Woven and hand-knotted carpets used as floor coverings and prayer mats, made from wool or silk, kaleens, meaning “carpet”, originated from Kashmir. The roots of the craft can be traced back to fourteenth century emperor Zain-ul-Abedin who took great interest in promoting local art, craft and literary traditions in the valley and invited expert craftsmen from Central Asia to introduce new methods of weaving amongst his subjects. Additionally, the designs on the kaleen are also identified by the names of carpet-weaving centres in Iran – where it is also a much-practised craft – such as Qum, Hamadan, Tabriz, Kashan, etc.
Kaleen making is labour-intensive and involves several months of work. Woven on a vertical loom, the craft requires wrapping a supplementary weft around each sequential warp to create a dense and sturdy fabric with a soft pile surface of short lengths of fine wool or silk yarn. The craftsperson uses tools such as kaleen van (vertical loom), khur (sickle-shaped blade), panja and dukari (scissors). Knowledge and skill to make the kaleen was passed on through the ancient master-apprentice method, where the apprenticeship would begin as early as six years of age. However, this learning tradition was discontinued as it was against the child labour law. Today, it is a generational craft tradition where the master craftsman imparts taleem by directing his weavers to follow the design plan or naksha.
This craft especially flourished under the patronage of Emperor Akbar I (1580 CE) who set up the royal workshops in his palace in Agra and carpet weaving centres in Agra, Delhi and Lahore. the designs were inspired by the traditional Persian motifs and patterns such as the chahar bagh (garden of paradise), medallion and the mythical, fantastical animals and hunting scenes which were common motifs found during Akbar’s reign. During Emperor Jehangir’s rule, the carpet designs consisted of patterns of vines, flora and fauna, including, gaja-simha (front-profiles of lions and tigers), elephants in combat, grapes and floral blossoms. Gradually the practice developed a unique character by employing dyed yarns and depictions of flora and fauna native to Kashmir such as chinar trees, pomegranates, cherries, magpie, kingfisher, etc. With developments in style and innovations, the craftspeople also started working with complex designs using the lattice systems and millefleurs pattern.
Today, the chahar bagh, the central medallion and the stylised trees and flowers designs are considered emblematic of the Kashmiri kaleen. Sehyar, Umar Colony, Nowab Bawaar, Nava Kadal, Fateh Kadal, Anchar and Dal are some of the production clusters in Srinagar where the craft is practised but the commercial trade of this craft tradition has been affected due to rampant urbanisation, neglect of the handloom sector and cheaper power loom made imitations available in the market.
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