Other than their traditional use of protecting the floor panels and making it a warm comfortable walking surface, the carpets are now popularly used for dÃ©cor and furnishings in interiors. The people in the colder regions prefer hanging these carpets over the walls of their timber houses so that they double up as insulating agents.
The proficiency of the Gwalior carpet weavers has contributed significantly towards making the district one of the prime places of weaving in the country. Most of these designs are original creations of the master craftsmen. Many established designers and furnishing houses get their designs masterfully executed by the weavers in Gwalior. The hand-woven carpets are also exported to the US, Canada and many other places around the world.The master weavers have their looms either at their homes or in another location, where other weavers would come and execute the master weaver's designs on a contractual basis. These weavers belong to the Muslim and the Hindu Kori communities. While they are not taking up the seasonal contract work of carpet weaving, they have to find other means of livelihood. Women are mostly confined to the house and are mainly involved in the pre-weaving activities.
Myths & Legends
The earliest form of carpet weaving in India was recorded at around 500 BC in Buddhist texts. The evidence of use of carpets in India also comes from Mongolia and these carpets were found to be very similar to the present day Persian or Anatolian carpets. The Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, too has written about the popularity and widespread use of flooring in many parts of India in his chronicles. It is believed to be a time-tested and long-used method of flooring in Indian villages. The Durrie is a small carpet woven by women in rural areas on two parallel bars for looms. This carpet is found to be commonly used in Indian villages. The carpet weaving craft is believed to have been carried into Gwalior by the Mughals. This craft had flourished strongly in Iran and accompanied the smitten Mughal rulers who established the skill in Gwalior. The Mughals invited many Persian artisans to live in India and practice the craft under their patronage. They also trained the Indian artisans in the art of carpet-weaving. Very soon this craft flourished in Gwalior and the Indian weavers produced carpets as good as or even better than the Persians in terms of quality and variety.During the subsequent years when the Mughal rule declined and other dynasties conquered, the craft of carpet weaving held on strongly. Just like the other arts in Gwalior, It imbibed desired characteristics from every culture that had braced Gwalior.Carpet-weaving had come with the Mughals and so it travelled along with them wherever they went. Therefore this craft is found in India from Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south and from Rajasthan in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east.Some of the major carpet-making areas of India are the following: -¢ Jammu and Kashmir (Persian designs), Ladakh (Tibetan designs)-¢ Delhi (carpets as well as durries)-¢ Rajasthan -“ Durries and Dhadki of Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Ajmer and Barmer-¢ Madhya Pradesh - Gwalior carpets-¢ Uttar Pradesh - Mirzapur and Bhadohi (where 90 per cent of all carpets of country are produced)-¢ North eastern states - Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Manipur (Tibetan designs)-¢ Andhra Pradesh - Warangal and Elluru-¢ Tamil Nadu, Karnataka The British took over Gwalior in 1779 CE and established the East India Company. They were smitten by the richness of this craft and went on to establish the Oriental Carpet Manufacturing company (OCM) in the early 1900s to derive maximum benefits from the carpet weaving industry. The strong Persian influence still pulsates through the designs, colors and motifs of the Gwalior carpets. The technique of weaving and the design of the looms too are the descendants of the Iranian technique.
The designs in the Gwalior carpets are infused by the Persian carpet designs which are an interplay of the permutations of symmetry and geometry. The symmetry helps the pattern to spread out in an organized manner and helps in determining both invariance and change. The basic framework of the design is much similar to its Persian ancestors, with only mild, if any, variations. The rectangular carpet consists of a two thick borders which flank a central medallion. The medallion expands symmetrically in the 'Field' and leaves a spandrel or triangular quarter panels in the corners, which touch the inner border. Every gap of this framework is elaborately decorated with motifs of flowers, foliage and others inspired from nature. Designs fall into two different categories: curvilinear and rectilinear. According to a few craftsmen, the Gwalior carpets are famous for their beautiful floral patterns.The fringes of the carpet or the shorter sides have tassels of threads. The designs, patterns and their symmetrical variations occur in two main parts of the carpet - the field and between the borders, which frame the field. The craftsmen of Gwalior have incorporated traditional themes into contemporary designs without diluting their bonds with the vast reserve of the ancestral patterns.
Carpet weaving is skill and labor intensive. Meticulous work and dexterity combined with immense patience is shown by the craftsmen. The larger and intricate the design, the more time it consumes to reel out a carpet of high quality. In spite of this, there is very little value for their labor and the returns are also minimal. Therefore, only a small percentage of craftsmen are able to provide the basic standard of living to their families, which includes education and basic amount of food.Children are believed to pick up the craft very quickly and deftly go about it. However, children below the age of fourteen are not authorized to start working at the family looms and have to attain basic education. It is seen that by the time these children cross this age they have taken the family profession for granted and set their interests elsewhere. There is a marked absence in social security amongst the average and poor weavers, which makes them indebted to the higher income groups such as the master weavers and the traders.The old pit looms situated in dimly lit sheds are facing increasing competitions from mechanized looms have also been largely responsible for a crisis in carpet weaving.