Carpet industry in India is one of the oldest and the most popular industries. India has always had an ancient heritage of carpet weaving, a craft that has various skill and expertise from lands as various as Persia, China and Afghanistan. The history of Indian carpets entails that when Babar came to India, he was disappointed by the lack of luxuries here. He missed the luxuries of Persia, which included the Persian carpet and thus Akbar laid the foundation of carpet weaving tradition in India, in 1580 AD at his palace in Agra. Akbar established carpet weavings centres at Agra, Delhi and Lahore to facilitate production of Persian styled carpets. Some of the most royal carpet in India can be seen from Mughal period which were inspired by designs of Kirman, Kashan, Esfahan, and Herat. Mughals not only used the Persian technique of carpet weaving, but were also influenced by traditional designs and motifs from Persia. Akbar brought certain Persian carpet weavers to India and established them in India. The art grew and flourished here and it was modified as per the royal tastes and mixed with the Indian arts. Weavers in India then learned the magic of colours and weaving and more aesthetic touch started to appear in Indian carpets. Carpet industry in India flourished more in its northern part of the India. So, major centres of carpet industry are in Kashmir, Jaipur, Agra, Bhadohi and Mirzapur.
2. Major Carpet Belts in India
- Jaipur and Bikaner in Rajasthan.
- Bhadohi, Mirzapur and Agra in Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh (Agra, Bhadohi and Mirzapur)
Carpets of Uttar Pradesh are particularly known all across the globe for their unique colours and designs. Bhadohi, Mirzapur and Agra are the major carpet hubs in Uttar Pradesh. Agra in Uttar Pradesh was the first carpet center in the Mughal India. Agra is well-known for natural vegetable dyes. Since it was the base of Akbar’s empire, the artists were first established here. The place is known for Persian style carpets. Agra designs give emphasis to elegance and simplicity surrounded by bold floral borders. Turkman and Abussan varieties are also famous. They are known for realistic bold patterns. The specialty of Bhadohi carpets of Uttar Pradesh is their individual designs. These designs have been developed by the native weavers and also include various tint of Taj Mahal in natural colours.
Kashmir can be called the fort of the Indian oriental carpets and rugs. Famous for hand knotted woolen and silk carpets; they are a symbol of quality and artistic expertise. The hand knotted silk and woolen carpets of Kashmir take pride in their uniqueness and world famous for their softness and craftsmanship. The carpet producing centers in India is mostly present in Kashmir, who is the traditional hand knotted silk carpet weavers. The origins of the traditional silk carpets of Kashmir can be traced to the Mughal period. The basic pattern is of Persian origin.
Carpets of Rajasthan are traditionally well known for fine-quality hand-knotted woolen fibers. Jaipur, Ajmer, and Bikaner are main centers for this craft in Rajasthan. Jaipur was another major center of the Mughal reign for carpet weaving. Carpets first began to be manufactured in Rajasthan when weavers from Afghanistan started to settle in the royal ateliers in the 17th century. Ever since, they have flourished here, with their high-spirited colours and geometric motifs finding their way into showrooms across the globe.
There are many kinds of carpets available in India. Each variety of carpet in India is unique in design and caters to different segments of society. Many techniques were/are employed in weaving of carpets. Nevertheless, some of the most commonly practiced techniques, as far as Indo Islamic carpets are concerned, can be outlined as follow:-
- Hand knotted Carpets: This technique was brought by Mughals. This carpet has a rich appeal since many craftsmen were supported by ruling class. Initially the patterns were Turkish and Persian but later got Indianised. The techniques and patterns were to a large extent adapted by the Kashmiri art.
- Hand Tufted Carpets: In this technique, the carpets have their pile injected a backing material with the help of tufting gun, which is itself bonded to a secondary backing cloth with the use of latex solution to provide stability. Then third backing cloth is used with and finishing is carried out. The tufted carpet can be produced either with loop pile or cut pile.
- Hand Woven carpets: It is a broad category which includes hand knotted carpets as well as flat weave carpets. Knotted carpets include the traditional Persian carpets. The quality of hand woven carpets can be judge by tightness of the weaves and density of the knots.
Pattern is also an integral part of the hand-made knotted carpet. Patterns like flowers, arabesques, rhomboids and occasional animal design were common produced and employed as design with varying degree of stylization. Each of these designs has a unique meaning. For example, the circle, zigzag and tree signified eternity, light and happiness respectively. Later, Persian style was amalgamated with Indian design giving rise to Indo-Islamic carpet.
