Woven tale of Kashmiri and Turkish carpets

Kashmiri and Turkish carpets are among the most luxurious items showcased in any market, be it local or international. While Turkish and Kashmiri carpets are a part of cultural heritage in both regions, they also adorn houses and religious sanctuaries all around the world.

A woman weaving traditional Turkish carpet in her house, Cappadocia, Turkey. (Getty Images)

A woman weaving traditional Turkish carpet in her house, Cappadocia, Turkey. (Getty Images)

The magnificent craft of carpet weaving was brought to the Kashmir valley from Persia in the 14th century, after which the carpet industry boomed. It was during this time when Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin held carpet weaving workshops to instill the skill in people. He also used to train prisoners in criminal reformatories to craft carpets. Gradually, carpet weaving become an intrinsic part of Kashmiri culture and traditional hand-knotted carpets started to be locally called “Kal baffi.” Kashmiri carpets are popular throughout the world for their quality material and authenticity and are specifically known for being handmade and unique in their exquisite style.

Carpet and rug weaving is also a traditional Anatolian-Turkish handcraft. Central Asia was a perfect area for the first rug-carpet weaving activities due to its suitable climate and land for sheep herding. Carpet-rug weaving arrived in Anatolia with the Turkish tribes coming from Central Asia. As this handcraft has a long history in Turkish lands, it constitutes the socio-cultural identity of Anatolia. Turkey is a prominent manufacturer of carpets or rugs today, and Turkish carpets are generally woven with symmetrical knots famously called Turkish knots or Ghiordes knots.

A man weaving traditional Kashmiri carpet, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, Apr. 18, 2019. (Shutterstock Photo)

A traditional Kashmiri handmade carpet on the loom. (Shutterstock Photo)

Kashmiri carpets include a wide range of floral patterns, birds, trees and nature-inspired beauty motifs. Carpets are mostly used to cover floors in Kashmir but sometimes appear as wall hangings, decoration pieces or bedding material. The yarn used in Kashmiri carpets is either wool or silk. The Mughals introduced the use of zari, which is an even thread traditionally made of fine gold or silver, in carpet making to add sparkle to these artifacts. However, zari work is encouraged more on loose garments like shawls or pherans (the traditional outfit for both males and females in the Kashmir Valley). Carpet makers in Kashmir still follow the traditional method of taking notes in shorthand style on paper called talim, followed by other steps. Recently, young artists have also incorporated new techniques of using calligraphy art on silk carpets. Moreover, the use of gold and silver thread is appreciated by customers abroad. Local artisans believe the latest addition of calligraphic art brings life to the lucrative carpet industry of Kashmir.

A colorful carpet market, Göreme, Nevşehir, central Turkey. (Getty Images)

A colorful carpet market, Göreme, Nevşehir, central Turkey. (Getty Images)

Anatolian carpets are also distinguished by the particular characteristics of their dyes, colors, motifs, textures and techniques. It is known that the motifs of these carpets reflect people’s emotions and thoughts. Therefore, the carpets appear as significant cultural documents in evaluating the culture of Turkish society. For example, popular motifs like “elibelinde” (“hands on hips”) and “hayat ağacı” (“tree of life”) emphasize birth and proliferation. Whereas sheep wool, cotton and natural dyes are the primary materials of hand-woven Turkish carpets, silk-piled carpets and rugs, sometimes with threads of gold or silver woven in, were also produced in the country, especially during the Ottoman period.

The intersection of Turkish and Kashmiri carpets lies in terms of their durability, quality, resilience, cultural symbols and the visual heritage of the Islamic faith. Nonetheless, their aesthetic value and tradition are the most distinctive features of both. In Kashmir, almost all religious places of the Islamic faith have been neatly decorated with handmade and expensive carpets. Sufi shrines, an essential element of the Kashmiri social fabric, are adorned with carpets on floors and sometimes around the walls. In Turkey, mosque floors are also covered with beautiful carpets. Unique examples of historical carpets from Turkish history can be examined in the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum (TIEM) and the Carpet Museum in Istanbul.

For decades, the carpet industry in both Turkey and Kashmir remained a key economic contributor to the state. The value of a carpet or rug is determined by the quality of material used for it, the time used to make it as well as the method of production. Handweaving is a tedious process; therefore, handmade carpets are expensive when compared to machine-made carpets. Nonetheless, Kashmiri and Turkish carpets have found buyers despite their expensive prices thanks to their hand-woven quality. In Europe, Turkish carpets were highly valued and were originally found only in palaces and churches. These carpets were used as an accessory in paintings by Dutch and Italian artists, and later used as wall decorations.

A Kashmiri carpet including a wide range of floral patterns in Srinagar, Kashmir. (Getty Images)

Carpet and columns inside of the Jamia Masjid, Srinagar, Jammu And Kashmir. (Getty Images)

Generally, people find it difficult to differentiate between handmade and machine-woven carpets. But handmade carpets are warm and heavy while machine-made carpets are light and not so warm. Cheap Chinese products are masquerading as Turkish and Kashmiri carpets in the international market today, and this, unfortunately, makes China the world’s largest carpet exporter. However, all types of Turkish and Kashmiri carpets, including handmade, machine-made and tufting machine-made variants, outdo any Chinese carpet in terms of quality.

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