by Dhruv Chandra – The Carpet Cellar, New Delhi 7 February 2006.
The world renowned Jail Carpets, possibly the most expensive carpets in the world at present, originated from the Mughal Empire under the patronage of one of the greatest Mughal emperors, Akbar grandfather of Shahjahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal at Agra in memory of his departed wife Mumtaz in the 16th century.
King Akbar, who was a illiterate himself was a great propagator of the arts and culture and it was during his reign that the arts flourished in India. Because of a lot of ruckus in the jails he decided to reform the system. Between 1520-30’s he brought some of the finest carpet weavers from the most well known carpet workshops of Persia to teach the prisoners the art of weaving carpets.
These jail birds took a lot of pride in their work and they eventually outshone their masters. The carpets were made for the palaces in India and some were also sent abroad in the form of gifts. Since there was no shortage of money , labour or of time constraint, it could take hundred weavers up to 15 years to make a single carpet.
They used the finest wools, velvets, silks and sometimes even ‘Pashmina’ (Cashmere) which is considered to be one of the most exotic fibres for weaving shawls. The dyes were all natural dyes/vegetable dyes extracted out of plants ,rocks, minerals and insects.
The designs were rare and quite different from the traditional Persian, Turkish and Central Asian carpet designs and a lot of these designs were original Indian patterns prior to the Mughal influence. The most famous jails for carpets were Agra Jail, Lahore Jail, Amritsar Jail, Jaipur Jail, Gwalior Jail and Bikaner Jail.