kashmir Indian Rugs: Kashmir, Mirzapur, Amritsar, Lahore, Agra, Jaipur, Allahabad, Masulipatam

Indian Rugs

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    Jute took the place of cotton in the foundations, and the general decadence of the native product was complete. In an article in The Nineteenth Century, in 1891, on "The Decline of Taste in Indian Art", Georgiana Kingscote, speaking of the spontaneous native industry, says:

    "At one time there were more than two hundred houses where there are now twos and threes, and the famished inhabitants cannot even afford to keep a stock of rugs on hand, and as soon as one is finished are only too ready to sell it, at a loss even, simply as a means of subsistence; and the trade is at such a low ebb that if you want an Indian rug you must advance the money, and wait until they can get through it, as they cannot afford to employ many workers.

    "The coloring of the Indian rugs originally came from Persia, and these colors, especially reds and blues, were as beautiful as those of that country still are. Now, unfortunately, the revival of rug manufacture is principally carried on in the jails, under English supervision, and the patterns are decidedly English, and the texture thick like English pile, thus encouraging the loss of that extremely fine work peculiar to the Persian rugs. Here, again, magenta, being a cheap English color, plays a great part, and spoils the harmony of the coloring. One drop of water is enough to spoil the rug by making the magenta in it run into the white ground. French and English machine-made rugs and Brussels rugs are invading India, and the rug trade is sinking fast as, if not faster than, any other".

    The same verdict was pronounced at about the same time, and in a much more authoritative manner, by Mr. Robinson. After thirtyfive years spent in actual endeavor to uphold and latterly to save the ancient art of rug-weaving in India, he closes in this wise his review of the subject: "Every encouragement was thus afforded, and the way smoothed for Trade versus Art; and notwithstanding all the protests made by those who became aware of threatened dangers, the manufacture went on in the jails, and the art languished. It is now no exaggeration to say that in India, from the Himalayas to Cape Cormorin, no means exists for the fabrication of art rugs like those found in most of the places here enumerated, nor can the art element in this industry ever be resuscitated until means are found for restoring the conditions under which the originals were produced".

    It is a new and, it must be confessed, wholly commercial manufacture that has sprung up in India on the ruins of the art industry which had its splendid beginnings with Akbar. Availing themselves of the fabulously cheap labor to be had without limit in India, the English, French, and latterly American houses have established there factories for the making of rugs according to their own conceits, or following in some sort the characteristic designs of Persia. Provisions of the law interfere with the importation of the prison-made fabrics to America, but the output of the prison looms at Lahore, Agra, Jabalpur, Benares, and Bangalore has fairly flooded the English market for years, being sold for a price which defied all honest competition. Even there, however, it is likely the fabrics will be excluded before many years shall have passed. But that, it is plain, will not restore the art.

    Two dealers in New York, both interested in the Indian manufacture, have summarized the whole matter in statements made to the writer. The first said: "There is not a rug-making town in all India today where the native patterns are used". The second said: "An effort was made to introduce some new shades at Mirzapur; but although careful search was made throughout all the district, not a dyer was found who knew how to dye. pukka, — the Hindu term for the old vegetable dyes, — and dyers had to be brought from Amritsar to do the work".

    And yet Mirzapur, up to 1850, was one of the greatest manufactories of art rugs in India.

    The bold offers made by certain India rug concerns, principally in Amritsar, of large monetary forfeits to any person who shall find evidences of aniline color in their fabrics, and, in fact, the personal declaration of American dealers interested financially in the Indian manufactures, lead inevitably to the conclusion that the use of vegetable dyes is being resumed, or, at any rate, that by some means greater stability is being sought in the coloring.

    In many respects, however, the methods of manufacture now pursued are identical with those in vogue in the prisons. The chief feature of the prison system which recommended it for commercial purposes was that all the weavers employed upon a particular contract were herded together, where supervision was easy and obedience to orders imperative. Here, too, the personal equation was eliminated. Individuality in design was suppressed, an advantage which the contracting firms have never been able to obtain in dealing with the Turkish, Persian or Caucasian weavers, save in the three instances cited in the chapter on Persian rugs — Sultanabad, Kirman and Tabriz. In all the other weaving districts in the Mohammedan countries the weavers have stubbornly refused to work en masse, but weave upon looms reared in their own houses, where, free from superintendence, they often exercise their own ingenuity, and give to the fabrics a touch now and then of the true Oriental character, which accords so ill with the demands of the Western firms.

    This lesson was learned from the jail system, and although in some towns of India home looms are retained, the weavers of the great rug centers work in droves, within walls and under guard. They are searched when they quit the workshop, and upon the completion of the rug every atom of the wool remaining from its construction must be returned to the owners. Under the old system the workmen and workwomen kept these leavings, and used them in other and altogether different fabrics, to effect the variant note so potent in warding off ill luck.

