1900 - 2016

Flat Woven Rugs of India: Past-Continuous

Jaipur Virasat Foundation

The exhibit explores the hand woven textile craft Panja Dari, examining the history of the textile tradition, its transformations in the 20th century and its position in modern India today. The design patterns, techniques of dyeing and weaving are analysed to highlight the variety, complexity and adaptability of the handmade. 

Textile & India
Fabrics are to South Asia what porcelain is to china. Cotton was first spun into thread in the subcontinent in the third millennium BC. The availability of natural resources such as dyes and fibers, coupled with diverse cultural patterns; interactions between indigenous tribes, traders, explorers, invaders, led to the development of varied and specialized textile skills with almost every region having its own textile specialty.  

The value of textiles in Indian society transcends mere economics, and infiltrates philosophy, literature and storytelling.

Art historian Stella Kramrisch notes. “In the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, the universe is envisioned as a fabric woven by gods. The cosmos, the ordered universe is one continuous fabric with its warp and woof making a grid pattern."

Hence, the importance of wholeness not only of the uncut garment, like the sari or the dhoti, but also of the cloth woven all in one piece.

Woven fabric is ubiquitous in everyday living customs in South Asia. Textiles have been used as markers of status, as prestigious gifts or as lavish furnishings.
As India has traditionally been a culture without solid furniture, fabrics have often been used as important articles of furniture.

Tracing the origins of Dari Weaving in India
Transcending social boundaries, the dari was used by commoner and royalty alike: at its simplest it was a multi-purpose textile used as floor covering, bedding or packaging, while at its most elaborate it was woven with the finest fibers and enhanced by gold wrapped thread gracing the palaces of royalty.
The earliest probable evidence for an Indian flat woven cotton rug comes from the site of Niya, Turkestan dated between 1st and 3rd centuries AD. The first visual depiction of a dari is in the Buddhist paintings of Ajanta caves. These textiles are also represented in carved stone roundels at the second century Buddhist site of Bharut. Another source that confirms the continuous production of daris is miniature paintings. Daris first begin to appear in Indian miniature paintings in the early 15th century. The most unimpeachable material evidence of the Indian flat woven rug however comes from the Mughal Court dating to the reign of Akbar. 

The survival of intricately designed flat weaves with stylized motifs raises the possibility that Mughal camps renowned for their elaborate tents and carpets might have actually used portable daris, for they might have been more practical to use.

Materials and Making
Prison Daris, From the 19th and Early 20th Century

The Maharaja of Jaipur was among the first to introduce dari weaving to Jails in India.The aim of introducing dari weaving in prisons was firstly to improve the conditions of prisoners. By teaching prisoners weaving skills, jails ensured that prisoners could spend their time well and have a chance to earn a means of living after release.

The dari industries carried out in jails also had a second aim of making prisons more economically viable. While Jaipur Jail prospered under the patronage of Maharaja Sawai Ramsingh, other jails in India were controlled by the British army.

By the late 19th century prisons known for their fine daris included those at Banaras, Allahbad, Luknow, Fatehgarh, Agra, Ambala, Hissar, Jhelum, Multan, Sialkot, Ratnagiri, Gulbara, etc.

Colonial Transitions 
England's fascination with Indian art and design was propelled by the great exhibition of 1851, the first international exhibition of manufactured products at the crystal palace in London. With the popularity of the India section, British recognized that there was a market for Indian textiles without the risk or competition to their own industrial products.With piqued interest in Indian craftsmanship, colonial administrators launched a Delhi Exhibition half a century later to sell and augment knowledge on Indian crafts. With an entire selection devoted to cotton daris, the exhibition was instrumental in generating awareness of the among Europeans.  
Types of Dari Designs
Dari designs can be categorized into pictorial, floral, striped and geometric. 

Striped dari is the most ubiquitous Indian dari. Indian paintings and literary texts are replete with illustrations of these daris. The technique and popularity of striped daris are closely related. Striped daris are relatively easy to make and are normally first attempts made by an inexperienced weaver to expand his skill.

Geometric Dari
After striped daris the most popular daris are those with geometric designs. Geometric daris served as outdoor floor coverings during religious festivals, gatherings or encampments; as indoor floor coverings in the month of spring and autumn when marble or tiled floors were too cold to be left bare and too warm to be covered by carpets.

Most geometric dari motifs are based on floor designs found in temples, mosques, palaces and forts.

Pictorial Daris
Pictorial rugs rely heavily on figural imagery both realistic and fantastic. 

The first pictorial daris were woven in Mughal Karkhanas. This particular stylized Mughal dari now at the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad embellished with medallions, plant vases and animals required a weaver tremendous skill and practice.

Pictorial Daris reflect a certain knowledge of the 16th and 17th century carpets that developed during Akbar’s reign replete with animal combats scenes; and those from Jahangir’s reign with scrolling vines with naturalistic plants and animals.

Another unique example of a pictorial dari is the Norah’s Ark Dari from the Yeravda Central Prison in Pune, depicting the biblical story of Norah’s ark.

