have to be revived.
Ensuring quality control
How do we ensure that, if the entire process of manufacturing Patola is shifted elsewhere, the same quality and authenticity will be retained? One option could be that at least one step in the entire process is done only in Patan. This could be the tie and dye stage or the weaving process.
Cooperation among four families
Misunderstandings are not uncommon in a family-based tradition. Salvis are no exception. Some of the less prosperous weavers feel that they have not received as much exposure as some of the others have. It was suggested that once an association came about, it could have a web site and display all addresses at one place ( SRISTI has done this at sristi.org/research./ patola.html). This association could also file the GI application, monitor infringements and file cases against offenders.
Lack of trained workers
This is reported to be a major constraint in increasing supply and expanding manufacturing base. Wages have also been quite low because it takes a long time for a worker to get properly trained and master the skills. The result is that most labourers are essentially apprentices.
Variation in the tradition
Given the change in the tastes of consumers, it is important to look at the issue of how much variation in design should be considered within the boundaries of traditional repertoire.
Suggestions for keeping this tradition alive
Developing standards of authenticity: All the four families have to work together and develop minimum standards of production, colour, design, process etc., which would ensure that the product qualifies for GI.
Training of workers: Schemes that provide incentives to train new worker so that perpetual shortage of skilled workers can be avoided and emerging demand can be harnessed, need to be devised.
Demonstration of this unique tradition in various trade shows and exhibition: Central and state governments can encourage demon-strations showcasing use of the Patan patola tradition in both conventional products like saris and also in new products like other dress materials, scarves etc., to stimulate demand.
Exhibition in Patan as well as elsewhere: Tourists visit Patan to look at this tradition and the Salvi families have to spend a lot of time in showing and explaining. A privately managed, but publicly funded, museum could be set up at Patan. People who own Patan saris that are 100 or more years old, could be asked to display these at the museum.
We hope that with this small beginning, many more traditional knowledge-based textile, crafts, agricultural varieties, food products, beverages etc., will qualify for GI protection which could translate into increased demand for such products, encourage authenticity and quality in market place and thus help improve the livelihood of producers and give greater satisfaction to customers. Patan patola must survive, even if some of families that are trying to keep the tradition alive, are unsure of its eventual fate.
An ikat is a piece of cloth woven from fibres that have been dyed prior to weaving. It is an ancient form of the silk fabric. It has been woven throughout Central Asia and other parts of the world wherever textiles are woven. It evolved in different cultures and has even migrated to different regions.
The term ‘ikat’ seems to have originated from the Malay- Indonesian expression ‘mangikat’, meaning ‘to bind, tie a knot or wind around’, whereby a motif or a pattern (generally geometrical in nature) is dyed into the threads of a cloth before weaving it. The ikat or resist dyeing generally, “involves the sequence of tying and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a predetermined color scheme prior to weaving. Thus, this dye penetrates into the exposed sections, while the tied sections of the yarn remain un-dyed. The patterns on the yarn get expressed in the woven fabric”(Ota, 2002) .
The three basic types of ikat that are well known are: Single ikat (either warp or weft yarns are tied and dyed.), Combined ikat (warp and weft Ikat may coexist in different parts of the fabric) and Double ikat (both warp and weft threads are tied with such precision that when woven, threads from both axes mesh exactly at certain points to form a complete motif or pattern). The double ikat sari is so woven that the design looks exactly alike on both the sides.
Various examples of diverse Ikat processes have been found throughout history in different parts of the world such as p r e - C o l u m b i a n Peru, Ecuador, M e x i c o , G u a t e m a l a , Colombia, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Persia; throughout Central Asia, in India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Indo-China, South West and South China, Laos, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia; Africa and in many parts of Europe. In Bali, double ikat ‘geringsing’ is produced in the Bali Aga village of Tenganan on the east coast2 and ‘kasuri’ at Okinawa in Japan.
In India, ikat weaving is prevalent in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Many of the ancient cultures around the world weave the single ikat. But the more complex double ikat exists only in Bali, Japan and India. Patola is the name given to the double ikat silk from Patan, Gujarat. Patola are also called “reshmi chir” by Nagar Brahmin and Vora communities.
Designs, motifs and dyes
Ikat is not only precious but it is also symbolic in many ways. Certain designs have got associated with and owned by certain social or religious classes, achieving in the process, a sacred presence. Like in many other cultures where certain textiles, dyes and designs are considered appropriate for particular positions within society, ikat holds tremendous significance, particularly in terms of hierarchy. The patterns indicate the different situations and creativity of each country. Some of the designs were created in warp ikat (single ikat), some in Weft ikat (single ikat) and some only in double ikat. (both warp and weft).
Among the main designs, the popular ones are narikunjar, ratanchawk, navaratna, voragaji, chhabdi bhat, chokhta bhat, chanda bhat, pan bhat, phul bhat, laheriya bhat, tarliya bhat, zumar bhat, sankal bhat, diamond bhat, star bhat, butta bhat, sarvariya bhat etc. Besides saris, handkerchiefs, tablecloth, lace etc, are also prepared from the patola cloth.
Traditionally, pure silk and natural dyes were used for ikat. Before chemical colours were invented, colours were made from plants. The natural colours used include indigo, pomegranate bark, katho, majith, kapilo, kirmaj, harsingar, bojgar, iron rust, alum, logware and turmeric. Nowadays, chemical dyes and colours are in great use. Each region invented dyes and used them in its own way.
Red or vermilion is normally the background colour. The other colours that are used along with red are yellow, orange, pink, green, blue, purple, white and black. The most common motifs in patola are parrots, elephants, plants, ladies, flowers, trellis, baskets, leaves, etc. These are used in many different permutations and combinations for the body, border and the pallav.