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Tracing the History and Evolution of the Carpet Weaving Industry in India

Exploring the Origins and Development of Carpet Weaving in India

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The intricate art of carpet weaving in India is a globally recognized tradition. With about 75-85 percent of its production finding their way to international markets, Indian carpets are admired across the world for their artistry and enduring elegance.

The genesis of the carpet industry in India can be traced back to the opulent reign of the Mughals in the 16th century. Emperor Babur lamented the lack of luxury items in his palace and brought in skilled weavers from Persia.

Origins of the Rugs And Carpet

Carpet weaving is a craft that has been in India since the 16th century at least, when weavers from Persia and Turkey were brought by Mogul Akbar to produce carpets for his palace. Weavers from the Deccan and Bhadohi regions became known for their exquisite craftsmanship. Today, the industry continues to thrive and is a major economic contributor to the country, generating up to $1.8 billion annually and employing up to 2 million people.

The process begins with the sourcing of raw materials including wool, viscose, cotton and jute, which then goes through a coloration and texture development process to deliver a sample piece. Once the design has been finalized, it then goes through a talim code creation process using a software application. This enables weavers to create complex designs more quickly and efficiently. Mr Sofi believes this doesn’t necessarily take away from the artistic aspect of carpet weaving but is instead a positive step towards streamlining the production process, which is time-consuming and error-prone.

Following the 1857 war, commonly known as the Indian Mutiny, a lot of skilled weavers migrated to the Mirzapur region. The carpet weaving industry was revived in the region with the introduction of new motifs and styles that were inspired by Indian art, as well as Persian influences, such as flower and plant patterns, scenic landscapes, and other traditional symbols.

After the re-emergence of this industry in the Mirzapur region, it continued to grow. However, the quality of carpets started to depreciate in the 19th century, and it wasn’t until 1947 when this beautiful craft was once again restored to its glory. This was thanks to the initiative of several government programs, which helped train a lot of artisans. Today, the industry is primarily export-oriented and produces a variety of rugs from regions across the country, such as kaleen, Gabbeh, khabdan pile, and galeecha knotted carpets.

Materials used in Rugs and Carpets:

Carpet weaving is a meticulous process that can take years to complete. A carpet consists of warp threads, which are stretched from one side to the other in a consistent pattern, and weft threads that weave in and out. These are then knotted together by hand, resulting in the final product.

Various regions across the country have their own rendition of this craft. Uttar Pradesh is known for its bold colours and Persian motifs, Kashmir for its silky carpets, and Rajasthan for its hand-knotted woollen carpets. The emergence of this craft in the sixteenth century was due to the royal patronage of the Mughal emperors who encouraged craftspeople to adopt Persian techniques and designs. They also set up dedicated carpet-making workshops called farrash-khanas in cities such as Agra and Delhi.

The looms on which carpets are woven have evolved over the centuries but the basic principle remains unchanged. The most basic loom consists of two vertical beams, usually made of wood or metal, and two horizontal ones. The distance between these is what determines the width of the finished carpet. Warp threads are strung from one side of the loom to the other, and weft threads are then tied to these with the help of knotting techniques.

In addition to using high-quality yarns, many carpet producers use natural vegetable dyes. Reds were obtained from madder, pinks from saffron and indigo plants, blues from a variety of grasses and leaves, greens from turmeric, and yellows from saffron crocuses.

The design of a carpet is often inspired by traditional motifs like palmettes, geometrical shapes, flowers, the tree of life and even animals. Some companies, such as Obeetee Carpets, take this a step further by studying the interior spaces that will house the carpet. This way, the team can come up with a design that will be best suited to the space and its purpose.

Techniques used in Rugs and Carpets:

Carpet weaving in India has become a highly specialised art. In fact, the art is now one of the country’s most prominent handicraft industries, not just within the nation but also worldwide. This art owes its origin to the sixteenth century, when the Mughal emperor Akbar re-established carpet making workshops across India. He brought skilled weavers from Persia to India, who introduced new carpet designs and weaving techniques. These workshops became renowned centres of carpet production.