Cypress tree: Survival in the afterlife.
Tree of Life: Eternal Life.
Anar: Pomegranate riches in abundance.
Camels: Wealth and happiness.
Peacock: The scared bird.
Dove: Peace and good Omen.
Comb: Cleanness, Sometimes the pillar of faith (On which Islam rests).
Hour Glass: A reminder that time runs out for all and that there is no escape.
Cloud Bands: Good Fortune.
Cross: In is devoid of religious significance and is purely ornamental.
Weeping willow: Death, Sorrow, Grief.
Cock: The devil, woven into carpet to protect the owner or user from evil eye.
Lions: Victory and Glory.
Dogs: To protect the owner or user from theft.
The common materials used for weaving carpets are wool, cotton and silk. Wool has always been the basic materials of the knotted carpets. Sheep wool, lamb’s wool camel and yak hair also sometimes used, depending on the centre of manufacturing of the carpets. Silk has been used for weaving some of the finest and lightest of carpets. “In Kashmir silk is commonly used not only for the pile but also for the wrap and weft, particularly in the case of a high quality piece” (Ruedin 1984). “Cotton is grown and hand spun in India and Persia, and in fact most of the countries which make hand knotted carpets” (Bamborough 1979).
Different colours signify different meanings. In short, dyes play an important role in carpets productions. Most of these dyes are derived from natural pigments. “The colours is all important to the production of a good carpet, for its affects both the colour and condition. A bad colour can make the pile dry and brittle” (Bamborough 1979). Madder (Rubia tinctorium), which grows wildly everywhere, was the most significant colorant of vegetable origin. Its root provides the whole range of pinks and reds. Shades of pink were obtained by mixing the red with grey. Blue was obtained from the leaves of indigo plant. Greens were extracted from grass (kusa) and brown from the leaves of kikar tree. A very pure yellow was obtained from the stigma of the cultivated saffron crocus, widely grown in Kashmir, Light yellow were extracted from turmeric.
Symbolism of Colours
White: – The colour of mourning, death and grief (India, Persia and China). Also symbolic of peace and purity.
Black: – Revolt, Destruction (Islam).
Red: – Joy, Happiness, Wealth (Islam).
Yellow: – Imperial Colour.
Orange: – Devotion, Faithfulness or Piety (Islam).
Gold: – Power, Wealth (Islam and Persia).
Brown: – Fertility, Agricultural abundance (Islam).
Light Blue: – Power, Symbolic of Heaven (Persia).
Dark Blue: The heavenly colour and also colour of morning.
Collection of Carpets in Museum of India:-
Salarjung Museum Hyderabad
Salarjung museum has a rich variety and artistic quality collection of Persian carpets. There are more than 150 Indo-Persian carpets and it’s representing all celebrated looms of Iran such as Bukharo, Hearat Isfahan, kirman, Shiraz and Tabriz. Apart from regular floral and geometric motif there is some other interesting carpets woven with human figure in action representing episodes from their popular romance. One of the largest and most beautiful carpets in Salarjung museum is a multi-medallion carpet from Kirman Iran.
National Museum, New Delhi
National Museum New Delhi has a small collection of Carpets from Mughal Period in the decorative art gallery which I have documented. Here the details of the carpet.
Period: Jahangir Period
Description: – A Persian carpet having geometrical pattern woven in white thread flouted by bands of floral pattern.
Albert Hall Museum Jiapur, Rajasthan
Albert Hall Museum Jiapur, Rajasthan has in total 18 magnificent collection of Indo-Persian carpets. The Importance of Albert hall carpet collection lies in its quality and variety. Of the six garden carpets that exist in the world, the Jaipur carpet is undoubtedly the most magnificent. The museum also has circular and arch shaped carpets that are quite rare.
- Persian Garden Carpet (Char Bagh Pattern, 17th Cent.)
This carpet is the best and well preserved among all such Persian Garden carpets existing in the world. It place of manufacture is believed to be kirman in persia. It was purchsed by Mirza Raja Jia Singh in 1632 from Lahore for Sukhmahla, Amber.
Avenues and orchards of flowering and faint laden trees adorn the channels and plots, full of birds on the ground, in the air and nests. Variegated coloured squares are a unique feature of the carpet.
Carpet (19th Cent. Jaipur Jail)
This carpet is copied from a Persian original. The pattern consists of a mythical bird and animals such as lions and deer against a floral background.
Md. Ali Nasir
Junior Research Fellow
National Museum Institute
New Delhi, India
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