A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDIA’S CARPET INDUSTRY
Indian carpets are considered to be one of the most traditional and technically accomplished. The carpet industry of India has grown with time and has gradually reached its height of fame, such that Indian rugs are renowned for their exquisite design, elegant craftsmanship, beautiful designs and impressive color matching.
Area rugs were known to be weaved in India since 500B.C. and woven mats and floor coverings have been found from the ancient times of Indian civilization.
But the real carpet industry of India started in 1500 A.D. during the reign of Akbar. During this period, he brought Persian craftsmen from their homeland and established them here. Initially carpet weaving started in the Persian tradition and design. Gradually it blended with the mughal as well as Indian art. Thus the carpets produced at that time became typical of the Indian origin and gradually the industry began to diversify and spread all over the subcontinent.
From the beginning, silk has been the basic material to produce area rugs. The type of silk depended on the quality of the carpet produced. The silk carpets had floral patterns, animal or bird figures.
The are rugs produced during Akbar’s reign were generally made of cotton and silk, and used shades of blue, green and several other colors on a red base. The carpets were initially made according to the Persian style but later adopted the Indian style.
The are rugs produced during the reign of Jahangir were more subtle and refined in make and design. The materials used were silk or pashmina that allowed more knots to be tied t the base of the carpet. Therefore minute and detailed designs could be incorporated. The designs were more detailed and fine. Minute figures, flowering patterns and manuscript paintings were created on the carpets.
During Shah Jahan’s reign (1628-58) the art of carpet-manufacture had reached its greatest heights. Warps of fine silk yarns allowed about 2,000 knots per square inch. Silk or pashmina piles gave the area rugs velvet like texture. Yarn shading was made more sophisticated. Flowers were now the primary elements of design.
Again during the reign of Aurangzeb the art and craft industry of India faced a downfall.
But the industry of area rug weaving sustained primarily because carpets were required for religious purpose. But the carpet industry did not see any development during this era. The same materials, designs and colors were used as that of the reign of Shah jahan.
The area rug industry of India survived even after the downfall of the Mughal Empire. Kashmir is now the pioneer of carpet industry of India. The History of the Kashmir carpets dates back to the early fifteenth century. According to the history of Kashmir, King Zain-ul-Abedin brought master carpet weavers from Persia to train the local craftsmen of the Kashmir valley, who already were master weavers of famous Kashmir textile. He introduced the assembly line system for weaving, clipping and washing of Kashmiri carpets in the 15th century. Because of his personal interest in the development of this industry in Kashmir the area rug industry flourished during his reign.
The industry suffered badly after this period and it rejuvenated during the time of the Mughal. In the mid 18th century the Dogras ruled Kashmir. Maharaja Ranbir Singh, the ruler of this period, showed interest in the development of carpet industry in Kashmir. During this period there was a huge development in terms of quality and production. The kashmiri carpets became valuable gifts from one King to another and have been found in almost all the palaces of India and Central Asia..
In the early 19th century, the kashmir area rugs saw the light of the international market, and was considered among the world’s best carpet weaving regions. European companies like The East India Co. took an interest in the carpet industry and established factories there. Thus the process of export began and continues to this day.
It is the color of the Kashmiri carpet that helps distinguish it from others. The colors of Kashmiri carpets are subtler and have low profile. They do not stand out in bright shades. The yarn is dyed using vegetable colors or any other forms of natural colors. The yarn is either silk, cotton or a combination of both. Cotton carpets are more common. Silk carpets always have a cotton base. Cotton carpets are more common and affordable than the silk though silk always forms the cream of the industry.
Just like Persian area rugs, the knotting determines the durability and the number of knots determines the price of the carpet. Other noteworthy aspects include color and design. The Indian area rugs can be double knotted or single knotted. The single knotted carpet is fluffier and softer than the double knotted.
The general characteristics that are seen in the Indian carpets that make them so special are their aristocratic design, unique patterns, refined and high quality materials, subtle color combinations, all these features make them stand out in the world of carpets. The durability of high quality Indian carpets can be similar to that of the Persian carpets, after all it was the skillful Persian carpet weavers who showed Indians how to make rugs. This feature makes the Indian carpet almost as valuable as Persian carpets and considered as assets and life long investments to many people.
Hope you enjoyed reading this article/blog!
(Shaswato is an avid admirer of area rugs living in Calcutta, India and wrote this piece exculsively for Area Rugs Club)