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Like most carpet producing countries in history, India’s rug weaving industry was heavily influenced by Persian culture. In fact, the first emperor of India’s Mughal dynasty, Babur, was of Persian descent which would explain many similar practices and traditions between the two nations. But it would be his grandson, Akbar the Great who will be heralded for ushering in the golden age of Indian rugs.
All throughout his reign from 1555-1605, Akbar was known for his tolerance and inclusive style of government that allowed people of different religious beliefs to coexist. This gave stability to the country and allowed other aspects of Indian life to thrive such as architecture and the arts including the establishment of rug weaving facilities in three major cities in India – Agra, Delhi, and Lahore.
Akbar convinced some of the best Persian rug makers to come and teach his people to make carpets. He even added workshops in Agra jails so prisoners can reform and become productive members of the society again. There were even accounts of these prison-made rugs being so popular that people wanted them marked ‘Jail Indian Rugs’ to distinguish them as higher quality carpets.
Understandably, Indian weavers first learned to make Persian designs that were traditionally comprised of medallions and geometric patterns. But Akbar wanted to establish an identity for Indian rugs so workers slowly infused design concepts based on their own culture. There was also an abundance in high quality wool and even cashmere in India which allowed them to make luxurious rugs that became renowned all over the world.
Challenging themselves even further, Indian rug makers began using intricate floral and nature-based patterns that require extreme patience and longer weaving time. This made the designs in Mughal rugs so lifelike that demand soared to an all-time high. Unfortunately, it also spawned a lot of copycats in the West that in 19th century, the market was so over flooded with Indian rugs, its value eventually dropped. Rug weavers began moving to Pakistan and it was only in the 1940s after India became independent when the country’s once world-famous carpet industry would slowly be resurrected.
Today, the Indian rug industry is doing well and is one of the nation’s top exports to the world. While it’s hard to imagine them achieving the same glory as Mughal rugs, it’s clear that their mastery of intricate patterns will always be well regarded.