A lifetime accessory

Kashmir Art encompasses different handicrafts, but carpets come instantly to mind whenever there is a mention of the art. Abdul Mohamin reports. 

A traditional Kashmiri Silk carpet.
A traditional Kashmiri Silk carpet.

A major chuck of exports from Kashmir comes from the carpet craft. Hand knotted silk and wool rugs, from the valley are ranked as being among the best in the world.

The craft and its products are the most sought after and are in great demand, with a major bulk of export going to Germany, a major carpet market, where all major buyers gather to purchase or place orders for carpets. The sales are also driven by tourists visiting Kashmir besides sales from handicraft outlets in other India states and abroad.

Feroze Ahmad Bisati, a carpet trader says that the carpet craft is a vital segment in our handicrafts and the Kashmir carpets offer a wide range of handwoven  masterpieces that are in great demand in the international market.

He says that the Kashmiri knot structure is unique to us, “even though Persians too follow the same style but ours is more compact with more strands in the knots”.

“The master pieces are incomparable and the pile we lay on the carpets is more intricately woven, and we do not even consider others as competitors as ours is a different brand,” said Bisati.

Even though many historians link this craft with the advent of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) 1314-1385 A.D-a religious scholar who is credited with the introduction of cottage industry with his followers introducing different handicraft practices here, including carpet weaving.

The Mughal period too is  credited with its spread. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1640 gifted two prayer carpets of rare quality made in the karkhana-i padshahi at Lahore and Kashmir as a gift to the Ottoman Sultan with both woven in finest pashmina.

Wool that was readily available from the sheep in Kashmir remained a predominant material in making most of the carpets here with silk also being introduced by artisans who usually kept the craft with their families.

The carpet design too changed with the artisans adding the beauty of Kashmir’s own flora and fauna  even though many are still known after different cities in Iran and Central Asia, like Ishfahan, Kashan, Tabrez. Some Kashmir names parallel to Iranian are Kull-dar, Glub-dar, Dabe-dar.

A lot of hardwork goes into making a carpet. The artisan has to get a design first and garner the material in different colours according to  the design which is done in a coded language called taleem.   The code is prepared by a master designer depending on the size of the carpet.

The density of knot per inch determines the quality and fineness of the carpet with most prevalent being the 30×30 knot with 60×60 knot carpets too being made.

The knot density usually depends on the material used, with the silken carpets having a higher density than those using wool or viscose. The pile is mostly inclined in Kashmir carpets, and is not damaged with any stuff placed on top like furniture, however in machine made carpets, the pile is straight, gets damaged easily and acquires a larger dust intake.

The loom unit on which the carpet, called Kaleenewan  is woven is different than what exists in other parts. This loom mostly made of wood has two logs set apart on planks having a groove to rotate the logs with one log winding the carpet with a iron jack attached to one side, with weavers easily sitting on the surface.

Carpenters fill water in the groove of lower log that must stabilize to give proper level before ensuring any carpet weaving, as any destabilization of the loom will render an inclined weaving of the carpet.

After finishing the carpet a final shape is given by making the pile  uniform using special machines. Then the carpet goes to the washerman’s laundary where it is washed using special chemicals and detergents.

The craft has not been left untouched by technology with the present graphic designs being sourced from computers and looms that are now made of iron.

The ready carpet is then sold to the customers. Average age of a Kashmiri carpets is more than 300 years. The older the carpet, the more costlier.

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