V1 mulberry

V1 mulberry
Kuppam, AP, 2010

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Patunulkarans

Silk weavers, immigration and textiles from the 5th century AD

The most striking ancient historical evidence relating to silk in South India so far noted refers to the weavers of silk rather than to the raw material they used or even their products. It is a Sanskrit eulogy in the poetic style of the period, composed by poet Vatsabhatti for a guild of silk weavers and inscribed on a black stone slab built into the wall of a river ghat in the ancient city of Mandasor in Madhya Pradesh. It praises the great Kumaragupta the First, who reigned from AD 415 to 455, Emperor of the Gupta Empire of northern India, and the local king Bandhuvarman who is described as Governor of the city. Rulers, the city and the guild itself are extensively eulogised in picturesque terms.[1]
The work gave priority to immigrants amongst the glories of the city. At an earlier period, it was claimed, a band of migrants had moved to Dasápur as it was then called, from a district of what is now Gujarat to the west, either Lâta or, as it later came to be thought, Saurashtra in the peninsula of Kathiawad.
Line 3, Verses 4-5. 
From the district of Lāta, which is pleasing with choice trees that are bowed down by the weight of (their) flowers, and with temples and assembly-halls pleasure gardens, (and) the mountains of which are covered over with vegetation. To (this) city of Dasápura there came, full of respect – first in thought and afterwards (in person) in a band together with their children and kinsmen – men who were renowned in the world for (skill in their) craft (of silk-weaving), and who, being manifestly attracted by the virtues of the kings of the country, gave no thoughts to the continuous discomforts of the journey and its accomplishment.
The city was beautiful; its superiority over Lāta was clearly being claimed. It was (Verse 13)
embraced by two charming rivers with tremulous greed, as if it were the body of (the god) Smara (embraced) in secrecy by (his wives) Prīti and Rati, possessed of heaving breasts. Like the sky with the brilliant multitudes of planets, it shines with Brāhmans endowed with truth, patience, self-control, tranquillity, religious vows, purity, fortitude, private study, good conduct, refinement, and steadfastness, (and) abounding in learning and penances, and free from the excitement of surprise.
The members of this band of immigrants were Pattavāyakas, the name equivalent in Sanskrit to Patnulkāran or Pattunūlkāran – ‘Silk thread people’ – by which they would later be known.
(Verse 15.)  ‘So coming together, (and) day by day having their friendship augmented, making contacts and being gratified and treated honourably like sons by the kings,  they happily lived in the city’. (Verse 16.) Some became ‘well acquainted with the science of archery’, others with storytelling or ‘true religion’. (Verse 17.) ‘Some excelled in their own business (of silk-weaving)’, others in astrology, (and) even fighting.’
Here it is clear that they were lauding their own success, spectacularly displayed by their building of a temple.
(Verse 29.)  While he, the noble Bandhuvarman, the best of kings, the strong-shouldered one, was governing the city of Dasápura, which had been brought to a state of great prosperity - a noble and unequalled temple of the bright-rayed (Sun), was caused to be built by the silk-cloth weavers, as a guild, with the stores of wealth acquired (by the exercise of their) craft; (Verse 30.) a temple which, having broad and lofty spires, (and) resembling a mountain, (and) white as the mass of the rays of the risen moon, shines, charming to the eye, having the similarity of (being) the lovely crest-jewel, fixed (in its proper place), of (this) city of the West. ... (Verse 33.) In the season when massive breasts of women are most enjoyable or when the low thunder of the clouds in most welcome, on the auspicious thirteenth day of the bright fortnight of the month Sahasya, this temple was consecrated with the ceremony of auspicious benediction.
The date derived from details in the text is AD 437/38.
Similarly, the text gives thirty six years later, described as ‘a long time under other kings’, when part of the temple had ‘fallen into disrepair’ according to one version, or one part of it had been ‘shattered’ according to another, ‘now, in order to increase their own fame, the whole of this most noble house of the Sun [had] been repaired again by the munificent corporation’.[2]  It was apparently reconsecrated on the ‘second lunar day of the bright fortnight of the month Tapasya’, this being the event occasioning the writing of the poetic eulogy by Vatsabhatti, inscribed on the slab in Mandasor.
Subsequently, as seen in circumstantial evidence and preserved tradition, further migration took place. A narrative of this was put forward in the report of the Madras Census of 1901, quoted at length in Thurston & Rangachari (1909: 160 fol.) Patnūlkārans are there described as ‘a caste of foreign weavers found in all the Tamil districts, but mainly in Madura town, who speak Patnūli or Khatri, a dialect of Gujarāti, and came originally from Gujarāt’. They had ‘lately taken to calling themselves Saurāshtras’ after the ‘country from which they came’ and in the Census schedules they had frequently entered themselves as Saurāshtra Brāhmans. Contention as to their proper caste status had been going on for at least the previous century.
According to an account from W. Francis’ Madura Gazetteer of 1906, Mandasaur was destroyed by Muslim invaders and the Patnūlkārans migrated south to Dēvagiri, capital of the Yādavas.[3] This would have probably been during the 13th century. There, according to one story from the North Arcot District Manual, they lived in twelve streets ‘entirely peopled by them’. For some reason they did not know, ‘the residents of one of these streets were excommunicated by the rest of the caste and expelled’. It was said to be when they were there they also lost their assured Brahman status. They had been ‘bound to produce a certain number of silken cloths at each Dīpāvali feast in Dēvagiri for the goddess Lakshmi. One year their supply fell short, and they were cursed by the goddess, who decreed that they should no longer be regarded as Brāhmans. They, however, still claim to be such, and follow the customs of that caste, though they refuse to eat with them’[4]
For whatever reasons, it is apparent that at least some of them moved south again, now into Vijayanagar, the Telugu/Kannada-speaking Empire which was able to maintain a measure of Hindu dominance across most of southern India from its official foundation in 1336 to its final defeat by combined Muslim powers in 1565. Within the rich and lavish cultural context that it created during this long period, there would have been ample demand for the high quality fabrics that appear to have remained the hereditary speciality of the Patnūlkārans over the centuries.
In Mysore soon after the fall of Seringapatam to the East India Company and its allies in 1799, it was silk-weavers known there as Patvēgāras[5] who attracted the close attention of the Scott, Francis Buchanan, on a great journey of enquiry from Madras across Mysore to the Malabar coast in the west.[6] He placed these silk weavers as heading the ranks of weaver castes in South India, working mainly with cotton, but also with silk alone and for fabrics of fine cotton with silk borders.
Buchanan attends also to the array of other weavers in the region. They usually worked in small units of master weaver and from two to five of his ‘servants’, and would carry out most of the weaving and dyeing work themselves. The servants were paid on a piecework basis, with slightly higher rates for those weaving combinations of silk and cotton than for plain silk. He observed that it was not usual for any weavers except Whalliaru [Holeyas] to work part time in agriculture, though ‘many persons of castes that ought to be weavers, are in fact farmers’. As for the raw silk they used, it was all imported by Bangalore merchants (loc.cit.). The most costly by far was the Chinese, white and yellow, with the former rather more so than the latter. Rajanagari silk, in both colours and presumably from Bengal, was available at about 2/3rds the price, and muga wild silk at about a quarter (op.cit.: 196).
The Patvēgāras mainly made cloth of a very rich and strong fabric for nine named kinds of garment. Buchanan explains that Hindus rarely wore cut and stitched clothes, instead obtaining pieces of fabric woven to the appropriate size for wrapping round parts of the body as required. These they made in children’s sizes as well as for adults, male as well as female. The customers would necessarily have been relatively wealthy. The first five garments he lists used similarly patterned silks, differentiated by the colours used and ‘the different figures woven in the cloth.’ ‘If any person chooses to commission them, whatever parts of the pattern he likes may be wrought in gold thread; but, as this greatly enhances the value, such cloths are never wrought except when commissioned’. The sixth kind he lists is called shalnama, a shawl for wrapping round head and shoulders of men, with smaller ones again for children. These were also strong and rich but distinguished by the use of figures like those on Kashmiri shawls (Buchanan 1807: 208). A number of other luxurious lines were also noted, including sada putayshina, a thin white muslin with silk borders ‘either plain or dotted in the loom with silk or cotton thread’ and often with gold and silver ornament. Buchanan pronounces it ‘an elegant manufacture’. Other variants are described too: coloured striped muslin with silk borders and another with the muslin green, perhaps a difficult colour to achieve. The latter was also made by Devangas, widespread competitors in the high quality market, whose version of this was, Buchanan states, of finer quality. Other weavers, apparently less numerous, called Cuttery, who claimed to be Kshatriyas by caste, produced exactly the same items as the Patvēgāras. 

