Patola Sarees

Patan Patola Saree
at INA Metro Station, Delhi
Gujarat's Patola sarees are known to be coveted: they are Ikat sarees woven in silk. The effort required to weave one of these sarees is apparently so much that weaving them in cotton (which doesn't last as long as silk) simply doesn't make sense. There are currently two kinds of Patola sarees available: the Patan Patola which is an expensive double Ikat weave, and the Rajkot Patola which is a comparatively accessible single Ikat weave.

Patola sarees are reversible, and Patan Patola sarees are assumed to last for about three centuries. They are woven in the town of Patan which is believed to have been established around 745 AD by Vanraj Chavda. The sarees, however, began to be woven much later: it is said that Patola attire was originally woven in Jalna, Maharashtra, and imported from there. However, around 1175 AD, King Kumarpal from Gujarat (who wanted a new, unworn Patolu to wear each day for his daily worship) defeated the ruler of Jalna, and brought Salvi weavers from there to his own kingdom.

The silk used is generally eight ply silk, and both the weft and the warp of Patan Patola sarees are dyed before being woven. The sarees usually have a red background, and their designs are rarely of new vintage: Patan Patola sarees tend to feature traditional designs such as those of the nine gems (Navratan); of elephants, parrots and dancing angels (Narikunjar); of hunts with elephants and tigers fighting (Wagh Haathi); of treasure- and flower-filled baskets (Chabadi); of shimmering night skies (Taraliya); of peacocks and butterflies (Mor Patangyu Bhat); of flowers (Ful); and of stylised geometric patterns. These designs are repeated every six to eight inches, and starch along with (in humid conditions) a heater under the loom are used to keep the threads from becoming entangled during the weaving process which can take several months. Running along one side of Patan Patola sarees is a golden Zari Patto, and there are Pallavs distinguishable from a saree's field at both its ends. Consequently, a Patan Patola saree can be draped from any of its four corners.

In contrast to this, Rajkot Patola sarees are single Ikat sarees with the design dyed only along the weft. Their history is much shorter than that of Patan Patola sarees: it appears that Patola sarees began being woven in the Rajkot workshop of a weaver named Karamchand Godhamdas from the Kumbhar potter's caste in 1951 after he had worked in the Patan workshop of Laherchand Salvi. Rajkot Patola designs tend to feature not only designs seen in Patan Patola sarees but also more contemporary designs, and designs which mimic the Gharchola. They have a block-like appearance with edges that have 'bled', and are devoid of curves. There also Lagdi Patta along both borders of Rajkot Patola sarees, and, unlike Patan Patola sarees, they tend to be woven with blouse pieces attached to them.

Paramakudi Sarees

Emaneswaram Cotton Saree
Emaneswaram in Tamil Nadu is one of two towns on either side of the river Vaigai; the other is Paramakudi. Both towns (which were, incidentally, 'merged' for administrative purposes in 1964) boast a long tradition of weaving although their arts are are not thriving.

Emaneswaram is a temple town in which the God of Death, Yama, is believed to have worshipped Lord Shiva, asking to be reinstated, after the latter tossed him there — legend has it that Yama mistakenly threw a lasso around a Shivlinga at which a young Sage Markandeya, then destined to live only sixteen years, was praying for longevity; Yama had been aiming for Markandeya.

The town of Paramakudi too is steeped in religion. Amongst the many well-known temples located in Paramakudi is one dedicated to Muthala Parameswari or Muthalamman, a benevolent manifestation of Shakti, who is worshipped by artisans (and scores of others).

It is believed that the ancestors of contemporary weavers in the twin towns migrated there from Gujarat some 600 years ago, and that they were patronised by the royal families of Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga for the work in silks. Sarees from the area, however, are now woven not just in silk but also in cotton. Colours tend to be saturated, and broad stripes in colours that contrast with the fields of the sarees are often seen along their borders. The end pieces of these sarees too are often striped.

Berhampuri Sarees

End-piece of a cotton Berhampuri saree
End-piece of a cotton Berhampuri saree
Berhampuri sarees are made in coastal Orissa; they are most often woven in silk, and silk Behrampuri sarees are referred to as Berhampuri patta. Silk weaving is said to have begun at Berhampur in the 14th century although the history of Berhampuri sarees is confused: these sarees are also associated with the Mohuri kingdom which lay between the Rushikulya and Bahuda rivers: the Gajapati King Purushottama Deva who ruled Kalinga from 1466–97 is said to have ‘founded’ the Mohuri kingdom with a grant of land to Sana Raja. Much later, the Mohuri King Harihar Narayan Deb who ruled between 1772 and 1782 is believed to have convinced weavers from Rajmundhry in nearby Andhra Pradesh to migrate to his kingdom; these weavers of the Deras community, also known as Debangas, are credited with not only bringing the Behrampuri saree to its current form but also for introducing to the area worship of the goddess Budhi Santani Thakurani who is believed by some to be the goddess Kali’s sister.

Although Berhampuri sarees woven in silk are most well known, these Berhampuri weavers also work in cotton, and tussar. The sarees often feature a temple design (which could be anything between less than an inch high to more than a foot wide) along the border: either phoda kumbha or badhi kumbha. Phoda kumbha refers to temple spires, and weaving the design into the sarees takes two weavers; badhi kumbha, on the other hand, is created using Ikat which rarely features serrated lines. The sarees tend to be in extremely bright colours with contrasting borders, and, when they’re woven in silk, 2 ply malda is most often used. All of them are reversible.