Symbolic features of the East

By Mohammad Essa 'Sada Hayat' Jalbani
Director, Export Promotion Bureau, Karachi
Apr 03 - 09, 2006

Whether lived in caves or in castles, man has always endeavored to decorate his dwellings to create a pleasant environment and make his habitat comfortable. Animal skins and leaves of grass were his first items of decor and comfort. When man's intellectual level developed further and he learnt to weave, he made mats from palm leaves to use them as floor converging. These primitive steps led man to the modern art of carpet weaving.

No one exactly knows as to when proper carpet making began. The earliest woven carpet is believed to be 7000 years old. It is now established that the first ever carpet was made in Asian part of the world.

Areas in present-day Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, China, India, Nepal and some central Asian states have always been and still are principal places of carpet making. Hand-knotted carpets are thus gifts from the peoples of Asia to the nations in the rest of the world.

The basic (natural) raw material for carpet manufacturing is wool. Around 200 sheep breeds in the world are the source of this material. As far as quality is concerned, wool from different sheep breeds varies, immensely. Due to its superior strength, flexibility, elasticity, durability, waviness, luster and natural beauty, the wool of Asian sheep is most ideal for weaving carpets. Another important attribute of this wool is that it is superbly colour absorbent. Give it a rainbow of colours, it will catch them perfectly. Moreover, colour will never ' run' or 'bleed'.

Due to abundant indigenous raw material and enormous skillfulness of the inhabitants, the tradition of carpet making is deeply rooted in the soil of the Indus valley. History shows that throughout ages this valley has been cradle of arts and crafts. Through the course of centuries, the valley has given birth to galaxies of great weavers, whose master-pieces have triumphantly entered into a variety of homes ranging from as simple as nomads' tents to as grand as palaces of tribal chieftains, nobles, princes, regents, kings, queens and emperors. Woven beauties like rugs, lois, shawls and ajraks were widely used by the people of Mohenjo Daro, as the excavations at that site reveal. It is quite possible that the art of weaving developed in the Mohenjo Daro region spread to areas as far as Turkistan and southern Siberia, where a rug made around 425 B.C. called 'Pazyryk' has been discovered from a tomb.

The process of carpet making is quite complex, though no electricity, no gas is required for creating the timeless pieces of art. Wool itself passes through several stages before being taken to carpet weaving looms. Firstly, wool is washed, so that dust particles get removed. Then, scouring of wool starts, At this stage, its natural texture and real feel comes out. It is spun into yarn, then. After that the dyeing process begins. Yarn-dyeing is an art in itself. Our part of the world has old traditions of yarn-dyeing, too. Colour and dyes are obtained from vegetables, plants and other natural material. Madder and indigo are classic examples of important natural dyes.

Carpets and rugs have two main parts, the pile (the top surface) and backing (the under surface). By technical definition, a carpet is a decorative woven textile, which is produced by knotting thick coloured threads (yarns) on the warp, compressed by the weft. Weft yarns are horizontal and warp yarns are vertical. Several distinct types of knot are used to produce carpets. The most important of these types are the Turkish knot and Persian knot. The Turkish knot is wraped around two warps and the Persian knot around a single warp.

The principles and elements of design viz balance, rhythm, scale, proportion, dominance, symmetry, contrast, repetition are kept in mind while making a woolen master-piece. The ideal of carpet design is to integrate utility, craftsmanship and beauty into a harmonious whole. The quality of carpet is determined by intricacy and beauty of the design and density and skill of knotting The design is called the soul of a carpet, which makes the colours sing and the wool whisper. The over-all design of carpets is usually divided between central area called the field and borders. The designs of finer carpets are intricate yet very balanced the motifs are mostly geometric, stylized and naturalistic. They are usually symbolic naturalized plants forms such as flowers and fruits trees symbolized eternal life and rebirth.

The art of knotting carpets reached its peak in Asia, mainly Persia and Indus valley, in the 15th and 16th centuries. The interiors of the majority of Asian homes stood decorated and beautified with these object of elegance. At that point in time, Europe was "preparing for Renaissance." Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) a member of parliament in England and the author of "Utopia" (a book, which is claimed to mark a new turning point in the path of European thought) describes the condition of the homes in London and England as "dark, inconvenient and miserable". In such living conditions, when oriental carpets of high artistic quality and value reached Europe through travelers, the Westerns were literally dazzled by the beauty of these Eastern wonders. They were so much impressed by these sublime beauties that instead of using them as floor coverings, they hanged them on walls. They could not imagine that such items could also be placed on floors and be walked up on.

Europeans began importing oriental carpets in some what bigger quantities as late as the 18th century. By that time, the rich traditions of weaving had scaled newer heights, here. The art had been so much popular that it became part and parcel of every day life in Sindh, the main center of Indus Valley civilizations. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689-1752), the most renowned and the most revered poet of Sindhi language repeatedly refers to the art of weaving to guide his readers to learn from weavers the tieing of knots of immortal love. He says:

Halo, Halaun Koreeain, gandhen janee jo kum.

