Indian Rugs

In approaching the study of Indian fabrics
we find that all preconceived notions of Hindu ornament must become subservient
to the easily proved fact that into the great Indian peninsula at the
present time have crept influences of every kind that have so swayed the
native workers that everything which is now made there partakes of the
varied nature of all that has made the East what it is.

Indian art has always observed structural
lines, and in it one feels the strength of an underlying plan, and a confidence
in the ” detail ” of finish that reveals the patience and skill
of the craftsman, as well as the power of the artist whose mind has grasped
the constructional features of whatever object he is creating.

The lines once determined and the place to
be filled selected, a broad outline scheme is devised which lifts into
their proper places the extreme limits of the design, while the patient
attention to minute details fills every inch of the scheme with network
and tracery of the most intricate sort.

In no country is there so much difference
between the art of the native craftsman born of generations of Hindus,
and the art of the conquerors; and while the art of India is largely Mohammedan,
the Moslem features are treated very differently in that country to what
they are in others. The making of piled fabrics is not native to India,
though that country has always been famous for its weaving of warp and
woof of the finest as well as of the coarsest and most effective nature.

Fifty years ago the rugs of India were easily
distinguished by their fidelity to method and design. This is not true
at the present time, however, though the English government has done much
toward establishing as truly ” East Indian ” that which has
been fostered by judicious patronage, and the scholars sent into India
for special study and to acquire treasures for the home museums have opened
up much of infinite interest. It is customary to lament the somewhat destructive
nature of European methods in the East, but it is well to acknowledge
our indebtedness to all effort to preserve intact that which seems never
to be reproduced in absolute purity.

In the study of the industrial arts of all
countries we find that the name of some monarch who very particularly
favoured their development has come down to us in connection with objects
made under his royal patronage, so that finally we learn to know certain
methods, patterns, and styles by the name of the great patron back in
the years, who served his day by advancing the broadest principles of

As Shah Abbas was to Persia, so was Akbar
to India in the sixteenth century. It was during the reign of Emperor
Akbar that Queen Elizabeth sent the first expedition to India and founded
the great East India Company. Later, in 1614, when Sir Thomas Roe was
sent as first ambassador from England, Shah jehan, the builder of the
famous Taj at Agra, and also of the peacock throne so often referred to
in descriptions of Indian art, was emperor of India.

The dreamy mysticism of East Indian thought
and philosophy penetrates the most hidden realms of art life among the
Hindus, and even the most casual study of the fabrics of the East is useless
without some sort of conception of the thought-life. This we cannot too
often admit, and, as our minds broaden out so as to comprehend the different
attitudes of the minds of men toward interests and problems with which
we are ourselves struggling, we become fitted to receive from others that
without which no foreign art can be interpreted.

While we have all become more or less familiar
with the names of cities and provinces in the rug-manufacturing districts
of Persia and Asia Minor, it is not customary to mention the rugs of India
by other than the one comprehensive term ” East Indian.” As
the art of making ” knot carpet ” is one brought into the country
by the Mohammedans from Persia, the workers at first dubbed all pile carpets
” Persian,” because made by Persians in the country where either
their conquests or their religion had driven them.

We find that native Hindu art is very different
from that developed during the later Mohammedan ascendancy in all things
artistic. Where the former was heavy, broad, and horizontal in effect,
the latter was light, airy, and graceful. Where the former was covered
with images and attributes of native gods, the latter, avoiding the image,
indulged in flowery arabesques and calligraphic curves. In combination
the two became foils for each other, and combined features that enhanced
the solid nature of the former and the slender beauty of the latter. The
method of manufacture that distinguishes Indian carpets from others has
a certain stereotyped and mechanical precision that reveals itself at
first glance, but which defies analysis.

A similarity to the patterns of Persia being
easily detected, curiosity is aroused, and calls for examination of the
detail of ornament. There are almost always some features distinctly ”
Indian,” by which the judgment may be biassed, and finally the Hindu
elements that exist in the art of India are recognized. We look to the
native handicraft of India for guidance into the labyrinth of Hindu ornament,
and a few broad principles help immensely in our conception of its general

If we were dependent only upon texture, we
should more quickly learn differences, and should detect the vast number
of subterfuges to which weavers resort in order to cheapen their products
and enhance their profits. At our first glance at a fabric we are at once
confronted by pattern, making it almost impossible for us to locate the
production. Take, for example, a rug which is so absolutely Mongolian
in design that only close analysis of the weave convinces us of its Indian

Coarse wool for the knots, and a loosely
woven cotton foundation, added to other distinctive features, such as
the insufficient overlapping of the pile, and the position of the knots
on the warp revealed by examination of the back of the rug, force the
fabric into the Indian division, though the cloud, the bat, and the encircling
border fret are motifs of Chinese ornament pure and simple.

We may more safely consider design on any
other objects of Indian art than on rugs ; for, since the English occupation,
the weavers have been controlled by European and American masters, and
designs most popular in the commercial centres of the world are woven
by natives who give their services for a small return.

