Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.

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Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.

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At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.

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The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.

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At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.

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On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.

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At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.

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At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.

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On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.

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In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.

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After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.

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Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.

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At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.

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At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.

 

Pochampally Ikat – A Journey

What is common to the Patolas, the coveted sarees from Patan, Gujarat, and the Pochampallys that come from the eponymous village of what is Telangana today. Obviously it is the tie-and-dye technique one would say but it is also a story of migrations. If the Salvis from South India moved to Patan to make fresh silk Patolas for the king, two brothers Malliah and Venkiah from the traditional weaving community of Padmasalis moved from Chirala to Pochampally. Patolas, then as well as now is a matter of all silk, “pattu” as the name itself is supposed to indicate. Pochampallys were woven only in coarse cotton to begin with, as silk was added much later.

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Above left: Girl standing in a veranda wearing a Pochampally Ikat weave sari, by Hermann Linde (1863-1923). Pictures courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The story of migrations of weavers as perhaps art guilds across the country in ancient and medieval times is fascinating. While Patan has records of its Patola heritage from 11th – 12th centuries CE, Andhra Pradesh doesn’t seem to have that. One of the earliest evidences of migration is from the 5th century Mandasor pillar inscription that records silk weavers guild from Lata, Gujarat who migrated to Mandasor and built a temple dedicated to Sun. Movement of weavers within and outside the country established Ikat as a well-known and widely practiced craft from the eastern coast of Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, and on the west in Gujarat.

Also read Patan’s Patola – A Weaver’s Perspective

“Some of the weavers claim to have originally migrated from Saurashtra, and settled in Chirala, which formerly produced the finest weft Ikat in the form of rumals used by rich Muslims,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai in “Patolas and Resist-dyed Fabrics of India’.

Writing for the ‘The Journal of Indian Textile Industry’, in 1955 the veritable Pupul Jayakar says it was forty year ago that the brothers migrated from Chirala, already famous for the variety of fabrics called Telia Rumal. Telia Rumals, literally indicating the process the yarn goes through soaked in oil and the square cloth or the handkerchief. Telia Rumals with chowkas, diamond within a square patterns woven in cotton, was a famous export from the eastern coast to Arabia and beyond. They were made typically in three colours, white, black and red with geometric patterns and a single colour wide borders.

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Though Pochampally is a name that is generally used for all the Ikat that comes from Telangana today, it came to Pochampally, a small village in Nalgonda district only by the turn of 20th century. It soon spread across several mandals, covering many places like Puttapakka that makes intricate designs in double Ikat and Koyyalagudem that specializes in upholstery and bed spreads.

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Chirala’s Telia Rumals served the nobility as well as the fishermen. The cotton square cloths served as basic clothing and the royalty used the embroidered and Ikat woven with gold as dupattas. How then did they transform to full six-yard sarees is an interesting story.

It is believed that All India Handicrafts Board helped the weavers of Pochampally revitalize their craft of weaving Ikat sarees. But, writer Renuka Narayanan gives a dramatic account in Hindustan Times – “Nobody knew of Pochampally until Kamaladevi (Chattopadhyay), a wet towel tied over head in a trick learnt from Bapu, drove through scorched Andhra countryside to track down weavers. The first three saris together cost Rs. 120”. So, the doyen of crafts, textiles and heritage had a hand in bringing us the Pochampallys. During Jayakar’s time itself she records around 150 weavers practicing Ikat weaving at Pochampally village. Today it has grown exponentially and all of Nalgonda district is humming with the sound of looms.

 

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

 

As per the geographical indication (GI) tag application, Pochampally comes from at least 40 villages within a 70 km radius of Hyderabad, capital of Telangana, in the adjoining districts of Nalgonda, and parts of Warangal, including Pochampally, Koyalagudam, Puttapakka, Elanki and Chautupal where Ikat textiles are woven. “In these villages, Ikat weaving is a way of life, with every member of a family from child to grandparent, being involved at one stage or another,” says the GI application of Pochampally Weavers Associations.

Pochampally Ikat or resist dyeing, involves the sequence of tying (or wrapping) and dyeing sections of bundled yarn to a predetermined colour scheme prior to weaving. Thus the dye penetrates into the exposed section, while the tied section remain un-dyed. The patterns formed by this process on the yarn are then woven into the fabric.

