Carpets are one of the supreme Oriental art forms. The Eastern hand-knitted rugs and carpets are creations on a par with the finest works of art to be found worldwide. The Turkish, Persian, Indian carpets with their complexity of weavings, intricacy of designs, and sheer charm of natural colours are most sought-after by connoisseurs and collectors.
Fine specimens of Oriental rugs can be studied in the assemblages of Rothschilds (Paris), Topkapi Imperial Palace (Istanbul), Iran’s national collections, Victoria Albert Museum (London), and nearer home, Raja Mansingh Museum (Jaipur) at the 300-strong carpet collection of Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad.
The oldest known carpet (about 2,500 years old) was a hand-knitted carpet discovered in 1949 by a Russian archaeologist Rudenko and others among the grave goods preserved in ice in a place called Pazyrzyk in southern Siberia. This Pazyrzyk wool carpet measuring 200 by 183 cm is of Persian origin.
References are not lacking to indicate the presence of carpets in ancient times: The Bible mentions apostle Paul as a carpet maker and praises Greeks and Romans for their ‘Babylonian’ carpets. Classical writings like Homer’s ‘Illiad’ and the plays of Aeschylus speak of richly worked carpets.
By the advent of Islam in seventh century a great period of carpet weaving started in Turkey and Persia. In Turkey brilliant carpets were woven under the rule of Seljuk Turks in the 12th to 14th centuries. Marco Polo in his journey through the Seljuk empire at the end of the 13th century reports that the best and the finest carpets were produced in Konya, a region in Anatolia (Turkey).
The best known of all the Persian carpets is the ‘Ardabil Carpet’ now in the Victoria and Albert Museum London. The carpet measuring 38-foot long and 18-foot wide is an extremely fine specimen bearing an inscription by the weaver. It was woven around the years 1539-40 during the reign of Shah Tahmasp, one of the great patrons of weaving. Richly patterned Persian and Turkish carpets became popular in Europe.
India too caught the fashion for carpets, particularly the Persian type. The luxury-loving Mughal emperors filled their palaces with Persian rugs. During the reign of Akbar (1556-1605) and Jahangir (1605-27) Persian craftsmen were operating 1,600 factories not only in Lahore but Fatehpur, Agra and many other towns. J.B. Tavernier (1692), the great French traveller, reports that in Indian carpets were produced in wool, silk, silk with gold, and with gold and silver brocading. Quality materials, natural colours, fine designs enhance the value of Oriental carpets. The materials used in antique carpets are sheep’s wool, cotton, goat hair, camel hair and silk. We see only natural colours used such as blue from indigo plant; red from madder plant; yellow from pomegranate skins, saffron, vine leaves, or turmeric; green from ripe turmeric berries; red from henna and so on. Colour range is wide: in the best of carpets 15 colours are found.
The Oriental carpet is generally designed with a central field and borders. The carpets hung up in the Salar Jung gallery come from the famous Persian looms of Kashan, Kirman, Tabriz, Isfahan and Herat. A couple of carpets are woven in metallic threads. A silk carpet, both sided, contains Persian verses, woven.