How Patola from India Influenced the Textile Industry in Indonesia

The textile technology and culture originating from India have exerted a significant and profound influence on Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. Numerous textiles highly favored in Indonesia are intricately intertwined with India, both in terms of their form and production techniques. Among them, fabrics crafted with the traditional Indian tie-dye method known as Patola have earned the moniker “Double Ikat” upon arriving in Indonesia, garnering widespread popularity. Throughout history, Patola has seamlessly integrated into Indonesian social life, assuming a mystical role therein.
from India to Indonesia

Patola denotes a traditional dual-sided tie-dye technique hailing from India. When fabricating textiles using yarn, the warp and weft threads are initially bound and subjected to tie-dyeing, following prearranged patterns, before being hand-woven to create a plethora of designs and embellishments. The textiles birthed from this intricate tie-dye technique are broadly referred to as “Patola” (hereinafter specifically referred to as textiles). The distinguishing characteristic of Patola lies in its remarkably delicate counter-print pattern, visible on both sides of the textile, bestowing upon it an exquisite sense of artistic finesse.

As is widely known, India stands as an ancient civilization, steeped in its abundant cotton resources since time immemorial. Consequently, its textile industry boasts a rich historical lineage and ancient customs. Although detailed documentary records are currently lacking, clues can be inferred from textile tools unearthed at the Mohenjo Daro site, suggesting that India’s textile industry spans no less than three millennia.

The origins of the Patola technique are believed to lie in Gujarat, India, where it gained popularity within the country. Among the array of garments worn by Indian women, the most distinctive is the silk saree, which often showcases Patola designs. While many of the Patolas presently found in Gujarat were produced after the late 18th century, historical information traces their roots back to the 12th century or even earlier.

As early as the 14th century, Muslim traders introduced Patola from Gujarat, India, to Java, Sumatra, and other regions of the Malay archipelago in Southeast Asia, courtesy of the spice trade. Historical evidence abounds, attesting to the widespread popularity of Patola among the local populace following its arrival in Southeast Asia through trade routes and adventurous voyages. In literary sources, the Malay Chronicle mentions warriors donning Patola as protective cloth covers during battles. An account written by Zhou Daguan in the Yuan Dynasty of China, titled “Zhenla Fengtu Ji,” describes the “two ends of flower cloth,” which refers to Patola. Other records recount the extensive purchases of Patola and other silk fabrics from India by the Siamese royal family during the Sukhothai Dynasty in Thailand.

To cater to the demands of consumers, India made certain modifications to the Patolas manufactured specifically for export, such as reinforcing the edges or ends with cotton, forgoing the use of gold threads as employed in local Indian production. Additionally, these exported Patolas adopted more intricate patterns inspired by animals, plants, and geometric forms. Common motifs included lions, tigers, and elephants, which resonated deeply with the local population in Indonesia. Of particular note is the emblematic eight-pointed star flower basket pattern, which eventually became a symbol of the Indonesian royal family during a specific historical era. Distinctions in usage between the two regions also emerged. For instance, a memorandum from the Dutch East Indian colonists describes Patola as a 5.5-meter-long fabric used as a turban or belt, a size typically employed for making yarn in India. Exquisite.

Patola from Patan, Gujarat, India, in the 19th century

Patola featuring the eight-pointed star flower basket pattern

Blanket crafted using the Patola technique

In Indonesia, particularly Java, Patola, imported from India in its early days, wielded significant influence. This intricate and elegant textile left an indelible impression on the Javanese royal family, who embraced it as their exclusive iconic fabric. Patola found its way into an array of garments, such as skirts, trousers, belts, shawls, cushions, blankets, and dolls, adorning various royal ceremonies and wedding celebrations. Over time, this sumptuous textile became synonymous with Javanese royalty, assuming the role of a symbol of opulence and grandeur on countless ceremonial occasions. For instance, Sultan Solo employed Patola as a backdrop curtain during his wedding, while King Majapahit presented Patola to soldiers as an encouragement for their valor. Patola also became an indispensable gift during national or family celebrations, and in commercial transactions and social debt settlements, it even functioned as a form of exchangeable currency.

In Java, Patola served as a decorative element for canopies, often featuring a pattern of two elephants facing each other, creating a truly awe-inspiring spectacle. The elephant, considered a symbol of military might and ceremonial authority, carries a similar connotation to its Indian counterpart. Another popular patternfound in Java is the “parang rusak” motif, which resembles a broken knife. This motif is believed to have mystical properties, offering protection and warding off evil spirits.

The popularity of Patola extended beyond the Javanese royal courts and reached the common people. However, due to its high cost and intricate production process, Patola remained a luxury item accessible only to the elite. The demand for Patola in Indonesia led to the emergence of local imitations and adaptations of the technique. Indonesian weavers developed their own versions of double ikat textiles, incorporating local motifs and designs while employing similar tie-dye techniques.

