In Kashmir, carpet designs are identified by the names of carpet weaving centres in Iran such as Kirman, Kashan, Meshad, Ardabil, Qum, Hamadan Faraghan, and so on. These styles consist of attractive decorations and motifs such as floral themes, zoological geometric ones, and the tree of life and the hand knotted carpets are in asymmetrical knotting.
The intricacy of a kashmiri carpet depends on the number of knots. It is usually handmade and hand knotted and is made of pure wool or silk whereas a lower quality may be a blend of wool, silk and rayon. The silk carpet is usually woven with mulberry silk and its quality is tested based on the number of knots it has. A 600-900 knots per square inch indicates a very high quality and durability.
Carpet weaving skills (including that of reading the talim – the pattern chart that plots the number of knots to be woven in the same colour) were transmitted through the ustaad – shagird, master – apprentice system. As the apprenticeship traditionally began at the age of six, this practice is now largely discontinued due to the ban on child labour.
The art of carpet weaving in Kashmir is passed from one generation to another and most of these traditional weavers prefer to hand weave. The process is quite laborious and involves a lot of time and different steps starting right from the cultivation of the silk or wool, treating and dyeing it, deciding the pattern, weaving and then adding the final touces. Nakaash is the person who designs the carper, a kalimba is the weaver and the ranger is the person who dyes the carpet . In the making of the carpet, the weaver follows the Talim chart which is a coded colour chart. The chart indicates the number of knots which has to be weaved according to the panned colours.
The master weaver reads aloud from it and the weavers follow his directions carefully. The colors and numbers of knots to be woven are indicated by signs. The master weaver winds the warp around the loom and begins chanting the Talim.
The colours and numbers of knots to be woven are indicated by signs. The steps carry on as the weaver chants the Talim and winds the arap around the loom.
The knitters chant the reply after carrying out the instructions. Weaving by Talim technique is more accurate and fault free as compared to weaving through the graphic method. The loom gives shape to the carpet. As the knotting proceeds, the carpet is rolled to the back of the loom.
The final stage is the washing which adds the shine, followed by sun drying. The carpet then comes to the finishing stage which needs the hand of skilled artisans and is done piece by piece in hand knotted carpets. The radiance of the carpets is enhanced by the constant polishing of the pile with the feet.
Every design has a story and a related history behind it . For example, the mihrab, arch motif indicates that a floral carpet is either a prayer rug or that it is a derivative of the quanat, the screens of Mughal emperors` tents. A parrot refers to life, a sparrow to fertility andgood harvest, trees like palm, pear and pomegranate represents fulfillment and blessings, roses signify prosperity. Animals like camela denote wealth and happiness , a lion stands for loyalty . Colours have their own significanc. Sky blue denotes the persian national colour, green is often used in parayer rugs, red stands for joy and cheerfulness and indigo blue represents solitude. Whereas black is often avoided.
This art form is so labour intensive that a single carpet to knot may take six months to six years depending upon the intricacy of a design. It is the weavers’ desire to create immortal contribution to this art by making sincere endeavor to keep this heritage alive. A carpet weavers’ skills are his own, and the designs are drawn from his mind to be translated in to beautiful form with the help of wool and silk. The carpet weaver has gradually grown as an artist to weave poetry into his designs and give a touch of eternal beauty to his creation.
The unbroken art tradition of Kashmiri Kaleen making was brought to the Valley by Badshah Zain-ul-Abidin in the 15th century and is derived from the Persian carpet tradition, it has acquired a distinctly local character through the incorporation of motifs inspired by the indigenous flora and fauna and the use of dyed yarns to create a unique colouristic range. The carpets also reflect the Mughal patronage they received. The paterns depicting fantastic animal forms and the pictorial carpets with elaborate hunting scenes are from the period of Akbar`s rule while the carpets with patterns of scrolling vines and highly naturalistic plant and animal forms are the bequest of Jehangir`s patronage. Even at that early stage, some specifically Indian motifs were added to the craftsmen`s vocabulary; among them the gaja-simha image or the half lion – elephant, the elephant combat, grape clusters and segmented blossoms.
Over time, a greater degree of stylization set in, as complicated lattice systems were introduced as matrices for floral motifs and the millefleur pattern with its profusion of tiny blossoms was created. Other patterns which were inspired by the Persian Chahar Bagh, Garden of Paradise, layout and the medallion form were fashioned and these latter types have now come to be identified as the quintessentially Kashmiri patterns.