Pochampally Ikats can be single Ikat or double Ikat – single Ikat involves tying and dyeing either the warp or weft before weaving, double ikat means tying and dyeing both the warp and weft according to predetermined patterns and colours and then painstakingly matching them on the loom manually, a complex and time consuming process. There is also a combined Ikat where there are portions of warp Ikat, and weft Ikat and at places where the warp Ikat and weft Ikat overlap.

 

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

 

With the popular demand for Pochampally increasing, weavers started getting silk from Bangalore and zari from Surat to produce silk Ikats. They added to their repertoire of designs, traditional motifs like parrot, elephant, and flowers. Pochampally weavers also experimented with jacquards and dobby techniques that is reflecting in the hybrid Pochampally with Kanchipuram border sarees in the market.

“Today Patolas of Patan are imitated fairly successfully … The basic difference between the double Ikat weaves of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and the Patola of Gujarat is that the Patola uses eight-ply silk while the imitations do not,” wrote Mrinalini Sarabhai. Though the copying of Patola designs continue at Pochampally, the weavers and their craft go much beyond the mere imitations.

 

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

 

Copies they do, but the issue is also how some traders are taking copies of Patola made in Pochampally for comparatively lower price of Rs. 30-35,000 and selling it up to even a lakh. If this copy of Patola at Pochampally for a lower price is bad, worse is the fakes that are passing of as Ikats in many cities, as gullible buyers won’t be able to differentiate the Ikat prints passed off as Ikat weave. This is killing the Ikat weave and its trade – a connoisseur had recently mentioned how a printed copy of fake Ikat look alike on a shiny material sells for as low as Rs. 900/- in the markets of faraway Kolkata. A word of caution, always look out for the handloom mark and silk board mark on the fabric you buy as it is a stamp of authenticity and ensures you a verified product.

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Today, at Pochampally an invention that has brought a lot of pride and if followed to convenience to weavers is the ‘AsuLaxmi Machine’. Born in the family of traditional Pochampally weavers, Chinthakindi Mallesham won the 2015 Kamala Award for Contribution to Crafts in 2015 and Padma Shri in 2017. One of the processes involved in making of Pochampally sarees is the process of yarn winding called as “Asu” that involved 9000 arm movements consuming 5 hours for a single saree. Mallesham who used to watched his mother go through the painstaking Asu process created the AsuLaxmi Machine which in a day can prepare yarn for six sarees with little labour involved.

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The AsuLaxmi Machine. Refer the following website for more details

While the industry is picking up, the issues that the Pochampally weavers face are grave especially that of low wages. Younger generation has moved on to other jobs. Second, an inability to price the products for if they stick to the old practice of using locally treated yarn rather than all falling for the mercerised yarn the price is going to be steeper. For instance the Telia Rumal is made from a distinct quality of yarn that comes from the treatment of it in oil. Today, this practice is unviable and just one master craftsman accepts it on order and the price naturally hits the roof. Telia Rumal is still available on order, but the ones that are made of mercerised cotton.

Whether it is the advent of swift powerlooms or the profuse availability of mercerized cotton, until we do not value a handmade product and the skill and artistry involved, we will loose an invaluable piece of our rich cultural heritage.

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Picture courtesy: Shilpa Shankarnarayan Iyer

Pochampally is not only a name famous for textiles but has an important place in the post independence history of the country. Bhoodan Pochampally, as the place is referred to comes from the Bhoodan Movement. It was at Pochampally in 1951, Vedire Ramachandra Reddy voluntarily donated 100 acres of land to Vinoba Bhave and began a movement that would leave a permanent mark on the social consciousness of the country. Thus was created Bhoodan Pochampally.

Also watch this video

 

Author – Vaijayanthi Chakravarthi

She can  be contacted at vaiju7@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

One of India’s greatest gifts to the world of ideas is Buddhism, a religion that was propounded by Gautama Buddha in the middle of 1st millennium BCE, on the principles of compassion and detachment. Odisha, lying on the east coast of India had been a major centre of Buddhism right from the time of Buddha. Though the Blessed One had never visited the region but according to an ancient chronicle, Tapassu and Bhallika, two merchant brothers from Ukkala while touring the Madhya Desa, had become the first lay devotees of the Buddha by offering him his first meal after Enlightenment.