The influence of Patola in Indonesia can still be seen today. Various regions in Indonesia, such as Sumba, Bali, and Lombok, have their own unique versions of double ikat textiles, showcasing the rich heritage and cultural exchange between India and Indonesia. These textiles are highly valued for their artistic beauty and craftsmanship, and they continue to be cherished as cultural treasures.

In conclusion, the Indian textile technique of Patola, known as double ikat, has had a profound impact on Indonesia’s textile culture. Introduced through trade routes and embraced by the Javanese royal courts, Patola became a symbol of opulence and grandeur in Indonesia. Its influence can be seen in the local adaptations and imitations of double ikat textiles found throughout the country. The historical and cultural exchange between India and Indonesia has enriched both nations’ textile traditions, creating a vibrant tapestry of artistry and craftsmanship.
  As a cultural heritage with both material and intangible attributes, Patola or “Double-faced Ika” not only objectively connects Indian culture and Indonesian culture, but also effectively enhances the interaction between Indonesian islands.
Patola and Indonesian Socio-Economy

  In many Asian civilizations, textiles have played a certain important role and played some cultural functions such as connecting religion, politics, marriage, and social status. In particular, exquisite festival clothing and decorative textiles are a symbol of prestige and a foil to the atmosphere, and therefore become an important part of the celebration ceremony. Certain textiles are essential items used in religious ceremonies and are endowed with sacred cultural connotations. Indonesian Patola falls into this category. In its origin in Gujarat, India, Patola is considered supernatural, has magical powers, and can defeat evil. The beautiful and complex patterns imply auspiciousness, so it is used in social and religious rituals in Gujarat. play an important role.
  Consistent with its origin in India, Patola spread to Indonesia also has the same connotation and plays a pivotal role in local folk traditions. In addition to being used as part of royal celebrations and wedding ceremonies, they are also hung on funeral towers or used as altar cloths, adding a layer of mystery.
  Indonesian patola is closely associated with the concept of amulets. In Bali, fragments of it were used to treat sick children; in Sumatra, newborns had to be wrapped in it; in North Sulawesi, it was used as a priest’s robe; in Sumba, it was used Covers the coffin of a deceased ruler; in Kalimantan, it is used to decorate the king’s throne. These actions mean that Patola can drive away evil spirits.
  Patola is considered essential on numerous ceremonial occasions. For example, in the Toraja funeral ceremonies in Sulawesi, the patola is not only used as a shroud for the deceased, but is also hung in the house during the funeral and used as a shawl for mourners during the funeral.
  Patolas are also used in happy events. For example, some are designed with elephant patterns and are large in size, which can be used as betrothal gifts for the bride. In places such as Solo Island in the Lesser Sunda Islands and Flores Island in eastern Indonesia, patola is brought as a dowry to the bride. In the Minahasa peninsula of Sulawesi, patola is used as a common canopy during wedding ceremonies.

Patola woven with elephant and tiger designs

  Indonesian society’s enthusiasm for patola has reached the level of obsession, especially the royal family and the nobility. It is said that a nobleman believed that he would feel safe only if he had a pile of patola stored in his house. Some families regard these precious textiles as property and pass them down for 30 generations. Although these rhetoric are somewhat exaggerated, a historical fact is that throughout Indonesia, patola is closely associated with power, and only those who wear patola with an eight-pointed star-shaped flower basket pattern can prove their noble status.
  In the 16th and 17th centuries, patola became popular in Indonesia as a trading commodity. For example, in Jambi, when people trade pepper, most of the time, apart from gold coins, the only other acceptable trading item is patola. What’s more, the people of the Maluku Islands only reluctantly accepted the gold and silver trade, and they were more eager to obtain patola with beautiful patterns. For rulers, landowners or merchants in many parts of Indonesia who wanted to trade spices, gold, timber, or even land ownership, the best item to buy was patola from India.
  In the context of this demand, the Portuguese first tasted the sweetness. They obtained commercial trade privileges by presenting Patola as a gift to the local rulers of Indonesia. A prominent example is that in 1522, Portuguese merchants obtained a guaranteed contract for lilac trees by donating patola to Queen Maluku. When the Dutch came to Indonesia, patola already had an authoritative connotation, symbolizing status and spiritual power, and could only be owned and worn by the royal family and nobles. The most important gift from the Dutch to local rulers was Patola. Later, the ruler of Roti Island also sent a letter to the Dutch East India Company asking for Patola. The Dutch quickly seized this business opportunity and used Patola as a medium to carry out spice trade and obtain business contracts. Patola therefore became an important tool for the Europeans in Indonesia’s economic power game.
  The Europeans played their cards in Indonesia very shrewdly. They first managed to obtain trade concessions, then sought trade security, and finally took control of Indonesia. It is no exaggeration to say that their control of Indonesia was only through Patola.
Different regions of Indonesia are affected by Patola

