History Of Antique Agra Rugs & Carpets From India
Agra Rugs Guide: Agra lies on the Yamuna River in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The ancient origins of the city, dated to least 1000 BCE, are referenced in the Mahabharata, although not well-documented. Sikander Lodi, Sultanate of Delhi, made Agra his capital in the early 1500s CE. It is today most well-known as the location of the Taj Mahal, built under Mughal ruler Shah Jahan. Agra Fort and the fortified city of Fatehpur Sikri, both built by Mughal ruler Akbar, as well as the Taj Mahal, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Agra.
The inception of carpet weaving on a grand scale in India can be pinpointed to the arrival of the Mughals in India in the 1500s. When Mughal Emperor Babur (1483-1530) conquered India and took Delhi in 1526, he lamented the lack of fine objects and comfortable environment that he had experienced prior to occupying his new capital in Agra. He brought with him some of the trappings from his native land and territories under his domain, including carpets. He did not establish weaving centers or try to create these textiles in his new homeland; instead, he imported them from Iran.
Babur developed the city of Agra, built gardens that reminded him of Persia, and infused the city with intellectuals and poets. Agra continued as a major seat of Mughal power through the seventeenth century. Persian arts, architecture and poetry were highly developed at this time. Mughal affinity for the high arts and culture of Persia helped to establishment Persian culture in India.
Although some carpet weaving was done in rural areas of India, the great Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) brought the art to India during his reign. Persian carpet weaving was at a pinnacle during this period under Shah Tahmasp and Shah Abbas of the Safavid Dynasty. Indian artisans were proficient in weaving lightweight textiles with fine wool, silk and cotton, but not pile carpets. Akbar established court workshops and brought talented artisans from Persia to teach the art of pile weaving to Indian craftsmen.
By the eighteenth and 19th centuries, political liaisons between Europe and the east had strengthened. The British East India Company and its rivals, including the Dutch, French, Portuguese and Danish companies, competed for commercial dominance in India and Persia. As world economies became more interconnected, industries in eastern countries that supplied goods to the West were affected by the political and financial stability of Europe, and later, America. Carpet production in Persia and India declined in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, to be revived again by British and American businessmen in the middle 1800’s.
The Agra rugs use the Persian or asymmetrical knot, with foundations and pile of wool, cotton and silk. Weaving tends to be extremely dense, with up to 2000 knots per square inch in some very fine silk carpets. Agra Rugs show the influence of their Persian stylistic heritage, but a vitality in design and color sets them apart from Persian styles.
Agra rugs use a soft color palette. The field is often yellow, saffron, beige or light green, although deep reds are also used. Motifs are woven in a variety of colors including blues, greens, burgundy, black and browns. The artisans’ skills with vegetable dyes resulted in unusual colors such as lavender, shades of rose and several hues of gold.
The designs tend to be naturalistic renderings of flowers, particularly the lotus and rose, and other botanical elements including vines, shrubs and trees, especially the cypress. Rows of flowers and flowers in vases gracefully fill the field as prominent patterns. Animal carpets were also made, featuring wildlife and birds native to India such as elephants, tigers and peacocks. Human forms were represented, depicting men in hunting scenes, or scenes from epic stories. Carpets were made for the court, so designs, size and material are on an elegant scale.
Examples from the earlier Mughal periods are rare, now found in museums throughout the world. Carpets from the 1800s continued the naturally-rendered designs found in earlier Mughal rugs. These later rugs are not as rare. Today, a return to vegetable dyes and attention to the preciseness of motif continues the heritage of these elegant Agra Rugs from India.