There was therefore a class of producers of luxury bespoke silk goods, these to be sold at up to four times the best of three recognised qualities of the same items often produced for public sale. Buchanan, himself from an aristocratic family background, appreciated the ‘capability of the Bangalore weavers to make rich, very fine and elegant cloth of every kind that may be in demand’. The manufacturers told him, with a little exaggeration perhaps, that all the demand for these goods was in ‘the country formerly belonging to Tippoo’. They were accustomed to working for the court at Seringapatam, and it struck him that they must now, ‘labour under great disadvantages: for it never can be expected that the court of Mysore should equal that of Seringapatam’, recently destroyed, ‘nor will the English officers ever demand the native goods so much as the Musselmen Sirdars did’ (op.cit.:221).
By the start of the nineteenth century, as this narrative shows, the Patnūlkārans or Patvēgāras had spread into the domains of Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, as well as into the Presidency of Madras. In Madurai within the Presidency, it was noted  at the beginning of the 20th century that most Patnūlkārans could still speak Telugu and that their own Patnūli language included many Kannada and Telugu words.[7] From North Arcot comes also a list of the places they had settled: Tirupati, Arni and Vellore, and further south again to Trichinopoly, Tanjavur, Madurai ‘and other large towns where they carried on their trade of silk-weaving’.
Notes on other matters of interest come from the Mysore Census Report of 1891. The Patnūlkārans then made ‘a fine stuff called katni[8], which no other weavers [were] said to be able to prepare’. It was ‘largely used by Mussalmans for trousers and lungas (gowns)’. They also said that about twenty-five of their families living in Tanjavur district were taken by Hyder Ali when returning from his campaigns in the Carnatic against Madras, to his capital, Srirangapatna. There they were placed in his artisan settlement at Ganjam nearby, and exempted from ‘certain taxes’ ‘to encourage silk and velvet weaving’. ‘The industry flourished till the fall of Srirangapatna [in 1799], when most of the class fled from the country, only a few having survived those troublous times’.  By 1891 there were only 254 Patnūlkārans registered in the Mysore Census, and they were making carpets in Bangalore (Thurston & Rangachari 1909: 160-177 facing).

