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Indian Carpets, Rugs And Mats : An Infinite Variety

In the most beatiful and enchanting land of India, there continues a famous tradition of carpets of the highest quality and beauty unparallelled anywhere.


India offers a wide range of floor coverings that have evolved over the centuries to suit a variety of tastes, climates and budgets. The woollen and silk carpets are more renowned compared to the other materials such as cotton and several vegetable fibres, which are used for making attractive and practically useful mats and durries.

In the early stages, the motifs used in the Indian carpets were purely Persian. Later, various other designs were introduced from Afghanistan, Turkey, China, Morocco and France. Gradually, the pile carpet industry was Indianised and assumed a character of its own. Each region developed a distinct style of carpet weaving. In the mountainous regions of India, from Ladakh through Darjeeling in West Bengal and Sikkim to Manipur, carpets are made of pure wool in glowing colours. The predominant motifs are those of the dragon, snow-lion and lotus. Patterns are also taken from Buddhist iconography with dhawaja (flag), the kalash (water-vessel) and the twin fish being favourites. Carpets from these regions are based on techniques that are as distinct as the motifs. These are essentially Central Asian in tradition. For over 2500 years the patterns reproduced were those of flowers arabesques and rhomboids with an occasional animal design. The patterns have never become outmoded. Some motifs have a profound meaning: the circle signifies eternity, the zigzag water and light, the swastika darkness and the tree happiness and goodness.

Carpet Weaving in different states of India

Kashmir is known for its fine quality carpets, an average piece being made with about 324 knots per square inch. Although the carpet industry here is of Persian origin, Kashmir has developed some of its own designs based on shawl patterns, the traditional paisley, leaves and flowers. Fine quality carpets are also produced in Amritsar (Punjab), Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Eluru and Warangal (Andhra Pradesh). The Mirzapur-Bhadohi belt in Uttar Pradesh represents the most important area of carpet weaving in the country as it has the largest concentration of carpet weavers.

This area specialises in the lower, medium and low-fine qualities and accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the total production of carpets in India. The quality here ranges between 100 and 200 knots per square inch. The fineness of a carpet is judged from the number of knots per unit area, and the design, colours and quality of yarn. The firmness, thickness and appearance of the back of a carpet are the important considerations in determining the quality of the carpet. The Indian carpet industry is export oriented with the largest importers being Germany and the USA followed by Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

Woollen Carpets

The wool used in carpets varies greatly. The best grades of Indian wool are used for medium quality carpets while imported wool blended with Indian high-grade wool is used for superior quality carpets. For fine quality carpets, such as Kashmiri carpets worsted yarn is used. The best quality carpets made with high-grade wool develop a beautiful lustre after use and therefore old carpets have special values. Today, however, when customers desire to have that effect immediately, the wool is washed with special chemicals to enhance its natural lustre.

Traditionalists however maintain that the process not only reduces the life of the carpet but also fails to produce the same lustre that comes with age and use. They also believe that carpets should never be dry-cleaned. Instead, they should be washed with ritha (a kind of hard berry which is ground and then soaked in water to produce a rich lather with which the carpet is brushed).

Piled Carpets

The Indian pile carpet is believed to have originated in the 16th century when the Mughal emperor Akbar invited some Persian carpet weavers to set up a workshop in his palace. They introduced the art of pile carpet weaving in silk and wool. Akbar's successor, Jahangir and later Shah Jahan further encouraged the development of this craft. During Shah Jahan's reign Indian carpets became famous in several countries. Some of the fine pieces of art of those days can be seen today at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and in other museums in Europe and the United States.

Hand Knotted Carpets of Kashmir

The origins of hand-knotted carpets can be traced back more than 2000 years. In India, the hand knotted carpets appeared in the 15th century. In Kashmir it attained a high degree of perfection especially in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Mughal emperors. Wool is the basic material but in Kashmir silk is also commonly used not only for the pile but also for the warp and weft. Sometimes silk or cotton is used for the warp with quality wool pile for weft. The appearance and number of knots on the back of the carpet indicates the quality. Among the hand knotted ones the Bokhara Carpets are one of the finest with about 125-500 knots in a square inch.

Every winter, Kashmiri carpet vendors with small carpets piled high behind their scooters or motorcycles (the wealthier ones have cars and, consequently, bigger carpets) are a common sight in Delhi and other big cities in northern India. Since they have no shops in these cities- being temporary residents while the cold winter puts an end to tourism and business in Kashmir -they go from house to house in the hope of finding customers. These vendors often agree to clean old carpets, but of course it is usually only a known person who may be trusted. They are often on the look out for old carpets and many an interesting bargain can be struck, an old for a new. Only the shrewd Kashmiri knows how he can make a profit from the old one.


DurriesIn recent years there has been a growing demand for durries both in India and abroad. The durry is a cotton spread without piles, which traditionally comes in two varieties: one that is used on the bed instead of a mattress or below a thin cotton mattress and the other which is used as a floor covering. The former variety is smaller in size and is made on a pit-loom while the latter is made on an elementary loom called an adda.

The technique of durry weaving can be seen in its most primitive form in the villages of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana where girls are normally put to the task at an early age so that they can prepare rugs that will form part of their trousseau. In contrast, girls in Navalgund, a village in Karnataka that produces a small number of unusual durries, are never taught the craft lest they spread the skill outside the family after marriage. Durries come in numerous designs although the most common are stripes of different colours and geometrical designs. Sometimes animal and bird motifs are also used. Fine durries in brilliant colours made of cotton and silk have become a speciality of Salem (Tamil Nadu) while those made of jute fibre are woven in West Bengal.

The modern Indian housewife often tends to prefer durries to carpets. Durries are lighter and easier to maintain and can usually be washed at home. They are suitable for a hot and dusty environment and being less expensive they can be replaced every few years. This does not mean that durries are not long lasting. People even have durries that have lasted for about twenty years and in spite of several washes still look good.


The namdha is a speciality of Kashmir, which is so named because of the embroidery with woollen thread that completely covers the base of hessian. A namdha is prepared by spreading wool with certain quantities of cotton evenly either or mats, as in Kashmir, or on sackcloth, as in Rajasthan. This is moistened with a special solution, which is pressed into the felt either by treading upon it or by applying pressure by hand. Namdhas are either embroidered or appliquéd.

Other Indian Mats

In Kerala, coir floor coverings are a traditional craft. Grass mats are also woven in many parts of India. These crafts are much older than that of pile carpet weaving. The kora grass mats of south India and sitalpati (meaning cool mats) of Assam are well known. Mats are also made of wheat or rice straw, certain types of weeds, and of fine bamboo. These are the traditional floor coverings in rural areas although there is a growing demand for some varieties in the urban and international markets. Today many of these fibres are used for making table mats as well.

For those interested in seeing a wide range of Indian floor coverings, a visit to the Government emporia in Delhi is recommended. Each state has a showroom that normally depicts its range of handicrafts. Since these emporia are all located in the same area it is easy to have a quick view of the wide variety of handicrafts from different corners of the country.

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