Upon articles made for native use,—brasses,
jewellery, pottery, and particularly in printed textiles,—we find
vigorous Hindu ornament ; and even in so called grotesques we are able
to study the difference between the Hindu imagination, that bows independently
before the idol whose attributes are made manifest by positions and symbols,
and that of the Mohammedan worker, which shows the dignified recognition
of the leadership of a prophet who so carefully worked out the laws of
life that everything bears evidence of allegiance to accepted form.

Consideration of the underlying principles
that control individual workers will invariably assist in the examination
of objects. Even in modern carpets, in which European designs are copied,
native workmanship reveals itself not only in the handling of materials,
but in precision in following patterns. These modern carpets of India
are easier to identify than any we meet in the ordinary traffic of life
; but, however attractive and useful they may be in furnishing the home
of to-day with satisfactory floor-coverings, they are of no importance
to the student of historic ornament and symbolism. It is at the same time
both wise and necessary to separate the weavings of India from those of
Persia which they copied.

The royal ceremonies observed in India have
from the beginning of time called for the most gorgeous fittings, and
native methods of decorating textiles of smooth surface were copied in
pile fabrics when the knot carpet was first made in India. In costumes
and household fittings Indian ornament is found untouched by outside influences,
revealing to those who have studied the caste system much that it is important
to know. The social and religious institutions of the country have divided
the population into four castes :

  1. The Brahmins, or priests
  2. The warriors and princes
  3. The husbandmen
  4. The labourers.

All the ceremonial life of India is based
on the laws and principles contained in ancient Sanskrit writings, and
the epic poems of the Hindus relate to the struggles of their deities
with warring and powerful evil influences, to their various incarnations,
and to the emblems and symbols by which they are revealed to man.

Many of the legends most often pictured in
the art of India art are very revolting, but because they embody both
religious and historical knowledge they are constantly pictured in Hindu
art. The crude primitive way has always obtained of expressing power by
strange physical forms, attributes, and contortions. Many bodies, arms,
hands, and eyes representing Omnipresence, Omnipotence, and Omniscience.

” The embodied spirit has a thousand
A thousand eyes, a thousand feet, around
On every side enveloping the earth,
Yet filling space no larger than a span.
He is himself this very universe :
He is whatever is, has been, and shall be,
He is the lord of immortality.”

All of these considerations are quite necessary
in approaching the art of one country after studying that of another.
The eye is apt to note likenesses without detecting differences, and the
culture which makes the Occidental- keenly alive to that which indicates
foreign craftsmanship is sometimes at fault in classing merely as Oriental
the productions of peoples so different from each other that it is at
least inconsiderate to monopolize the work of their hands without recognizing
the impulses that prompted it.

Forty years ago, coarse carpets came to this
country in small quantities bearing the name of Calcutta. Many of these
fabrics are still to be seen in the homes where they then found resting-places.
They were made of coarse, heavy cotton or jute warp, tied with knots of
yak’s hair of dull yellowish brown colour. Several threads of woof were
thrown across after each row of knots tied, and the carpets were very
loose in texture. In other varieties the entire pile was dyed black, and
crossed at regular intervals with a trellis effect in natural-coloured
yak’s hair.

The field in these carpets was surrounded
by one very narrow confining border bearing an insignificant pattern;
but a pleasing sobriety about the rugs themselves makes them recognizable
when from time to time their hiding-places are discovered. Whether these
rugs were made in Calcutta or bore the name of their market-place is not
now known.

Following closely upon these dull-coloured
yak’s hair rugs came a fearful expression of the combination of Oriental
and European talent. Wonderful indeed were the rugs, sold as ” Indian,”
which bore as the only ornament upon a dark background a huge bouquet
made according to English regulations.

These bouquets were strongly suggestive of
those worked in cross-stitch upon canvas in the Berlin-wool hearthrugs
which at the expense of eyesight and unlimited time had been made during
the 1830-50 period by the ladies of Europe. The so-called ” Calcutta
rugs” were native East Indian products. Those decorated with large
bouquets were foreign monstrosities. Ever since that time the same sort
of thing has gone on in India. Brain control of native fingers has given
floor-coverings, but has done away with works of sentiment. One interest
need not conflict with the other, neither should one be mistaken for the

Our avowed purpose in analytical study is
so to familiarize ourselves with standards and types that the individual
rug may stand as a work of art and object of sentiment, and be studied
as such.

Jail-made carpets, though they have often
been described as being without any evidence of individual taste or preference
in the selection of materials or patterns, were not utterly lacking in
interest when they first appeared in India. There was something about
them that completely distinguished their designs from the Persian patterns
they copied.

Whether it was the handling of curves and
vines in the design, which showed the peculiar ability of the native to
consider structure as well as details in planning things artistic, or
whether in the early management there was more confidence placed in the
native worker than at the present time, cannot be clearly proved. As the
car pets reached England, however, they carried strong marks of Indian
manufacture, and a mixture of dyes which, if chemical in part, at least
adhered to native usage in producing a blue that had a distinct quality
about its almost black colouring.

