Carpet weaving is an art that has been alive in India in one form or another since time immemorial. Earlier, it was present in the traditional Indian style of Dhurrie-making and later, in the style inspired by other traditional forms of carpet making around the world. There is a long beautiful history behind this art form and it has taken the effort of lakhs of artisans to keep this industry thriving.
At first, there were only handmade carpets and skilled artisans who made them. The Indian vintage rugs you see now are the products of those times. When the industrial revolution took over the manufacturing of these symbols of luxury, machine-made products slowly took over the market. It was the spirit of artisans that kept handmade carpets from disappearing. They made them unique and added elements that a machine could never replicate. Handmade came to symbolise lavishness and luxury, while machine-made carpets started to reflect mediocrity. With ups and downs throughout history, this art form became what it is now.
In the olden days of India, traditional pile carpets did not exist, but what existed were dhurries. They were flat weave rugs, which were versatile enough to be used in various forms in addition to floor coverings like meditation and yoga mats, bed coverings, wall hangings, and more. They displayed the traditional art of India and were made by the women of the household. They were given in dowry to the bride and held sentimental value that can still not be replaced by pile carpets.
However, these rugs did not appeal to the Mughals, who brought the art of weaving pile carpets to India. The best Mughal carpets you see nowadays only came to be because of Akbar. When Babur arrived, he missed the luxuries of the land he left behind. Places like Samarkand and Persia were filled with beautiful gardens and breathtaking interior decor, but things were different in India. Babur strived to create the environment of his land here, but it was only when Mughal Emperor Akbar brought Persian carpet weavers that luxurious carpets were introduced to the people of India.
- Akbar’s Role – The art form was introduced in 1580 AD when the Persian carpet weavers were brought by the emperor to his palace in Agra. He established carpet weaving centres in Agra, Delhi, and Lahore, placing the carpet weavers there and encouraging the art form to be taken up in those places. The production of Persian-style carpets began therefrom. The promotion of art by Akbar led to carpets being made by prisoners as well. An example of their creation is the Agra Jail carpets. Carpet weaving became a reformative technique that helped prisoners become skilled at this art form.
- Transition of Art – The Persian carpet weavers brought the traditional Persian style of carpet making, but with time, Indian art found its way into that style. Soon, the blend of the Persian and Indian art styles became distinctive and found fame abroad. This style of art making spread across the land and became the most popular way of weaving carpets. More and more people wished to buy luxury carpet for their homes after that.
- Making of the Carpets – These carpets were created with high-density knots and were made to last a long time. Several artisans dedicated hundreds of hours to a single carpet to get it to perfection. Wool and silk were the fabrics used to create these carpets, and because of this, they were not only worthy of admiration for their look but also for their feel. Depictions of the Mughal emperors and their lives, various hunting scenes, elaborate floral patterns, etc., were commonly woven into the carpets. Taj Mahal carpets were also immensely popular.
The patterns were usually asymmetrical, and it was that quality that made the Indian carpet art style different from the Persian art style. Indian artisans took inspiration from many places throughout history. Aside from the Persians, the Indian carpet style was also inspired by the Turkish. By introducing a unique Indian element to these styles, the artisans were able to bring forth something that became traditional in Indian carpet weaving.
Major Carpet Weaving Centers in India
After Akbar established some carpet weaving centres, the industry expanded until there became three major states where this art of carpet weaving flourished.
- Uttar Pradesh – Since the Persian carpet weaving style was brought straight to Agra by Akbar, this city is the most important centre for carpet weaving in India. Agra has its own distinctive style that merges with the general traditional Indian style, making those Indian rugs and carpets special. Mirzapur and Bhadohi also have uniqueness in the designs and colours of the carpets made there. The latter is considered to have the biggest carpet weaving industry in South East Asia.
- Rajasthan – In Rajasthan, Jaipur is the most popular place for carpet weaving. Other cities include Ajmer, Jodhpur, and Bikaner. The carpets made in Rajasthan are dhurries. The Rajput kings often decorated their palaces with these dhurrie rugs and thus promoted their production in these cities. Jaipur Dhurrie rugs are famous for their quality and design.
- Kashmir – Another centre for carpet weaving is Kashmir. The carpets made in this area are primarily of silk and have a uniqueness of their own. The colours and design of these carpets make them special. Their look separates them from the rest because of the Kashmiri art. It mainly features the nature of this beautiful place like the trees and birds which are exclusively found there. These carpets take a long time to be made but are worth the wait because they are not only amazing in the way they look but also in their feel.
The history of the Indian carpets as they came to be is long and complicated, but it has brought forth the carpet weaving style which is considered traditional today. The hub of traditional rugs in India is Agra, where you can find the Kalra Cottage Industry. They are the prime carpet manufacturer in the city. You can find them by looking up “rugs and carpets shops near me” when you are in Agra. If you are interested in buying Indian carpets, knowing their history will help you realise how much value they hold.