At the heart of carpet heritage is the basic ‘taalim’ or code through which each carpet tells its story. The geometry of the 2,000-year-old Pazyrykh carpet, the oldest in the world, the Sumerian motifs of the palmette, vines, vase and the tree of life adopted by Umayyed carpet makers at the beginning of the first millennium, the Islamic arabesques and calligraphy resonate to this day in the magnificent Persian and Kashmiri carpets.
In the Mughal ateliers of the 15th and 16th centuries, the carpet entered its most ravishing phase. It not only bloomed with roses and nargis and dancing peacocks but also with the vigour of prancing horses, elephants and huntsmen. Yet the carpet maker continued to weave his magic as he does to this day within the traditional parameters.
The rugs of Kashmir, Persia, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, though based on ancient tribal motifs, totems and symbols, offer plenty of creative leeway to the artisan. While some of the most beautiful carpets from Persia and India are part of museums and private collections, several reproductions are being made today in Srinagar at Tulsi’s Arteriors collection.
Even a carpet connoisseur would be hard put to guess whether ‘Aabdar Makaan’ with its lyrical depiction of huts, flora and fauna is antique or not, while the enormous Ardebil with multi-hued flowers has been copied by the descendents of the family that created the original in the 16th century. A Persian prayer carpet in deep brown and red is absolutely stunning. There are red Bokhara and Kashaan reproductions and originals created by the descendents of the Akhoon family, the carpet makers from Kashmir.
Also part of the collection are rugs from Turkey, Kashmir, Persia and Kazakhstan. The deep colours and tribal motifs make each rug a visual experience, a harmonised blend of composition and vegetable dyes.
Sardar Khan, who is originally from Tamil Nadu but has trained under Kashmiri carpet makers, is the hand behind many of the creations on view at the exhibition. “I have done reproductions of many original Persian and Kashmiri carpets as well as Caucasian rugs,” says Khan. He works on a horizontal loom on which he lays the warp. Khan says, “Then we do the knotting, one individual knot at a time. In Kashmir unlike in Persia, we keep the ‘naquash’ or design in colour template in code form in front of us on a piece of paper. This is decoded for us by a master craftsperson. The ‘taalim’ or decoding is the basis of our work. In all my reproduction works, I only use vegetable colours.”
Tulsi’s Arteriors collection is sourced from Srinagar while the originals come from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia as well as from Kashmir. It is on view at a special exhibition till February 20, at Tulsi’s Arterior, 1st floor, No. 6 Rutland Gate, 4th Street, Chennai-06.