Where the tradition began
History of Carpet Weaving goes back to
the time of warlord Mongol Genghis Khan. Somehow, art found a way from the
trail of dead bodies from the Far East to Central Europe. This led to increased
demand and growth for weaving-based artifacts, especially in places under the
leadership of Genghis Khan. Carpet weavers then established the art of Weaving
in every conquered location. All this heritage was introduced to India through
Babur, a ruler of Kabul who defeated Ibrahim Lodhi after the infamous Battle of
Panipat in 1526.
Carpet Weaving & British Occupation
The great possibility of business
caught the eye of East India Company once they were able to cement the trade
between India and Britain in the mid-17th Century. It started flourishing by
the mid-18th Century. The major commodities were not just spices and cotton but
Soon after exploiting the people and
these possibilities, the East Indian Company gradually elevated its status to
that of a ruler resulting in the British Raj which gave the British unabated
power over India.
At that time, Indian prisons had
become a place for education and craft production. Several Carpet weavers from
Mughal bloodline were in Jail for various reasons and the Jail authority
provided them with infrastructure and raw material to weave beautiful carpets
simply because of the high opportunity for export and negligible labour cost.
The British Raj's prisoner program
During the beginning of the 19th
Century, beautiful handmade rugs started to be exported from British-occupied
India. Inmates in Indian Jails were being used as forced labor at the time.
When the British recognized their ability to produce incredible handicrafts
through woven rugs. It was a clear profitable business prospect and an added
opportunity to exploit free labor.
Elegance sourced directly from the Jails
Prison authorities had a vested
interest in productive inmate activities because of the immensely profitable
opportunity. It is here where the story of Jail Carpet cemented its premise.
Now, Carpet weaving had become monopolized by British Companies. While
manufacturing in India was a profitable business for the British, it also
benefitted the British in the UK as they were able to buy rich-quality
beautifully designed hand-woven carpets at a significantly lower cost than in
Exhibition Possibilities and Jail Rugs
In 1862, a carpet made in the Lahore
Jail was displayed at the London International Exhibition where it won a medal
and became an inspiration to all other Jails in India. Promoting them to take a
similar path of weaving and moving inmates to creative work.
Soon Agra Central Jail became the
famous weaving center for manufacturing great-quality carpets and beautiful
designs. In 1877, Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative Prime Minister, had Queen
Victoria proclaimed as Empress of India. Celebrations were held in Delhi, in
what is known as the Delhi Durbar, on 1 January 1877, led by the Viceroy, Lord
Lytton. Agra Central Jail gifted a beautiful and large size Carpet to Queen
For the First time ever, the Indian
Jail Carpet was being exhibited in America (In 1893, at The Chicago World's
Fair). A wide range of audiences from London and America gave the demands a
huge boost and Inmates were now busy making carpets in three shifts.
Carpet woven in those periods is today
available as Antique Collection and is in high demand. Ivory ground Agra Jail
Rug as this one will cost 9,511,048 INR for size 4.39 meters x 3.56 meters.
This is currently with C. John as a collection Antique Piece.
Then and Now
Today, in Agra Central Jail, the
Carpet Weaving division is now replaced with a new division that is making
flatweave (Dari Weaving). Beautiful weaving and very efficient inmates who know
how to operate the looms. The Pattern and the colors are great but they are
struggling to find a market and generate demand. Nevertheless, we cherish the
fact that the tradition of weaving is still ongoing to some extent inside Agra
Central Jail. The Jail authority is very supportive of their endeavors. A
market connect perhaps may be the missing link that brings life to our age-old
glory of weaving inside Jail. This time, without the harassment of the British