Old Agra and Lahore carpets introduced to
most of the present-day owners of them the interesting manufactures of
India, and the art and industry of that land have infatuated enthusiasts
who treasure the few rare authenticated antique specimens they possess
as distinct from anything obtainable anywhere outside of India,—the
land where neither Buddhist nor Mohammedan has succeeded in driving out
ancient beliefs ; where the mystic teaches control of the spirit, while
the fakir indulges in disgusting acts of penance which he considers meritorious
; and which has given to ornament link after link of meaningful symbols
which, forged by Brahman, Buddhist, and Mohammedan in turn, have made
a chain of evidence by which ancient thought is connected with modern

It is to be hoped that some day more will
be understood than now is of the less grotesque and more ornate art of
the Hindus. Early Christian writers about ” heathen peoples and heathen
gods” have exaggerated all that is awful in Oriental art, and while
such evil undoubtedly exists it should not be dwelt upon to the exclusion
of all recognition of that which is good.

The name of Agra is connected with the great
monarch Akbar, who built the castle of Agra for his royal residence. Over
one hundred years ago, in an account of a returned traveller, was written
the following report for the East India Company in England.

” The Emperor Akbar, born in 1541,
is the favourite of European writers, and he deserves the praises, not
of Europeans alone, but-of mankind at large. There is a principle of vicissitudes
in human occurrences that generally causes men, eminently prosperous and
great, to rise from the cradle of turmoil and calamity. Of this the Emperor
Akbar is a proof.

Born in circumstances more adventurous
than are usually devised by the penman of romance, and nursed amid armed
contention, he stepped forth prepared to meet the rudest shocks of unpropitious
fortune, endued with self-command sufficient to resist the more dangerous
blandishments of success. That vice of nobler souls, ambition, was perhaps
the failing of Akbar. The darling object of his meditations was the subjugation
of the whole peninsula of India. It would wear the appearance of a faulty
attachment to a particular character if we endeavoured to entirely excuse
this seeming thirst after power. But Akbar in the great majority of his
actions assuredly studied the advancement of human happiness with views
so exalted and comprehensive that they often soared above the possible
accompaniment of popular capacity.

Akbar resided at Agra, which he preferred
to Delhi, and bent his attention in times of peace to the encouragement
of the arts. It is to be regretted that the horrors of war should interrupt
deliberations so universally beneficial as those of Akbar. Various revolts
among the nobles of the court arrested the career of his vast schemes
for the improvement of humankind.”

The study of Oriental rugs must necessarily
be a study of history. Akbar’s influence upon the art and industry of
his time antedated the enthusiasm of Shah Jehan, who in 1634 formed the
resolution to rebuild the ancient capitol of Hindustan in a manner likely
to celebrate his name among posterity.

The most skilful architects and masons for
this undertaking were procured from various distances. The Emperor drew
the outlines of his new city on a large plain on the western banks of
the Jumna : and in constructing it made use of the same sort of red stone,
of the hardness and colour of jasper, brought from the quarries of Fettipore,
which Akbar had employed in building the castle of Agra.

The city was fortified with twelve lofty
towers and had as many magnificent gates : the principal gate fronted
the palace and was of uncommon magnitude and grandeur. The palace itself
surpassed everything of the kind in India, the walls of the principal
apartments being lined with marble, and the ceilings of many of them overlaid
with plates of silver.

The grand mosque was also without a rival,
being encrusted within and without with marble of various colours. Shah
Jehan’s principalcare was to make two gardens of inconceivable magnificence,
called the Gardens of Shalimer. Here were grottoes of great extent and
depth, where the beams of the sun never penetrated ; canals of fairest
water, filled with gold and silver fishes ; and fountains that, for ever
playing, diffused a refreshing coolness around ; while the choicest flowers
and fruits of Asia, by their fragrance and their flavour, on every side
ministered to the gratification of the senses.

Shah Jehan had a natural taste for voluptuous
magnificence : a long list of plundered provinces rendered up their dearest
treasures, and the palace blazed with tributary diamonds.

” By Shah Jell an was constructed
the famous Tukt Tacit’s or peacock throne, the body of which was solid
gold encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. It was
called the peacock throne from having the figures of two peacocks standing
behind it, with their tails expanded, which were studded with various
jewels to represent the life. Between the two peacocks stood a parrot
of the ordinary size, cut out of one emerald. A most sumptuous gallery
was likewise to be seen in Delhi. The interior of this building the Emperor
had intended to cover entirely with a kind of lattice-work of emeralds
and rubies, so disposed as to present the appearance of grapes in the
different stages of growth, from early green to the deep red of maturity.
This plan was commenced, and three stalks of a vine, with their leaves
and fruit, were constructed, but to complete this dazzling vineyard was
found impossible, as the known world did not contain sufficient jewels
for the purpose. The design, however, merits praise as one of the most
gorgeous projects that ever entered the human imagination.”

That the carpets and hangings for some of
the buildings erected for these famous monarchs were magnificent enough
to hold their own in the midst of such luxurious surroundings argues well
for the time and labour spent upon them.

During the sixteenth century Persian designs
were favoured by the royal patron of the arts, and ever since, with little
deviation, the East Indian has built upon the art of Persia in the manufacture
of knot carpets. Purely Hindu designs are recognizable when they appear,
and analysis will eventually enable the student to distinguish between
native and borrowed art.

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