In the 3rd Century BCE, Odisha bore the brunt of a terrible war between the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and the army of Kalinga wherein the entire town had turned into a battlefield. Upon witnessing the loss of thousands of human lives, Ashoka, the cruel king from the neighbouring state of Magadh transformed into a man of compassion and turned a new leaf. Thus began a new chapter of Buddhism. Odisha became an established centre of Hinayana Buddhism. Langudi, Dhauli and Lalitgiri are among the few excavated Buddhist sites that establish the Mauryan link.

Travel Tips

Maniabandha and Nuapatna are neighbouring villages in Tigiria and Badamba blocks of Cuttack District at a distance of 100 kms from Bhubaneswar. Both Maniabandha and Nuapatna and their surrounding villages are inhabited by a large number of weavers but most of them are into cotton ikat weaving. Only a handful at Nuapatna weavers are into silk weaving. It takes about 2 hours to reach there. There are plenty of private buses plying between Bhubaneswar/Cuttack and Nuapatna, but hiring a taxi from any of these cities would be preferable. There is no stay option, but wayside amenity by Odisha Government at Nuapatna offers a decent hygienic washroom/restroom facilities.  Those interested in religious worship can also visit Bhattarika, 25 km away from Nuapatna on serene Mahanadi. 

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The Rock-Cut Elephant at Dhauli – One of the earliest specimens of Indian art of the Mauryan Era representing Lord Buddha in a symbolic form

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Rock-cut Stupas at Langudi Hill of the Hinayana Phase

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The Apsidal Chaitya surrounded by Votive Stupas – Such structures are present in almost all of the early Buddhist sites of India

During 6th century CE, Odisha witnessed the emergence and proliferation of Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism with Ratnagiri and Udayagiri as the main seats. Scores of Siddhas, such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandha, Dingnag, Buddhaghosa and Dharmakirti introduced various elements of Tantric system, promising quicker ways of attaining Enlightenment. In this process, a new element ‘Shakti’ the feminine, considered as one of the primary sources of divine energy was introduced.

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Ratnagiri Mahavihra Gate – The Cradle of Mahayana Buddhist Sites in Odisha

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A Closer View of the Ratnagiri Mahavihra Gate

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The Vajrayana Stupa at Udayagiri

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One of the Dhyani Buddhas at the Vajrayana Stupa at Udayagiri

Around the same time, the cult of Pashupata Shaivism was gaining a stronghold, as a major religious movement in Odisha.

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Depiction of Lakulisa, the founder of Pashupata Shaivism in Parasurameshwara Temple, Bhubaneswar – It resembles the iconography of Buddha

Also, Read Here:

Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

 

Both the cults competed to establish ideological supremacy over each other thereby resulting in continuous conflicts. At times these conflicts would turn violent and finally the Buddhists were defeated. The region witnessed a mass exodus of Buddhists to Southeast Asia, especially Burma and Cambodia. Those who did not join their seafaring brethren took refuge in the forested tracts of Maniabandha on the banks of Mahanadi at a distance of about 100 km from Bhubaneswar. Here they practiced their faith in isolation for hundreds of years till the memory of the conflicts had receded from public memory.

These Buddhists were weavers of the highest order. According to a legend, in the 7th Century CE, the Chinese scholar monk Huen T’Sang was offered a saree at Maniabandha, the village that linked the ports of Odisha to its hinterland. The saree was packed in a hollow bamboo pipe. Huen T’Sang was visibly impressed with the wizardry of weaving and spread the word around.

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But the Buddhist weavers of Maniabandha flourished after they received patronage from the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri. According to Madala Panji, the temple chronicle, during the 12th century CE, Jaydev had offered to Lord Jagannath an Ikat called Pata Khandua made by Maniabandha weavers, with the verses of Gita Govinda etched on it. Since then, the weavers are deeply associated with the Jagannath cult.

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Jaydev’s Gita Govinda Woven in a Khandua Patta

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Khanda Patua Weaves of Maniabandha

 

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The Maniabandha weavers are possibly the only traditional Buddhists left in India. They are vegetarians and believers of non-violence that can be seen even in their weaving. The silk yarns they use are of ‘Eri’ category which are sourced from the cocoons that were abandoned by the silkworms. Therefore, Pata Khandua, is the best example of Samyak Ajiba – Right Profession – as preached by the Buddha. The word ‘Khandua’ in Odia translates to the cloth worn on the lower part of the body. It is traditionally red or orange in colour. Design motifs include elephants surrounded by trailing vines with peacocks in it, petaled flowers and Nabagunjara, a mythical cult associated with Lord Jagannath.

