The Unassuming Indian Dhurrie

Most Indians have dhurries at home – they are the default choice of floor covering readily available across the country in every size and colour possible. For this reason, other than making the distinction between a Shyam Ahuja dhurrie (these were very stylish and very expensive when I was young) and all others, I never really paid much attention to them. That is, until I saw some flat weaves in Morocco and it struck me that we make more interesting and high quality ones back home.

Prince Dara Shikoh visiting the Ascetic Kamal

Prince Dara Shikoh
© Smithsonian Institution

India has a rich tradition of floor decorations. Done to invoke blessings for the home using simple rice paste, and at times flower petals and bright colours, these have become an art form in their own right. There are regional differences such as Alpana in West Bengal, Mandana in Rajasthan, Muggu (or Muggulu) in Andhra Pradesh.

Equally interesting is the variety of floor covering in the form of palm leaf and reed mats known as chatais. Used for eating, sleeping, praying, yoga, they provide relief from the heat and can be rolled away when not in use.

Tiger and leopard skins (such as the one on which Prince Dara Shikoh is sitting in this 18th century Mughal watercolour) were reserved for those in religious and political power and are now thankfully banned.

Wool Tapestry Fragment

Wool Tapestry Fragment, Central Asia; 200-400 AD
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

So it is but natural that the dhurrie, a flat pile-less woven floor covering, should embody these weaving and decorative traditions and become a household craft, woven in the home for the home. More lasting than a chatai, and an extension of the rich textile weaving tradition in India. Designs range from simple repetitive motifs or lines, to elaborate patterns typically woven in cotton and wool.

Dhurries have been made in India for far longer than handmade carpets, the latter being introduced from Persia in the last millennia.

A Night Celebration of the Prophet's Birthday

A Night Celebration of the Prophet’s Birthday; c1635
© Smithsonian Institution

Aurel Stein, on one of his expeditions across Central Asia, China and India, attributed several fragments unearthed at the Niya site in Turkestan to be flat weaves from India, dating them at 200-400 AD. This includes the woollen piece depicted here, with woven wool bands of red, pale pink, white, and blue, and additional contrasting decorations using a dovetail tapestry technique that was not known from China.

Much more evidence of the dhurrie tradition exists in manuscripts, paintings and fragments from the Mughal period and thereafter, such as the striped dhurrie from the c1635 AD watercolour shown here, depicting Shah Jahan holding an audience for a group of mullahs.

Carpet or Dhurrie?

Dhurries became very popular exports from Indian jails under the British. Bikaner jail still has a great archive of dhurrie swatches and the book “Dhurries” by Nada Chaldecott showcases designs from this period. Today dhurries have gone full circle, replacing carpets in the contemporary-rustic look so in vogue. Older pieces are sold at astonishing premiums at boutiques in London and New York – a dhurrie from 1950 in 8′ x 12′ size in good condition could fetch $8,000-$10,000!

Dhurrie Weavers using Horizontal Loom

Horizontal Loom

Dhurrie Weaver using Vertical Loom

Vertical Loom

My visit to Mirzapur brought home the effort that goes into making the very dhurrie I had paid so little attention to. At the Jaipur weaving centre, they use both vertical and horizontal looms with the latter producing tighter weaves. These are commonly known as Panja dhurries after the claw-like tool used to pull the weft in order to tighten the weave. My visit got me so interested that I started experimenting with creating Arastan’s own high quality cotton dhurries. Early days yet but exciting nonetheless.

 

 

 

The collection of dhurries we have from Jaipur Rugs Company is available only until 21 December. This includes interesting woollen pieces as well as ones in hemp and jute in gorgeous colours and weaves, and at great prices!

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3 Comments

  1. Shama Zaidi
    Posted 20 December 2013 at 14:04 | Permalink

    Nice durries are also woven in Kaithal, Haryana and in Agra. In Agra the durrie weavers make special designs of their own choosing during month of fasting in Ramzan.

  2. Archana
    Posted 21 December 2013 at 08:27 | Permalink

    Dear Nisha,
    Thanks for another interesting story of your finds!
    Amazing how contemporary in design was the 17th century dhurrie from Shah Jahan’s times. Wonderful photograph of the vertical loom – the trancelucence allows you to see the weaver and the unplastered brick wall.
    Are the Arastan dhurrie s for sale? I liked the one on the extreme left.
    Regards,
    Archana

    • Posted 21 December 2013 at 11:51 | Permalink

      Thanks Archana. The more I read the more interested I get in dhurries! The Arastan ones shown in the post are our first samples and I want to tweak the pink colour so it is more rust. Glad that you like it! You will be top of the list when we get production started. Do you have size preference? The one shown is 3’x7′. Regards Nisha

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