Carpet weaving or rug weaving is an ancient art of making beautiful carpets which originated in the ancient world. The carpet was and is still considered an important asset of a household, thus its weaving is a prime source of people for a chunk of the population across the world, and creates substantial employment for women in some backward countries.
Carpet knitting may have started either in Armenia or Iran in the 7th millennium BC, and flourished later in the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley, and Chinese Civilizations. One of the richest economical asset during the ancient and middle ages in terms of trade, the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the evolution of modern synthetic fibers and materials meant that this rich weaving art is at a dying stage. In cold areas, having a designed carpet is a necessity for homes and commercial centres.
In the negative side, carpet weaving is increasingly becoming unpopular due to cheap industrial mage rugs. Also, modern styles like digital styles have taken over the traditional motifs in carpet weaving. Presence of cheap heaters meant that floor insulation during cold season is not a necessity. All these are leading to decline in carpet weaving across the world, especially the western-influenced world. On the other hand, carpet weaving is still doing good business in areas traditionally famous for it, partly through tourism. In this article, let us look into the art of carpet making in different countries from the past to the present.
Armenian carpet is generally considered to be the origin of carpet weaving. The Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest surviving carpet dating to the 5th century BC, is considered to be of Armenian origin. Today, carpets are used almost everywhere in the interior – to cover floors, walls, sofas, chairs, tables and even beds. Carpet weaving is an important women’s occupation in Armenia, where hand knitting is preferred over machine weaving in the modern world. Armenian carpet designs spread quickly to Azerbaijan, northern Iran and Iraq, where the art flourished and is still flourishing even today.
Ancient Persia was a pioneer in the production and export of carpet weaving since at least the Bronze Age. However, the earliest surviving carpets have dated back only to the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century AD. Due to religious restrictions, the drawing of animals and humans are banned. Carpets are mostly woollen, though some silk carpets do exist. Today, Iran is the largest producer as well as exporter of handmade carpets in the world.
Turkish carpets are known more by the name Anatolian carpets, from the ancient Anatolian region where this rug originated. It has influences of Armenian, Byzantine, as well as Persian, though Anatolian carpets are believed to have originated independently in the 7th millennium BC. The invention of artificial dyes did hamper the handloom art of carpet weaving, but since then it has been revived as hand-woven carpets are considered superior and an asset in a household.
Indus Valley Civilization may have witnessed the use of rugs, though they haven’t survived the test of time. The use decreased in ancient India, but it revived again during the Muslim conquest of Delhi. Emperor Akbar patronized the art of carpet weaving greatly, thus bringing Persian craftsmen to make exquisite carpets for their royal courts and palaces. Persian style of knitting blended with traditional Indian art of weaving to help the art diversify across the Indian subcontinent. As carpets are mainly used to protect our feet from the cold floor, the spread was limited only to the northern colder regions of Kashmir, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, and Sitapur. In undivided India during British rule, carpet weaving also flourished across Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad.
Carpet weaving is as old in Morocco as in Armenia or Iran, may be older. Paleolithic indegenous people of north Africa used to weave rugs for their utility rather than for decorative purposes. Even today they use carpets mainly for bed coverings, sleeping mats and blankets. Native Moroccan tribes are ingenious at making sophisticated carpets for sale in Morocco as well as export. Despite the Islamic influence, the designs are more traditional and ancient, passed generation to generation. Off late, Moroccan carpets are flourishing in the west due to their vintage and antique designs.
Central Asia is widely famous for carpet weaving. The best weaving schools lie along the ancient silk route from China to Europe. Historic cities like Samarkhand, Bukhara, Khiva and modern cities like Tashkent, Almaty, Asghabat are famous for their carpet weaving art and sale of carpets. Central Asian carpets have a lot of influence on Indian, Turkik and Egyptian carpets. Today, the historic centres attract tourists from all over the world and hence carpet markets are a massive boom during the tourist seasons.
Let us know in the comments if there is a carpet weaving centre in your town.
Written by – Himadri Paul