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The History of Indian Rugs (in a Nutshell)

The story begins in the 16th century, when the Great Mughal Akbar took over the reign in India. Being an enlightened ruler, he loved to surround himself with art and beautiful objects. Some say he inherited those interests after his grandfather, Babur, who spend a long time in luxuriously-looking Persia. To invite some glamor to the palace, Akbar brought to Agra, the capital, a few best carpet weavers from Persia.

Indian Rugs and Akbar the Great

Thanks to their expertise, the Persian craftsmen were able to start the weaving industry in India practically from scratch. They helped to set up workshops for local people and arrange weaving areas in Agra, Delhi and Lahore. That was just the beginning. Between 1520-1530 Akbar wisely reformed the system, organizing weaving trainings for… the prisoners of Agra jails. Not only was this a practical but also deeply humane approach. From common criminals, inmates became artisans. Supposedly, some of them even outgrew their masters! Indian rugs made by the prisoners bear the name of Jail Indian Rugs or Prison Indian Rugs. Akbar’s innovative way of thinking earned him a nearly divine status. Moreover, it let to the development of culture and industry of the Mughal Empire.

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High quality rugs made of silk, sheep wool, even cashmere, started to cover royal floors. What is more, they gradually gained fame across the world. Some of the exclusive ones included riches such as golden threads or gemstones. Although ‘Mughals’ (antique Indian rugs created during the Akbar reign) copied the Persian style, they managed to smuggle in a bit of Indian essence. Usually inspired by the court life, they occasionally featured motifs such as exotic animals and decorative florals. Each antique Indian rug delighted with deep colors, thanks to pigments extracted from vegetable, plants and minerals.

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The Development of Indian Rugs

The art of oriental carpet weaving continued to evolve in the following century. After Akbar, his son – Jahangir – ascended to the throne. Indian rugs created during this period reflect his taste and great fascination with exotic nature and the botanical world. Ornamental florals, herb motifs and earthy color palette completely dominated the rug design then. The motifs  became softer, more feminine in character and so sophisticated that they seemed almost life-like. Indian solicitude for detail, combined with original patterns and excellent quality, gained world-wide recognition.

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This golden weaving era remained unchanged and lasted also through the times of Taj Mahal creator, Shan Jahan. As he was a well-known patron of architecture, antique carpet design naturally extended to picturing landscapes and scenic themes. Nonetheless, they still kept the enchanting floral accents. In the meantime, also mystic animals showed up, introducing to Indian rugs a specific fairytale-like  atmosphere. With all the dragons, mythical beasts and exotic fauna, the Indian design acquired a truly magical touch.

Indian Rugs Today

During the reign of Akbar and his successors, Indian rugs represented top-notch workmanship. Just imagine, that a single one was intricately made with exactly 4224 knots per square inch! The whole making process was extremely arduous. It sometimes took 15 years or more to complete a one complex design.

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Unfortunately, during the 19th century, the quality of Indian weaving wonders noticeably decreased. The production slowly declined and high craftsmanship endured only in few regions, such as Srinagar, Amritsar and Agra. The reason? Mughal trends have become ubiquitous enough to be seen in the Western side markets. Imitations of Indian rug patterns started to fill up European stores as a result of massive production and synthetic materials. Only since India’s restoration of independence in 1947,the manufacturing of Indian carpets has slowly began to recover. Although most of the weavers moved to Pakistan, India managed to educate a lot of new artisans. Under the program, large groups of women have been trained, what allowed the renewal of the market. Today, oriental rugs from India are still among the most qualitative and precious. However, what enchants the most is their magical, imaginative and deeply artistic character.

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