In many ways Ikat is omnipresent today, the retail market is flooded with digitally made ikats.
You can easily tell the difference between a handwoven ikat fabric and a digitally printed one by simply turning the fabric around. If the back and front of the fabric are the same, the patterns and the intensity of colour are the same, then you have a genuine handwoven ikat.
This stunning textile tie and dye art is highly technical and time-consuming. The patterns are created on the yarn even before the weaving happens. The blurry patterns in ikat are due to the thread being tied and dyed in a particular pattern to reveal stunning designs on the fabric.
So the weaver has to plan the design on the yarn before he weaves it by tightly tying together parts of the yarn. The exposed part of the yarn is then dyed with colour.
Historians cannot identify the exact location of origin of the ikat technique but Asia has several cultural regions with strong ikat traditions. Apart from India, one can see ikat practiced in countries like Afghanistan, Guatemala, Indonesia, Japan, China, Laos, Thailand, and also in some parts of the African continent.
In Maharashtra's Ajanta Caves, mural art suggests that ikat can be traced back to at least the 7th century in India. India's ancient trade with Egypt is evidenced by a discovery of a 5000-year-old Odisha ikat in a Pharaoh's tomb; it was also used as currency in the silk route. One can spot Odia ikat in the garments of the beautiful sculptures in the Konark Temple too.
Today, different forms of ikats have evolved in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha
, and Patola in Gujarat. India boasts of several master craftspeople who are keepers of this craft. This stunning textile tie and dye art has been used by designers of international and national acclaim in their collections.
The states of India from where you can purchase the gorgeous ikat fabric are Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Gujarat.
This state is home to two unique styles of ikat fabric. One is Pochampally ikat from Pochampally town in the Nalgonda District of Andhra Pradesh, and the other is Telia Rumal from Puttapaka town also belonging to the same district. Both of these clusters now have the coveted Geographical Indication tag.
Pochampally has made it to UNESCO's tentative list of world heritage sites under the "iconic saree weaving clusters of India". The weaving here is carried out in Pochampally, Sripuram, Chuigottala, Koyalgudam, Chowtuppal, Galteppala and other villages that are situated close by.
In Odisha ikat is called “bandha”. Several villages of Odisha are involved in this craft, however, it is the Bargarh district that is most widely recognized for the Sambalpuri ikat sarees.
In Odisha, the ikat textiles also have an importance in religious function. An interesting fabric is the Gitagovinda cloth - the oldest surviving type of religious ikats of Odisha. These are specially made by the community of Nuapatna weavers in Cuttack district, with almost 90 percent of this village comprising different castes of hereditary weavers. The Gitagovinda is typically made in silk containing verses from the religious text, Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, a devotional poem dedicated to Krishna.
The word patola comes from the Sanskrit word "pattakulla" which means silk fabric. The fabric was a symbol of wealth and faith for King Kumarpal of Solanki dynasty. It takes a minimum of six months to make one Patola saree (measured five meters). Patola is known as the mother of ikats. It is also one of the most expensive of the ikats.
Just the range and variety of ikats makes us wonder, will India be able to reclaim her global trade by playing on her handcrafted textile strength?