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The Exquisite Past of Patan Patola

The history of Patan patola is a very fortunate one, originating in the Ajanta caves. The paintings discovered in these caves have an uncanny similarity with the tie and dye patterns for which the patolas are famous. Frescos made in the caves of Kerala also depict patola motifs. King Janak is believed to have presented patolas to Sita, wife of Lord Rama.

In the 12th century, the king of the Solanki dynasty, King Kumar Pal, conquered parts of Maharashtra and shifted the base of the weavers living in Jalna, in south Maharashtra, to Patan, in the northern part of Gujarat. The weavers, initially settled in South India, belong to the Salvi clan, which derives its name from the sal-loom.

Raja Kumar Pal and the Solanki Rajputs
Raja Kumar Pal and the Solanki Rajputs

The Solanki Rajputs became great patrons of patola. King Kumar Pal, an ardent follower of Jainism, popularised Patan patolas by donning them for all festivities and significant occasions. He believed in wearing new silken attire for every ceremony and later giving them as gifts. He also promoted the use of these outfits among his noble gentry.

Patan patola preserved in a case for display  Carvings in Patan that inspire patolas
L: Patan patola preserved in a case for display
R: Carvings in Patan that inspire patolas

Several amendments were made to the looms that were being used by the Salvis. The Gujarati sensibilities also seeped into design, creating a unique aesthetic, reflected in the Patan patolas. Geometric Yantric configurations, like the Udyamati Vav at Patan, are a major part of Solanki architecture that was also integrated in their weaves and patterns.

Communities involved in making of patolas
Communities involved in making of patolas

The Solanki Empire fell, but the popularity of patolas remained. Trade flourished and patola cloth became popular among elites over a wide geographic area.  Patolas also became important items of Stridhan, the part of family wealth that women could claim as their own.

Patan patola with traditional patterns
Patan patola with traditional patterns

The people of Bali, Java and Sumatra in Indonesia have also regarded patolas as holy signs of prosperity. These patolas are mentioned in historic Jain texts too. Placing a patola fabric somewhere in a room, especially under the pillows, is believed to summon good luck.

Navratna Patan patola
Navratna Patan patola

 

Images: Wikipedia, Patan Patola, Reading Cloth, Kunzum, eJainism