    In India the women do no weaving. The great majority of the weavers are boys, ranging in age from six to fifteen years, and most of them under twelve. They are under the absolute sway of the native masters, a sort of padrones, and when, from one reason or another, the "boss weaver" leaves a factory, he takes his entire following with him. This is an altogether uncomfortable state of things for the firms carrying on the business, since in places like Amritsar the defection of a large body of these tiny toilers can cause incalculable inconvenience and delay. The maximum wage of one of these child weavers is about five cents a day. Skilled adults work by the thousand stitches, and a great day's earning is about twenty-five or thirty cents.

    What has been said in another chapter on the transportation of designs from one part of the Orient to another, and their adoption into other ornament systems, applies in its fullest force to India. Considering the illimitable conservatism of the Hindu, it is difficult to understand how the Mohammedan designs could have crowded out those of the earlier races, while the language, religion, and social customs remain. All through the north of India the Persian forms were used almost exclusively, though taking on a rich ornamental character which even in the most finished of the Persianized products suggested the native, half-barbarian splendor. In the south of India there were retained many of the old creations; but even these were of the same ancient origin as the Persian, although altered by centuries of native Indian usage. They had been brought into India by Aryan invasion further back even than the time of Darius, and thus, after long separation, the currents of the primitive and universal symbolism were again united.

    The treatment in many of the modern India rugs is little more than a burlesque; but some pieces made upon special orders preserve with comparative fidelity the details of the Persian rugs from which they are copied. In the weaving both the Sehna and Ghiordes knots are used, and in the cheap grades a simple twist, which is no knot at all, but merely a turning of the yarn around the warp, depending wholly upon the tension of the weft to hold it. It must have been rugs of such workmanship which prompted Sir George Birdwood to say in his "Industrial Arts of India", in 1884: "The foundation, as now scamped, is quite insufficient to carry the heavy pile which is a feature of this make, and is, moreover, so short in the staple as to be incapable of bearing the tension even of the process of manufacture. Jabalpur rugs often reach this country, which will not bear sweeping or even unpacking. I know of two which were shaken to pieces in the attempt to shake the dust out of them when first unpacked. The designs once had some local character, but have lost it during the last five years".

    There are among the Indian rugs of today, nevertheless, some fabrics which are stout, soundly made, quite well dyed, and, being copies of good spontaneous Persian designs, are meritorious in that regard. It is not hard to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. In selecting from among these rugs there is probably no rule other than of personal preference in design, supplemented by the general requirements as to material and texture, and the customary tests for solidity of color.

    Amritsar Rugs. — Reference has already been made to the natural qualification which tends to make Amritsar a home of rug weaving. Most of its water is of good quality, and it is near to the course of wool-supply. In addition it has within easy reach the Kashmir district, where skilful dyers and weavers became plentiful after the decadence of the shawl manufacture. It is, moreover, a center of trade, and one of the chief stations on the Punjab railway. Thus its manufactures find easy transportation to the coast.

    In a system so purely commercial as is the Indian rug making of today, all these are ample reasons for the general transfer of factories from other parts of the empire to Amritsar. For a long time it was the custom of the Kashmir shawl-weavers to journey down to Amritsar to weave shawls during the winter months. In this manner the Kashmir methods were brought into vogue here. The manufacture of heavy rugs for the trade has outgrown the old industry. Many of the Kashmir customs have been abandoned, but one important feature still prevails. A rug, or pattern, is divided into sections, as many as there are weavers at work upon the looms, and in a book are written down in Kashmiri characters all the stitches in each section, with the colors, and the exact sequence in which they must be put in, from the beginning to the finishing of the rug. Each weaver has a number corresponding to that' of the section upon which he is employed. It is the task of one boy to read off these stitches, day in and day out, through the making of many rugs. While he reads, the loom masters, each having three or sometimes four looms under their control, go about and inspect the work, for errors. When such are found the weavers are compelled to pull out all the faulty knots and replace them. There are probably five thousand men and boys employed in the rug industry of Amritsar, counting wool-handlers, dyers and weavers, and the work of so many facile hands makes up a mighty rug export.

    W. S. Caine, in his book on "Picturesque India", says: "Some of the finest rugs in India are woven at Amritsar. One dealer just inside the first gate, entered from the railway station and hotels, employs from seven hundred to one thousand hands in rug weaving, at a wage of from three to six annas per day [nine to eighteen cents]. He works mainly for three or four great London firms, and I have seen no worthier results in any of the rug manufactories I have visited up and down India".