[1] The text here was extracted mainly from the translation as published by John F. Fleet 1888, accessed online, 20.04.2012, in ‘Mandasaur – Jatland Wiki’, a compilation by Laxman Burdak. The presence of mistakes of translation as well as sources for correction are noted. Another version, less filled out and probably less imaginative, is available at his op.cit.: 22-32. See also Bühler 1973, a reprint of the original translation from his German original of 1913. Successive translations copy and modify in varying degree.
[2] Another translation offers ‘magnanimous guild’ (Verse 36/37).
[3] It would later, in the era of Muslim dominance in the 14th century, become Daulātabād, the Tagluq capital to which an attempt to remove the inhabitants of Delhi was made. Its fort near Aurangabad remains the most spectacular in the state of Maharashtra and a major tourist destination.
[4] See Ramaswamy 1985: 160-61, for an interesting case of contested claim to Brahmin status. For Patnūlkārans, see also Thurston & Rangachari 1909: 160-177 facing.
[5] Or Pattuegars in Buchanan’s transliteration, the Kannada equivalent of the caste name, Patnūlkāran. See Thurston & Rangachari 1909: 187/88.
[6] The 3 volumes of his invaluable reports on the detailed enquiries he made into the country and its inhabitants on A journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar were published in London in 1807.
[7] The Telugu-speaking Devanga weavers, dominant caste of Kollegal town, a sericultural centre on the edge of Karnataka but once in the Coimbatore District of the Madras Presidency, have a comparable history. They were encountered as active across the silk trades in the 1970s. (Charsley 1980: 1755-64).
[8] Katni: probably the more widely recognized ‘patni, Anglo-Indian ‘putney’ (Hobson-Jobson 1886), referring to silk fabric of high quality such as the commissioned items noted above.

1 comment:

  1. respected sir ,
    your search on us as identified as
    saurashtrians. is welcome one and also amazing.dear sir.,we also identified as
    PALKAR from ancient saurashtram.but sir
    let me clear one interrogation. that is
    during Muhammed of gazhini raids and attacks over saurashtra somnathaa temple
    i came to know from your London records that hundreds of hundreds unarmed civilians as saurashtra priests massacred during 1024- 25 invasions.
    So let me know saurashtra priests and silk Weaver's of saurashtra migrated to mandasaur on 5 the century are both
    similar identical races of saurashtra region or not ? so we the settlers as palkar by profession silk weaving belongs to ancient saurashtra priests or
    saurashtra silk Weaver's since all we here having seperate ghothras and seperate family surnames as the Jewish identitied.