(Let us go to the Kories the weavers, whose job it is to tie knots).

Again he says:

Gandheen saaro deenhun, chenan taan moor na sikhia.

(They the weavers keep tieing knots for the whole day. They have never learnt un-tieing of knots).

The Europeans found the imported oriental carpets very expensive. And due to lack of skillful local talent, they could not viably and sustainably manufacture hand-knotted carpets, themselves, either. For making cheaper versions, they thought of mass-production. With this object in mind, a power loom was developed in England in 1780. And, about 1800, jacquard mechanism was evolved in France. A tufted carpet manufacturing machine was introduced by the mid of the last century. The mass production of carpets did begin. But the West failed to realize the fact that a hundred thousand machines can not produce that beauty and sublimity which could be created by ten human fingers. Thus demand for oriental hand-made carpets continued to exist and expand in the occident.

Global exports of hand-knotted carpets and other textile floor covering stood at 1.68 billion US$ in 2004. Pakistan occupies 3rd position among hand-knotted carpet exporting countries in the world. Our share in global export of this item was 14% in that year. Annual growth in export value of hand-knotted carpets on global level increased by 9% between 2003 and 2004. During the same period Pakistan achieved a growth of 19%. Pakistan's export performance in hand-knotted carpets for the last five years period is given below:













The above table reveals that export of hand-knotted carpets from Pakistan peaked at US$ 288 million US$ in 2000-2001. Exports decreased in 2001-2002 to a level of 249.5 million US$. During the year that followed exports went further down to 220.9 million US$. The country however slightly strengthened its position in the international market in 2003-2004 and exports reached 231.4 millions US$. In 2004-2005, there was further improvement in carpet exports performance, when we exported this item worth 277.8 million US$.

Table - II







2001 -02






95 64


























Table-II shows that USA is the single largest importer of hand-knotted carpets from Pakistan. The country imported Pakistani carpets worth 89.7 million US$ in 2002-2003. Its imports slightly slided to 88.8 million US$ in 2003-2004. Our largest buyer's imports significantly rose to 109.8 million US$ in 2004-2005. Pakistani carpets second largest buyer, Germany, imported this item equal to 43.79 millions US$ in 2000-2001. Exports to Germany declined to 31.2 million US$ in 2001-2002. There was further decline in exports to this country in the year 2002-2003, when exports went down to 29.9 million US$. In 2004-2005 there was no significant change in our exports to Germany. The figure remained static at 29.97 million US$. Italy ranks 3rd among our carpets buyers. This country's imports from Pakistan were valued at 14.5 million US$ in 2000-2001. Exports to Italy remained stagnated at nearly 14.00 million US$ in 2001-2002. In 2002-2003 there was an increasing trend in Italy's imports, when export figures touched 19.97 million US$. During 2003-2004 exports remained around the same level at 20.2 million US$. Exports climbed to 27.6 million US$ in 2004-2005. France is the 4th largest destination of Pakistan's carpet shipments. The French market absorbed Pakistani carpet worth 13.6 million US$ in 20002001. In the following year our export to France declined to 12.6 million US$. Exports further declined to 9.9 million US$ in 20022003. However, in 2003-2004 Pakistan's export to France rose to reach a value of 12.00 in the US$. A further increase was witnessed in 2004-2005, when France imported Pakistani carpets worth 15.00 million US$. The UK follows France in the list of our carpet importers. The United Kingdom's import of hand-knotted carpets was almost equal to 16.00 million US$ in 2000-2001. The figure slightly went down to 15.75 million US$ in 2001-2002. There was a further fall in exports to the UK in 2002-2003, when that country's import from Pakistan were 12.1 million US$. The decreasing trend continued in 2003-2004. Export remained as low as 10.7 million US$. In 2004-2005 exports climbed to 13.6 million US$ figures. Other countries which import substantial quantity of Pakistani carpets include Spain, Japan, Canada, UAE, South Africa and Kuwait etc.

As shown above, Pakistan's highest carpets exports have been US$ 288.82 in 2000-2001. It should not be difficult to cross this level and go beyond. The following measures may help in improving export performance of this luxurious item:

i) Sheep is an important source of basic raw material required for carpet manufacturing. Apart from wool, this useful animal provides milk, meat and skin. To ensure adequate supply of indigenous wool, it is necessary to establish scientific Sheep Farming Centres in areas which are climatically suitable for sheep growth. e.g. almost all major towns and villages in the sprawling districts of Balochistan, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Nara (Kairpur), Jacobabad in Sindh, Cholistan, Jhang, Bakkhar, Suhawa in the Punjab and similar places in NWFP.

ii) Further, Carpet Villages may be established in these areas. In these Carpet Villages, training may be provided to male and female workers in the field of yarn (hand) spinning, yarn-dyeing, carpet-knotting. Scholarships may be given to those workers during the training period. They should also be fully trained in the art and science of marketing (carpets). Let it not be the fate of the people of these remote, backward and under-developed areas to live and die in perpetual poverty.