    The output of the Amritsar looms, therefore, is perhaps the best by which to judge the present-day rug product of India. That part of it which is handled by American firms is probably the best which these great factories have to show, better, no doubt, by reason of the fact that the agents dealing directly with India can and do dictate concerning designs, colors and all the points of construction. But the whole system is distinctly commercial, and for the general stock the same patterns are produced in all grades, ranging from three knots by three to twelve by twelve, to suit the needs of the buyer. There is a corresponding variation in the quality of the dyes and the workmanship, and some of the staple stuff would discredit the tepee of a Piute. The designs are taken chiefly from the Persian, and the Feraghan seems to be a favorite. Others are copied in the most impossible of colors from huge, glaring designs of English rugs. Many small mats are made, which suffer sadly by contrast with even the poorest of the yesteklik which come from Anatolia.

    In the lower grades, whether of mats or larger pieces, there is seldom any effort at artistic finishing of the ends, an enormously heavy and badly bungled overcasting taking the place of the attractive fringes which adorn the ends of the Turkish, Persian and Caucasian rugs. It must be said for Amritsar, however, that since it became the factory of the better class of whole rugs for American firms, the concerns dealing in the wretched low-grade fabrics just referred to have transferred their manufacture to other towns, where labor can be had more cheaply; so that Amritsar probably merits the good word spoken by Mr. Caine.

    The best grade of rugs made here are what are known as "pushmina", ("pashmin") from the fact that they are made of pas him or pushim, the fine wool found next to the skin of the sheep. Some of these, in which closeness of texture is aimed at, have a silk warp. The stitches are sometimes as many as fourteen by fourteen. Raw-silk rugs are also made in Amritsar, but the manufacture has not met with great success.

    Kashmir Rugs. — Since we are dealing with floor-coverings, there is little to be said about Kashmir. Its fame was won in the manufacture of shawls, and although some rugs were made there of old, they showed in colors, materials, patterns and workmanship, even at the best period of their development, the effect of propinquity to the shawl industry. Sir George Bird wood describes one of the older examples as having" grounds of pale yellow and rose color, and floral patterns in half-tones of a variety of colors. The borders were weak and not distinct from the center, but the coloring and general effect were serene and pleasing".

    "Its peculiarities", Mr. Robinson says, "were in some degree due to the use of shawl wool for the fabrics, and to a method of arranging designs quite its own. The width of the borders was nearly as exaggerated as in those of Tanjore in the south of India, but the filling of the design differed from them by being minute in proportion to the space occupied. The scale of coloring also distinguished it from other manufactures and was probably the effect of chemical properties in the water".

    Of the modern fabrics of Kashmir, which, though they are quite different, still retain some peculiarities which had their birth in the shawl making, nothing can be said which has not been said of other varieties of Indian goods. The general run of the staple product is poor, but the rugs turned out to order for English and American firms are of a better style and design, and where the selection of materials is made by the Western agents, and the contractors are fast bound by stipulation, fairly good fabrics are produced.

    Mirzapur Rugs. — There is probably no city in India whose rug industry has known a more extraordinary series of ups and downs than has that of Mirzapur. Situated on the south bank of the Ganges, it is in the center of the richest and most cultured part of India. It is near neighbor to Benares and Allahabad; it is on the railway, and is but half as far as Amritsar from Calcutta. It is fairly populous, has extensive manufactures of brasswork, and is a still famous mart for cotton and grain. The Hindu element is strong here, and the city presents, on the river-front, some remarkable Hindu temples. This atmosphere had undoubtedly much to do with the designs of the old Mirzapur rugs, which, before English commercial manipulation began, showed a pronounced Hindu character in distinction from the Persian forms. Instead of any manner of floral diapers, they displayed medallions, within which all the floral forms were traced.

    It was only a little while after the introduction of the Mirzapur rugs into England that English firms began to lower the quality of them. Efforts to restore it scored desultory success, and as late as 1867 the fabrics maintained a fairly good reputation. The jail system, coupled with precipitate trading, finally finished them. The texture became coarse, the materials poor, the colors of such sort as has been indicated in the introductory part of this chapter.

    The present development is doing something to redeem the industry, but merely to the end of securing a satisfactory workshop, and probably not with any view of again producing the fabrics as they were before the great era of decadence began. The modern Mirzapur rugs show round, floral figures, with dark red as the prevailing color, usually arranged in rows upon a pale yellow or cream colored ground. Dark red, almost maroon, prevails also in the borders, which carry some arrangement of the pear pattern resembling the main borders of the Khorassans, or else a repetition of the floral forms found in the body of the rug, with a connecting vine.

    The wool for the present-day Mirzapur rugs comes chiefly from the western part of Rajputana and is of an inferior sort. The great endeavor on the part of both native and foreign firms engaged in the manufacture has been to secure wool which would give better results when wrought, and yet come within the "near" rates they were willing to pay in their desire to keep the fabrics down to "competition prices", and at the same time widen the margin of profit. One American agent tried bringing wool from Beluchistan, but the local dyers could do nothing with it. They treat the wool with lime, too, to give it brilliancy, which is only adding another ill.

