Being a highly versatile product, 'Durries' have a wide variety of uses depending on its size, pattern and material. The smallest ones ranging 12 by 12 inches are used as table mats to keep flower vases, while a moderate sized durrie of 24 by 24 inches known as 'Aasan' is used as yoga mats and for meditation. A large durrie of about 20 feet by 20 feet is used for large gatherings like a political or social gathering. Traditionally, Dhurries were used as floor coverings, but due to their attractive and intricate patterns they are also used as wall hangings. Due to their low cost and ease of maintenance, Durries do not get infected by pests and insects like 'silverfish' that often affect carpets. Having versatile nature cotton durries helps in keeping warm during winters while it has a cooling effect during summers.
In the study of crafts, durries were earlier dismissed as a poor man's carpet and undermined in its value. But with time it soon became popular due to its abstract patterns and contemporary design appeal. Being woven these durries have an advantage of being reversible, which enhances its functionality. In comparison with carpets, they are lighter and its weaving method provides better flexibility in creating more varied designs. The craft of durrie making is mostly practiced by women of the house. The craft requires a simple set up of a 'punja', a 'pit loom' or just two horizontal bars that are used to weave by hand. This basic set up enables them to practice the craft efficiently. Durrie making uses two basic techniques; the 'punja' technique and the traditional 'pit loom with the fly shuttle'. The Punja technique requires a simpler set up than the traditional pit loom. Cotton is mostly handspun by women while yarns are dyed by men.
Myths & Legends
The origins of dhurrie can be traced far back to the ritualistic floor paintings in India. In the Hindu and tribal communities, drawing patterns on walls and home floors was believed to be a powerful religious charm that would ward off evil spirits and energies form their houses. These patterns were drawn as a prayer to invoke the deities and ask for protection from negative energies. In this way the merging of religious belief systems and a love of art and decoration gave rise to an intricate art where the homes became the canvas. Even in the Hindu religious epic 'The Ramayana', Goddess Sita is mentioned decorating the threshold of her home with religious designs. The Ramayana mentions Sita decorating the threshold of her home with sacred designs. Even today in various parts of India, these floor decorations are made as part of different religious festivals and are known by different names such as 'Rangoli', 'Mandana' and 'Kolam'.
In many traveler accounts of the 13th century, there are descriptions of the floor mats of India. It is mentioned that palm leaves, reeds and other dried foliage were used to make floor coverings for their qualities like water resistance, cooling capacity and easy storage (they could be rolled up and stored in corners or shelves). A painting made in the late 18th century for Lady Impey, wife of British governor of Bengal, depicts a striped Indian dhurrie covering the floor of a nursery.
The 'Sitalpatti' mat of Bengal, Assam and Tripura was woven on a loom with cotton warps for the finest and most flexible mats. Animal skins were also used as floor coverings and were commonly depicted in Persian as well as Indian miniature paintings. Tiger and leopard skins were symbols of high stature and power. In many records of 19th century, 'dhurrie' is referred to as a 'Dari' or 'Satranji' in the northern parts of India and as 'Jamkhani' in southern India. The earliest surviving relic of the 'Indian dhurrie' can now be seen in the British Museum in London where it has been permanently housed. It is a cotton rug fragment found by 'Sir Aurel Stein' in 1901 at the ancient 'Niya' site in Turkistan. Carbon dating puts it between first and third century AD.
The earliest depictions of the dhurrie, is found in the painting of Mahajanaka Jataka found in Ajanta caves. In the painting King Mahajanaka is depicted standing on a plain Indian dhurrie. In 'Ain-i-Akbari' of the Mughal era, there are references to the production of 'Satranji' or flat weaves, in the royal workshops of Lahore, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. Many other references are present in the paintings of Mughal emperors such as 'Shah Jahan in Darbar' (c.1630), 'A Night celebrating the Prophet's Birthday, 'Agra' (c.1635) etc. The 'Calico museum of textiles' in Ahmedabad houses one of the finest examples of the Indian flatwoven rug. It was originally in the 'Ambar' palace in Rajasthan. It has a cotton warp and woolen weft, and is believed to have been woven in the middle of the 17th century in Lahore. In the early 19th century, during the peak of the British rule, dhurrie manufacturing flourished immensely as it entered a highly organized phase where details of crafts and industrial projects were logged. A dhurrie with a tile design was used as a backdrop in the Indian pavilion during the 'Great Exhibition' to promote trade at the Crystal Palace, London.
As dhurri making craft could be made in small productions, many prisons took to it as a professional and recreational activity for the inmates. In the late 1930s, the 'Bikaner central jail' won the 'All India Weaving and Printing Competition', awarded by the government of United Provinces. This broadly divided weaving into two organized sectors; private industry and prison industry. Apart from these a third but very important sector was the village industry. The private and commercial sectors were taken forward with workshops in towns and setting up of cotton mills. Slowly production was only concentrated on 'striped dhurries' and niche 'prayer mats'. It must have been the pressure to buy only British mill produced products, that caused the striped dhurries to be found all over India. The monographs written in the 19th and early 20th centuries concentrated on the village industry - the locally owned productions and workshops.
The prison workshops were among the many reforms and enterprises by the maharajas. They proved to be a fierce competition for the private industries. Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh II, was believed to be a pioneer in such a move - he built a new jail in Jaipur in 1856 AD, introduced reforms and the idea of employing prisoners for skill based activities.
Dhurrie weaving has grown to be one of the richest traditions in India, and a significant aspect in the life of many villagers. The tradition has been passed on through generations and holds a vast decorative vocabulary of cultural symbolism. Designs have been handed down with the intention of passing on skills as well as in the form of dowry. In Madhya Pradesh, the main centres for dhurrie production are 'Sironj', 'Jhabua', 'Raigarh', and 'Jabalpur' where women mainly practice the craft in their homes. Dhurries of these regions are famous for their strength and sturdiness as well as choice of bright color palettes.
The main patterns and motifs in dhurries are mostly geometric in design. A wide range of designs exists which contains inspirations from local architecture, flora and fauna. Stripes, geometric variations, sprawling wines, peacocks, tree of life, hunting scenes, medallion patterns etc are the most commonly seen designs in dhurries. Kiln designs are also replicated in the dhurrie weaving. Popular tales and stories are also depicted in the dhurries.
The dhurries of Madhya Pradesh conventionally have a pinkish white background with patterns in bright red color. The motifs are separated by black or bright red color lines. The skill of the craftsmen can be judged by the level of complexity in motifs like the 'Neempatti' motif which has 24- petal flowers surrounded by flowers and leaves. The 'Surajmukhi' or sunflower design is another popular motif.
Even though durries are a much sought after product, the craft profession is on the decline, with many craftsmen families moving to profitable professions. Surveys indicate that even low income groups such as laborers (agricultural or construction) are paid 150 rupees a day, which is far more than the measly 75 rupees a day that a durrie craftsman earns making it the lowest paying profession.
Owing to the poor state of this trade, many families traditionally involved in this trade prefer to get their children employed in other trades, which pay better. This has reduced the number of durrie looms in Sironj, from a large number of five hundred to about a handful of ten to twelve only. Due to lack demand many small mills in Indore and Bhopal that earlier provided durrie threads, have now shut down. The craft is now being revived by the 'Bunkar Samiti' but the process is slow.