The weaver has treated his loom like a canvas, depicting the pageantry of animals with realism. the dari motifs are a testament to British cultural expansion and biblical stories popularized by missionary activity prevalent in the mid 20th century

The most outstanding example of a pictorial type dari from Maharashtra is the peacock dari inspired by the Deccani Ragamala painting “Peacock in a rainstorm”

Peacock is a favourite element of Indian Art. Painters and sculptors have drawn on its flamboyant image since the time of early Indus Settlements.

Floral Daris 
There is a relation between  daris with floral motifs and Mughal carpet designs. Carpets with scrolling vines and blossoms and no figural imagery date from the beginning of the 17th century Iran, and were called the Herat type. The Indian versions of these carpets, introduced in the Mughal courts were often simplified versions of herat designs.

Since rendering curves of scrolling vines and blossom carpet designs were difficult to reproduce in flat weave, the designs were simplified and stylized for daris. Daris usually retained the repeat element of the scrolling vine and blossom carpet and the vertical mirror image symmetry of the classical carpet design.

Prayer Rugs
Daris were often used as prayer mats by the Muslim community in India. These daris with pointed niches indicate the direction of prayers towards Mecca. 
Daris in the Modern World
As the Indian nation state grapples with substantial poverty the seriously underprivileged craftsmen still continue to work on traditional horizontal looms. These artisans struggle to make ends meet as they are undercut by powerlooms that provide tawdry replicas of their art work. Moreover, modern India has hugely undervalued its craftsmanship for decades, whole communities of dari weavers have been deskilled, in many cases hand-making has remained an exercise where human hands are merely put through mechanical motions of making with little imagination and creative liberty involved.
However with the  liberalization of the Indian economy, and globally at a time when crafts have returned with a growing force to colour the theory of design, a positive trend has emerged in the country where entrepreneurs, designers artists are collaborating with traditional craftsmen to construct new traditions of craftsmanship within a fresh, contemporary framework. A craft technology dialogue is ensuing  where technology does not simply replace the hand; rather, the two come together in a way that augments innovation and expression. 
Contemporary Shyam Ahuja Daris
In the post independence period, the craft of dari weaving  was reinvigorated with fresh designs by entrepreneur Shyam Ahuja . He revolutionized the concept of dari weaving by combining contemporary design and material innovation in his manufacturing process - demonstrating the potential of giving Indian village crafts a global market by combining the best in craftsmanship with styling and technical innovation.  

In his designs Ahuja uses elaborate craftsmanship and labour-intensive handicraft processes to an incredible effect.

In this rug, Shyam Ahuja adapts the intricate flowers and birds typical of Mughal carpets into contemporary forms. The successful reproduction of several finely outlined motifs requires labour-intensive hand skills.

Designed by architect Jan Wichers Hamburg, the dari has a starkly geometric design. Its uniform symmetry characterizes the modern Shyam Ahuja look.

The design though simple in appearance is actually difficult to weave well. The strict uniformity of the square motifs and the geometric grid leave little room for lax weaving

Flying Rug, Chandra Shekhar Beda
Textile artist Chandrashekar Bheda transforms Panja Dari into an art by giving the craft a new context. While daris are traditionally spread flat, the artist defies norms and chooses a curved loom to weave his daris - creating design which create the illusion of defying gravity. 

The checkerboard surface of black and white diamonds, constantly advancing and receding in scale, heightens the illusion of spatial curvature and linear movement. The result is a highly dynamic object that appears to defy gravity creating an illusion of a freely flowing dari in space.

In this project Bheda restructures the panja dari loom by changing its fundamental geography and technique. The re-engineered loom has a curvilinear serpentine structure which instead of creating a fabric that conforms to the perpendicular coordinates of a traditional loom creates a radical weave where warp and weft no longer conform to traditional principles.

The character of the fabric keeps changing and its curvilinearity and weight vary continuously throughout.

Jaipur Virasat Foundation
Credits: Story

Project Team:
Ayush Bakliwal
Divya Khandelwal
Priyamvada Golcha
Tanushree Agarwal

Project Consultants:
Rima Hooja
Vinod Joshi

Kamlesh Jain, Arihant Arts
Dinesh Jain, Arihant Arts
All craftsmen at Arihant Arts, Jaipur
Brijendra Rajpal, Ambika Exports
Jaipur Central Jail
Mr.Ramswaroop Vijayvargia, Art Age Pvt. Ltd.

Ahuja Shyam, Meera Ahuja, Mridula Maluste, and David Desouza. Dhurrie: Flatwoven Rugs of India. Mumbai: India Book House in Association with Shyam Ahuja, 1999. Print.
Chaldecott, Nada. Dhurries: History, Technique, Pattern, Identification. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003. Print.
Mcgowan, Abigail. "Convict Carpets: Jails and the Revival of Historic Carpet Design in Colonial India." The Journal of Asian Studies 72.02 (2013): 391-416. Web.

Credits: All media
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