Mughal history is an indispensable part of Indian history. The Mughals are known for their expansive political policies and conquest techniques. But they were also great patrons of art and architecture. The Mughal emperors invested heavily in their courts to establish their authority and gain legitimacy. Among the court’s decorations were the ornate carpets. Mughal miniature paintings and manuscripts all mention the love of emperors for beautiful hand-knotted carpets.
So, keep reading to learn more about the history and design of the court carpets of the Mughals.
What Are Court Carpets?
By definition, court carpets are floor coverings that were hand-woven under the strict supervision, guidance, and often financial commissioning of the governing “court.” For instance, the area rugs known as “Mughal court carpets” or “the best Taj Mahal carpets” were created by the ruling Mughals in what is now the city of Agra.
The Tradition of Weaving Islamic Carpets
People from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds throughout the Islamic world produced handwoven rugs, carpets, and works of textile art. In communities and nomadic camps, people have done this by handing down their knowledge and crafts, passed from generation to generation. Nomadic women are thought to have been the first to weave carpets. These nomadic weavers kept up the tradition of weaving carpets for both domestic and commercial purposes.
In the Islamic world, carpets were also made by the imperial court system. More than just functional necessities, these mats were also wonderful works of art that represented the owners’ social and financial position. The floors of jury rooms, courtrooms, and reception areas were all carpeted. Carpets were also presented to many rulers and queens as impressive gifts. Images from manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries show that carpets were also hung as display tapestries on walls. The paintings also reveal the trend of layering smaller rugs on top of larger ones.
Medieval Islamic empires could procure expensive materials like silk and silver strands easily. The emperors commissioned enormously jeweled carpets, hiring the best weavers and artisans. Due to their excellent craftsmanship, elaborate designs, and great quality, court carpets are among the best examples of Islamic art. Court-ordered carpets usually differ greatly from those made in industrial weaving mills or household mills.
In addition to the traditional themes that have been used for ages, court carpets usually have themes that are also commonly adopted in bookbinding and manuscript art. The Mughal rug collection contains some of the most stunning specimens of carpets for the Imperial Court (1526–1858)
Mughal Court Carpets
The Mughals dominated a large part of the Indian subcontinent from 1526 to 1858, reigning over India for almost three centuries. It’s possible that India didn’t have a real history of Oriental rugs until the Mughal conquest. The Mongol dynasties that ruled over Iran and Central Asia were the ancestors of the Mughals. The Mughals swiftly established all of their cultural operations in their imperial palaces in India. This includes their passion for carpet weaving and manuscript writing.
The early Mughals placed great value on Persian artisans. Therefore, Persian rugs and art commonly inspired the exquisite patterns found in traditional Indian rugs from that time. However, soon, a distinct Mughal visual lexicon appeared in miniature paintings, royal carpets, and other artistic forms.
The palace rugs and artwork of the Mughal dynasty are quite diverse in their aesthetic approaches. In addition to the numerous representations of naturalistic and realistic scenes, such as hunting and inscriptions, we also see abstract floral patterns. However, there are numerous images of emperors holding the court while seated on finely made area rugs, carpeting the whole Mughal court floor.
Another popular design theme for the best Mughal carpets was intricate flower motifs and lattice patterns. The popularity of botanically accurate floral designs peaked during the reign of Shah Jahan. Even in his patronage of the Taj Mahal, you can see the incorporation of similar floral designs into its architectural ornamentation. Thus, botanically realistic floral designs were another popular theme in the Mughal arts.
Motifs and designs from the Safavid neighbors were occasionally incorporated into these carpets. But the Mughals represented them in a unique way that was distinct from Persian rugs.
Even Mughal prayer rugs feature inventive floral designs that thrive beneath the mihrabs. Similar to this, Mughal hunting rugs are vibrant and energetic. They show ferocious creatures, horsemen, and local Indian tropical wildlife. Akin to botanical Mughal rugs, the hunting carpets too depict the reality of life.
Patrons and History
It is believed that Akbar the Great was the first emperor to set up imperial carpet weaving facilities during the prosperous period of the classical era in 1556. Before, imperial workshops were built to train local artisans. The Mughals imported wool carpets from their homelands across the Asian steppe.
Akbar may have initiated carpet weaving, but it was Shah Jahan who truly expanded the practice. Mughal art and architecture were products of the passion of the emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled from 1627 until 1658. Many artistic and architectural undertakings, including the Taj Mahal, were commissioned during his reign.
The Mughal court acquired a considerable collection of European tapestries and paintings through diplomatic ties with British and Dutch traders. This also influenced their carpet and textile designs. Common prayer rugs and Millefleur carpets made by the Mughals are quite identical to traditional tapestries made in medieval Europe and Italy. The inclusion of both domestic and exotic animals in a realistic and stylized fashion is indeed a hallmark of Mughal carpets.
Secondary guard bands that divide the border from the centre carpet field are one of the distinguishing features of Mughal carpet designs. The said design has been copied by various carpet-weaving cultures. The Mughals’ regard for flora and the mythical garden of paradise has inspired many artworks. Even today, if you stroll around the handmade rugs shop in Agra, you’ll find carpets with similar features.
The Mughal patterns have impacted carpet and textile design all over the world. Thus, Mughal rugs continue to be associated with luxury, elegance, and unwavering quality.
The court carpets of the Mughals, as discussed, are some of the most ethereal art of the medieval era. These were not just things of beauty but were also signifiers of financial status and political power. The Mughal emperors introduced the art of carpet making to bring the luxuries of their Persian home, and the practice was eventually localized into what we know as Indian rugs.
The court rugs of the Mughal era have left a deep imprint on the design aesthetic in carpet making because, even now, designer handmade rugs follow similar stylistic inspirations. To summarize, even though the Mughal court was disbanded centuries ago, the legacy of Mughal court carpets continues to thrive.