A vast range of colourful dhurries is exhibited at Dhurrie Magic.

In a whimsical twist of history the journey of many magnificent Mughal carpets and cotton dhurries began in the confines of the jails of Mughal and British India. The great Mughal aesthete Akbar introduced carpet making as therapy for jail prisoners in the 16 century, bringing in Persian carpet weavers to train the jail inmates of Agra, Gwalior, Lahore, Amritsar, Jaipur and Bikhaner.

The jail dhurries which were handcrafted in the 19 and 20 centuries were organised under the British. They are a combination of classical Persian, Turkish and Mughal geometries and are the finest dhurries in the market today. They embody a weaving tradition older than the pile carpet, and the fusion of Mughal and Indian motifs of geometrics with floral representations and their often faint tribal flavours make them rare pieces.

Intricate weaving

Shaukat from Srinagar comes from a family of dhurrie makers who make fantastic Mughal carpets and reproduction of jail or ‘jili’ dhurries. His oeuvre includes beautiful dhurries in geometrical patterning in combinations of red, cream, blue, and the odd touch of black. He holds out one with tight weaving in geometric patterning and zig zags with intricate five-tiered border. “The dhurrie combines needle work with pile weaving. It took nine months for two of us to create this” says Shaukat. “We first buy the thick cotton yarn and set the warp with two artisans setting on either end, throwing the shuttle and locking it. Dhurries are actually needlework or embroidery done on a flat horizontally placed loom. The ‘naksha’ or the pattern is pre-decided and spelt out in words, pronounced orally by the Rakshaband or ‘naksha’ artisan. While he reads out the nuances of patterning step by step, the dhurrie maker dries the needle work or a complication of weaving pile work and needle work.

His exquisite Janadasta, a combination of weave and needlework, resembles a Persian ‘guldaan’ carpet in its smooth beauty and colours. The patterning has both geometrics and floral border in a stunning fusion. Another beautiful reproduction of a ‘Jili’ dhurrie is bordered blue and red with squares. “This is the influence of European artists who worked with the jail inmates” says Shaukat.

There are many Jili stunners to be admired both original and reproduced. A classical Jili on view is an orange and blue, creamy white and blank geometrically patterned dhurrie offset by a three-tier border. There are reproductions with entrancing two-headed bird borders or spattered with romance of red roses and creeping vine. There are many original kilim dhurries in cream and gold with touches of tribal motifs and stylised flowers. Says Shaukat “Most of the Jili reproductions are made by Kashmiri tribals such as Bhakrawalas, Gujjars and Kumars.

An exhibition of dhurries entitled ‘Dhurrie Magic’ is on view at Tulsi’s Arteriors, 6, Rutland Gate Road, 4 Street, till June 30. Also on display are priceless Kashmiri, Persian and antique carpets and kilims in wool and silk.