    Lahore Rugs. — The British capital of the Punjab is one of the places where prison weaving has been done. The central jail there has held as many as two thousand prisoners, and in addition there are district and female jails, a thug jail and a "school of industry", in all of which both woolen and cotton rugs have been made. The manufacture of the old-fashioned fabrics held on there with much tenacity, nevertheless, considering the proximity of so much that tended to demoralize them.

    The Lahore rugs were among the first of the Indian products to attract commercial attention in England, and the East India Company's vessels took a great number of the fabrics home to be sold. Records of the company indicate that even in the seventeenth century, while the impulse starting from Akbar must still have been strong, extremely good rugs were by no means so plenty as may be supposed. One agent, writing in 1617, reports the purchase at Agra of thirty fine Lahore rugs. In a letter written only a short time afterward, he says: "It requires a long time to get well-chosen rugs. True Lahore rugs are not so suddenly to be gotten". This declaration seems to have been in answer to some complaint that he had not sent larger consignments, and indicates how quickly the rugs caught the British fancy.

    Despite the debauchery of the product by the jail system, a certain amount of weaving, following tolerably well the old models, seems to have been done in Lahore down to a recent time. Even within the past two or three years a few examples of considerable age have been offered for sale in New York, and taken quickly even at the high price demanded.

    Weaving outside the jails has been quite extensively revived here lately, and although the fabrics are in no wise equal to the old ones, some of them, woven in the Persian fashion, are fairly good. The prevailing design is a Persian pear pattern for the fields, arranged like that of the Herat or Saraband, and a border in which the Greek elements are predominant. There are seldom more than forty knots to the square inch.

    Agra Rugs. — Agra, whither travelers journey to gaze upon the beauty of the Taj Mahal, has its rug industry too — an industry the early history of which Mr. Robinson recounts in this wise: "The Indus valley had always obtained rugs from the neighboring Afghans on the north and the Beluchee tribes on the south of the river; but as the Mohammedan power became established in central India, the necessity was found for local manufacture of rugs too large to be carried by camels or even by elephants. Thus Agra, Jhansi and other places east became seats of the manufacture".

    In point of size and thickness the Agra rugs of today are fit successors to those of the olden time. They are of enormous weight and solidity. The designs are similar to those common in the time of Mongol ascendancy, the cone forms playing an important part. For a long time after the establishment of the weaving in jails and the industrial school, the rugs were nearly all in a monotone of two colors, green or blue, with pale cream color. More recently the use of browns and purples was begun. The central field in the later rugs presents an angular form of some Mohammedan device, and the border, very often, the transverse arrangement of the pear shape spoken of as being a feature of certain Khorassans. In the jails, where the manufacture is still carried on, cotton rugs are made, thick and heavy like the woolen ones.

    Allahabad Rugs. — This beautiful and thriving city, at the junction of the Ganges and Jumna, is a Hindu stronghold, but it is the center as well of the most thoroughly British influence in the realm. Although not one of the most important weaving cities, there are exported from it a great many rugs, similar in almost every respect to those of Agra. They range in texture from forty-eight to possibly one hundred knots to the square inch.

    Masulipatam Rugs. — It was here that the first British settlement was established in 1620. Even then the city, though small, was renowned for its fabrics. From fine, closely woven, beautifully designed rugs, they have, under the sweat-shop system, taken on the cheap character of much of the Indian output. These rugs were at one time widely sold in the United States, but have lost caste since the large importation of other and better fabrics began.

    Jaipur Rugs. — This, the capital of the state of the same name, is the principal commercial center of Rajputana. It stands in a plain, surrounded on all sides save one by hills which the ancient rulers made sites of remarkable fortifications. Under British dominion the city has progressed greatly. It has fine paved streets, gas lighting, hospitals, dispensaries, almshouses and schools, and a famous observatory, built in 1728. The rugs woven here copy the designs found chiefly in the rugs of eastern and middle Persia. They nearly always present the cypress-tree, and also many animal forms, laid upon ground of dark red, blue or ivory white. The borders have a swaying-vine pattern, with the customary floral adjuncts.

    Miscellaneous. — In Jabalpur, Ahmedabad, Ellore, Poonah, Delhi, Bijapur, Madras and Jamu, all seats at one time of considerable rug manufacture, fabrics are still turned out, but they are not imported in any great number into this country. Velvet rugs from Benares, Patna and Murshidabad once had some fame. Tanjore, Warangal, Multan and Hyderabad all produced remarkable rugs under the old dispensation, but little or no trace of their industry remains.

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It is only fair to say that another well-known rug man, to whom these declarations were repeated, denied them vigorously.

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