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Today Maniabandha is not only an important destination for textile lovers, but also for those having deep interest in understanding and appreciating the syncretic culture practiced in the region. The weavers are no doubt Buddhists but they are also followers of Lord Jagannath and this is visible not only in the motifs on Khandua but also in the way they live and worship.

 

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The Buddha Temple in the middle of the village

The main temple of the village appears from outside as a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu or Jagannath but if you get into its garbhagriha you will be surprised to see the idols of Lord Buddha. Maniabandha is a wonderful example of religious harmony between Hindus and Buddhists who take part in each other’s festivals and religious gatherings. The yarns that bind them are pure and divine just like the Pata Khandua.

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Kirtan in the local Jagannath Temple

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be reached at jitumisra@gmail.com

Patan’s Patola – A Weaver’s Perspective

There is an old Gujarati proverb on the Patola that goes something like this – “PADI PATOLE BHAT, FAATE PAN FITE NAHI”. This roughly translates to ‘ The design laid down in patola shall never fade even when the cloth is torn.’

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A Patola Pattern

With a guarantee of lasting close to 100 years and a design that can be worn any side, Patan’s famous Patola are no wonder a prized possession, a wedding trousseau essential, a heirloom and definitely one of the finest silk sarees of our country. It is the only form of the painstaking double ikat weave available in the world!

Some Common Patola Designs

One of the oldest forms of textile weaving is ikat – a dyeing technique used to pattern textiles. The word ‘ikat’ is derived from the Malay-Indonesian word ‘mengikat’ which translates to ‘to tie’. Among the different forms of ikat, the most impressive and tedious to weave is the double ikat. Patola sari of Patan is one such example, which for nine centuries now has remained as a proud icon of Gujarati heritage.

Patola  Making  in  Process

According to a legend, Anhilwad Patan was founded by Vanraj Chavda in 746 CE. It was the capital of medeival Gujarat till early 15th century, until Ahmed Shah decided to shift the capital to Ahmedabad. Kumarpal was a Jain king and always wrapped fresh patola fabric while performing his daily prayer. The patola worn by Kumarpal was specially imported from South India. But one day, he was told that the patolas he draped around his body were impure as these were used by the king of Mugapatnam before sending them to Patan. Kumarpal got annoyed and immediately invited 700 Salvi families to Patan so that he could be assured of fresh fabric.

Geometrical Designs in Rani ni Vav and in Wooden Havelis  

Patola was a major trade item on all the trade routes and was also used as a high denomination currency by few. Historical sources suggest that among the Dutch merchants, Patola was a symbol of aristocracy and power because of its high price and exclusivity and used them during the 17th and 18th centuries AD for establishing trade posts in Surat and Ahmedabad. It is also referred to in the travel accounts of Ibn Batuta (14th century) and Tavernier (17th century). Ibn Batuta mentions that Sultan Ala Ud Din Khilji had received a patola from Deogiri, identified with modern Daulatabad in Maharashtra. Patola is also depicted in the murals at Mattancheri Palace in Kochi in 17th century CE. Indonesia, the birthplace of ikat, was a large importer of Gujarati patola till World War II.

The Salvi familes of Patan are well-known for their contribution to patola weaving. They were Jains originally belonging to the Digambara Sect in South India. After moving to Patan, they converted to Shwetambara sect. Though Patola weaving was exclusive to them, in recent years families from other communities too developed skills and expertise in the fine art of patola weaving. One such family are the Sonis which runs a studio-cum workshop under the brandname of Madhvi Handicrafts. Though a new entrant in the field, Mr. Sunil Soni, its founder has created a niche for himself as a master weaver, in a short span of 25 years. His relentless fight for patola’s revival ended after Patola received geographical indication (GI) for Patan. His work received a shot in the arm when his son Shyam, a software engineer by profession, left his lucrative job to join his father in promoting this exclusive art which is fast fading.

On my recent visit to Patan, I got a chance to interview Shyam. Do watch the video for more on the story of the saree, its varieties and the meaning of the symbols printed on it

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

The author can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com