Who knows if Walt Disney imported Kaleen (Carpet) for his popular animated series, Aladdin from Kashmir. Remember, the magic carpet that could fly! Well, Aladdin’s magic carpet could fly or not, Persian carpet craft definitely did flew to India. The magically beautiful Kashmiri carpets have undisputed place in international elite market since forever.
The handicrafts of Kashmir are immensely renowned and unique. Their workmanship, quality, exquisite design and art is famous throughout the world. This skill has been a very intrinsic part of the cultural heritage of Kashmiris for ages. Traditionally, the handicraft industry of Kashmir has been a very important economic segment of this region. The handicraft industry is a labour intensive activity and it provides livelihood to several lakh skilled artisans. Apart from this, handicrafts are also a source of substantial indirect income for many others.
One of the most prominent regional handicrafts is the Kashmiri carpet or Kaleen industry. It occupies an important stature in Kashmir and has been a key economic activity for centuries. This industry prides itself as an art which is a reflection of Kashmiri culture. Kashmiri carpets are unique because they are handmade and are knotted instead of being tufted.
Today, it is estimated that more than one lakh people are associated with carpet making industry and production is worth more than 820 crores.
Evolution Through the Centuries
The story of Kashmiri carpets is said to originate back from the times of the legendary Sufi Saint Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (1341-1385 AD) of Persia (modern day Iran). He was a Muslim scholar who had a deep influence on the culture of the valley and helped to propagate the skills of carpet making in Kashmir by bringing craftsmen from Turkistan and Central Asia.
However, it was during the rule of Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-Ul-Abidin, also known as the Budshah (1420-1470 A.D), that the carpet weaving in Kashmir gained prominence. He was the eighth sultan of Kashmir and brought carpet weavers from Persia to train the locals. He is also credited with the setting up of local units known as karkhanas that came up for the production of carpets. This era also saw the origin of the style of hand knotted carpets locally known as “Kal Baffi”. After the rule of Budshah there was a period of decline and neglect but the heritage continued to be passed amongst the Kashmiris over the generations.
After many centuries, this art form again saw revival under the reign of Mughal emperor Jehangir. During that time, an eminent scholar Akhun Mulla Hussain Rahnuma was supported by the Governor of Kashmir, Ahmed Beg Khan for the embroidery and weaving works. Techniques and tools were sourced from Persia and carpet weaving again got an impetus for growth.
Since then the Kashmiri carpet art continued to evolve under the patronage of different rulers and visitors to the valley, thus the skill was passed on over the years from one generation to another. The Mughal influence in this art form continues to exist to date. One of the most prominent examples being the Shalimar motif. This is a traditional design which has intricate artistry. The design shows the elements of nature with different segments of design representing the parts of the garden.
The British era also saw the progress of the carpet industry. The beauty of Kashmiri carpets caught the attention of the westerners during the great exhibition in 1851 in the Crystal Palace, London. This led to the rugs and carpets becoming immensely popular with the Europeans and provided an impetus to systematic manufacturing which further led to exports in the European markets. Since independence, the carpet industry has been recognized and actively supported by the government.
Today, the hand-knotted Kashmiri carpets are woven in all of Kashmir, namely – Srinagar, Anantnag, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Budgam, Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian, Baramulla and Kupwara. The weavers mostly weave in their homes. It can be seen that the Kashmiri carpet industry has a rich legacy. It is interwoven with the history and culture. This handicraft continues to thrive in the contemporary times and is representative of the artistic ethos of the Kashmiri society.