  Patola not only narrows the sense of time and space in various regions of Indonesia and makes the pursuit of spiritual beliefs of people in different regions more consistent, but also reflects different cultures in different regions. This textile is also one of Indonesia’s profound cultural heritages.
  Patola’s influence on Indonesian textile culture is universal. Before Patola’s arrival, the Indonesian ika technique was based solely on warp knitting. What is commendable is that the new concepts of patola technique and large central fields and frame structure patterns were quickly accepted by Indonesians. The weaving process has advanced from warp knitting or weft knitting to warp and weft knitting, and the pattern has changed from a single stripe to an all-over pattern. This change is obvious. Furthermore, many Indonesian textile cultures are deeply influenced by Patola.
  Gringsing, the Bali textile, was most profoundly influenced by Patola. Greensing has been dubbed “Indonesia’s answer to India’s Patola”. Greensing comes in three colors, representing the harmony of the universe. The background color is white, representing the upper world; blue and black represent the lower world; brown and red represent the human world. Brown-red is the dominant color, and Patola patterns such as geometric or vegetal patterns are very eye-catching.
  The residents who make Greensing claim that they may be descendants of Indian immigrants, which may also be a spontaneous honor for mastering traditional skills. Under the influence of Patola, Greensing changed from single-sided weaving to double-sided weaving. The admiration and worship caused by this complex craft made the local people very conscious of cherishing and protecting even tiny fragments. will also be collected. Greensing, like Patola, was believed to have medicinal properties and apotropaic powers, and was especially prominent on ritual occasions. Only when people wear greensing made of Patola techniques and with Patola patterns can they prove their qualifications and sacred rights to participate in the ceremony.
  Sumba is a sparsely populated island in central Indonesia. In their textile patterns, figures such as skulls, trees and naked men can be seen intertwined with patola patterns. Skulls are a representative image of Sumba Island because the local ethnic groups have had the custom of headhunting since ancient times. Skulls woven using the Patola technique are believed to bless people’s mental and physical health.
  Combu is a long coat worn by men in Sumba Island. In the past, it was specially prepared for nobles. It is made of two pieces of patola sewn together from the middle. The pattern on the patola should be symmetrical from top to bottom and left and right. Among these patterns, there are many images of skulls, which were considered slaves and even served the nobles after death. After the death of these nobles, like the Egyptian pharaohs, they would also be mummified, and it was the patola made of silk that was used to wrap their bodies. The original basic hue of kombu was light red, but taking inspiration from Patola, the resulting pattern was composed of red, blue and white, symbolizing the Holy Trinity, and is still revered today.
  Ceremonial fabrics are considered the most precious textiles among the Iban tribe in northern Kalimantan. When the Iban people hold birth, death, war, festival, religious and other ceremonies, the most important part is headhunting. In order to encourage men to bravely carry out this link, women make this kind of fabric. In the past, ceremonial fabrics were in the form of weft knitting and decorated with geometric patterns. Later, Patola’s weaving skills and pattern construction were integrated, and they were given symbols of power.

Patola with skull pattern

Ceremonial fabrics using the Patola technique

  Patola’s influence can also be seen in textile culture elsewhere. In Sau, near the island of Timor, ordinary people can use patola with an eight-pointed star flower basket pattern, but this is only used by the royal family in places such as Sumatra and Jambi. In Flores, women’s skirts and nobles’ blankets are made using Patola techniques, and the patterns are also Patola’s unique flower themes. On Lombok Lung Island, men usually have elegant Patola patterns on their shawls and skirts. For example, the image of an elephant is a version originating from India. In Lombok, many patterns similar to Patola are incorporated into the fabrics of the Sasak people.
  In general, after the 12th century, the Indian Patola entered Indonesia and had a profound impact on the local textile culture. Including the batik shirt, the national dress of Indonesia, the layout of the shoulders is consistent with Patola, such as having a central field pattern and two narrow longitudinal edges. To this day, the residents of Bali are still able to skillfully use this traditional double-sided printing and dyeing technique to produce patola. These new products, which are constantly improved and developed, have won the favor of tourists from all over the world. In the early days, Patola was included in the category of mysterious culture by the Indonesians due to its rarity, preciousness, and properties as a gift. It appeared in various ritual occasions and continues to this day. From the perspective of cultural derivation and spread, Patola is not only Indian, but also Indonesian.

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