The now famous Carpet industry of Kashmir owes its origin to Persia. The historial figure responsible for this revenue generation handicraft industry of Kashmir was Sultan Zainul Abidin (1420-70).
Sultan Zainul Abidin during his reign invited invited the craftsmen from Persia and Samar-Kand to Kashmir and provided them will all possible facilities so as to enable them to teach the art of carpet weaving to the Kashmiris. Initially the carpet weaving industry of Kashmir flourished. But over a period of time, this industry due to various reason could not evolve further and the output droped, till time it showed visible decline and eventually it ceased to exist.
After the Sultan Zainul Abidin, the next person who played an important role in the evolution of carpet weaving industry in Kashmir was Akhund Rahnuma, a Kashmiri muslim who while returning from Haj Pilgrimage in 1914 visited Andijan (Persia) where carpets were manufactured. After learning the art of carpet-making he returned to Kashmir with carpet making tools and taught this art to the Kashmiri Craftsmen.
The creative urge and the instinct of Kashmir crafts-men applied itself to the designing of new patterns of carpets. The beautiful natural sceneries of Kashmir, particularly the fauna and the flora soon found an expression involving and developing new designs of carpets by Kashmir craftsman. Some of the carpets produced were so magnificent in texture and so lustrous in design that they at once produced a magical effect on the mind of the observers. Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1819-42) could never fulfill his desire to see the beautiful valley and its landscape. But when a carpet, a masterpiece of art was presented to him, it produced such a magical effect on his mind, that he rolled himself into the carpet and exclaimed with joy that his desire to see Kashmir was just fulfilled.
The most famous carpet of the Iranian masterpiece. Ardabil now preserved in a London Museum was reproduced in Kashmir in 1902, was purchased by Lord Curzon for £100. Kashmiri carpet were exhibited in Chicago World Fair in 1890.
Like the shawl and the silk industry, the carpet industry has seen many ups and downs over centuries of its existence in Kashmir. With the termination of the Mughal Empire and the decline of Princely rule in India, the nobility and the aristocracy also lost their prestige and wealth. The carpet industry was naturally impacted. The industry was almost going to disappear completely during the nineteenth century but for the initiative taken by som European firms. Towards the close of the last century Messr Mitchel and Co, Mr. Hadow and Co and East India Carpet Company were set up as organized manufacturing concerns in Srinagar. The use of silk yarn and the innovation of Aml-i-pattern became very popular in USA and European countries. A Kashmiri carpet with an Amli design was presented to Queen Elizebth-II by the Government of India.
However, the use of the imported dyes of aniline and alizarine type as well as the introduction of the ‘fashionable design’ of European origin had an adverse effect on the industry. Previously the imported Australian wool was used for tufting yarn.
The hand made carpet industry soon developed into the largest industry of Kashmir. Although the work is done by hand, the industry is highly organized and has all essentials of a large-scale modern concern. The organized concerns have their own dying department, designing sections and Talim (hieroglyphic) writing units as well as trained and efficient management.
In 1931, there were six firms engaged in this industry with 175 looms employing about 3,575 workers. The industry as a whole both organized and unorganized (i.e. cottage workers) was providing livelihood directly or indirectly to 12 per cent of the population of Srinagar where it was and continues to be localized.
During 1930-31, the industry produced an output of the value of Rs 18 lakh per annum. Of this Rs 6 lakh were paid as wages to workers.
The carpet industry was adversely hit by the Great Depression of 1929. The Swadeshi movement in India also affected the demand for carpets by the British people. In recent times the fall in demand for high-class carpets, the growth of machine made carpets as well as the competition from substitute and cheaper carpets of Mirzapur and Amristar have all affected the industry adversely.
In 1971, there were 20 organized factories including six large scale concerns employing more that 100 workers each besides 673 cottage units mostly localized in Srinagar. The industry offered employment to 7,687 workers and produced carpets worth one crore rupees of which 90 per cent produced in the organized sector and only 10 per cent in household sector. About 40 per cent of the total output was exported to USA, UK and Australia.
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