This technique has changed very little since the time of the Mughals. In this process, a warp is set as the base for the carpet and then the design taken across it using the weft (a filling of yarn in weaving). The weft is then filled with coloured threads, which are determined by the design. The coloured threads are dyed using natural vegetable colours such as the deep red from madder roots, the pink from roses, greens and browns from grass, leaves and saffron crocuses. These weft threads are then used to weave the patterned carpet, which can take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to complete.

Today, almost ninety percent or more of the carpet woven in India is exported. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering the fact that hand-knotted carpets are labour intensive, expensive and time consuming to produce.

However, the industry is facing some challenges at the moment. According to experts, a shortage of weavers and trained artisans is slowing down the pace of manufacturing. Moreover, the rising cost of raw materials has doubled the costs of manufacturing. This has made it difficult for the weavers to survive in this competitive market. To combat these issues, technology firms are experimenting with artificial intelligence to help in the manufacturing process. One such firm, International Virtual Assistance, is working on training an AI system to decipher the talim code and speed up production.

Styles of the Rugs and Carpets:

The style of carpets produced in different parts of the country vary based on their region’s cultural heritage and aesthetic. For example, a carpet made in the Himalayas are bright and bold with motifs of animals and trees. Carpets made in the coastal areas of India like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu use patterns derived from fruits and flowers such as babul, guava or ambarcha and have a soft and delicate feel to them.

During the 16th century, carpet weaving reached its pinnacle in India under Mughal patronage, especially under emperor Akbar. Weavers from Persia and Turkey were brought to India and royal workshops were established in cities such as Daulatabad, Delhi and Multan. Carpets at this time were mostly Persian in design but Indian motifs were added to them including scenes from court life, animals, plants and scenic landscapes.

Today, the fusion of ancient craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology is revolutionizing the carpet industry in a big way, says Chaudhary. “From a design point of view, there are a number of steps that have to be taken into account before a carpet can be finalized such as the sourcing and testing of the raw materials, coloration and texture development,” he says.

Once the designs are finalized and the raw materials have been sourced, artisans in rural areas begin the weaving process. The artisan weaves the warp in cotton and the weft in wool. There are around 18 processes that go into making a finished carpet such as the QC, repairing, washing and so on.

This re-invention of the industry is a welcome change for the weavers who have struggled to compete with the modern world. Moreover, it proves that traditional industries can thrive in the digital age as long as they adapt to the changes and innovate.

Design of Rugs and Carpets:

Carpet weaving has a long and beautiful history in India, and lakhs of artisans have kept it alive. It has been an industry that has evolved to keep up with times and changes, while preserving its cultural heritage.

The fusion of ancient craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology is a perfect example of how traditional industries can adapt to the digital age. It also highlights the potential of this industry to become a model for other industries seeking to integrate modern technology while retaining their unique identity.

Carpets have been woven in India for centuries and the art can be traced back to medieval times. The Mughals adapted the Persian technique of weaving carpets and this led to the production of intricately designed pieces that featured court life, animals, and floral motifs.

Traditionally, the entire process would take months for a single rug to be completed. First, a designer would draw up the design on paper. A talim expert would then encode that design and send it off for weaving. The code would then be broken down into small sections and sent to individual weavers such as Mr Sofi, who could then follow it and complete the work. This was an extremely time-consuming process, and mistakes were difficult to spot.

The looms that are used in carpet making have remained relatively unchanged throughout the years. The basic loom consists of two vertical beams of either wood or metal and a similar number of horizontal ones that are strung with warp threads at a consistent tension. The weft, which is the coloured filling in weaving, is then tied to these threads in a pattern that reflects the overall design of the piece. A hand-knotted carpet will have a high knot density, which is indicative of its quality.