Kaleen with the Persian Qum pattern

Rugs/Carpets and Embroidery: Patterns & Motifs

Kaleen featuring the mirhab arch motif
Kaleen featuring the mirhab arch motif

There are many types of rugs and carpets found all over India. Here are a few that typically have distinct patterning and motifs.

Kaleen (seen in the featured photo above) are “intricately hand-knotted silk or woolen carpets”. They are made on a vertical loom through a wrapping process. Despite the origin of this craft, which may be traced to the rule of the emperor Zain-ul-Abadin and derived from Persian carpet customs, it has a distinctly Indian character seen in the motifs inspired by the native flora and fauna and the use of dyed yarn for a unique color scheme. A master-apprenticeship system (ustaad-shagird) was used to learn carpet weaving skills. The talim is a pattern chart that plots the number of knots to be woven in each color. This apprenticeship usually began at the age of six, so it is banned now due to child labor laws.


Detail of a floral pattern on a namda
Detail of a floral pattern on a namda

Namda are felted rugs made by “enmeshing wool fibers with water, soap and pressure and then embroidering the resultant fabric”. These are commonly found in Kasmiri homes as floor coverings. In Srinagar, cotton is also added to the woolen fibers to create a white fabric that is easily embroidered. A worker assisted by three people can produce two namda a day. They are being produced in large numbers for sale in international and national urban markets.


Example of an embroidered gabba
Example of an embroidered gabba

Gabba are embroidered rugs that are made from recycled old woolen blankets or lois that are washed, milled, and dyed, stitched together, and then embroidered or appliquéd. The result is vividly colored geometric and floral patterns. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, although the common layout is a central medallion in a rectangular, bordered field.

Khabdan are pile carpets made with 48 knots per square inch on a large vertical loom by looping woolen yarn around an iron rod. Khabdan are of Tibetan origin, but have stylistic influence from China and Mongolia (see below). They are widely used as carpets in the living rooms and prayer rooms of Ladakhi households and in monasteries.

stylized variations of Kasmiri trees and flowers
stylized variations of Kasmiri trees and flowers

Patterns and motifs:

  • animal forms and elaborate hunting scenes: from the period of Akbar’s rule
  • scrolling vines and naturalistic plant and animal forms: from Jehangir’s rule
  • specifically Indian motifs added even at this early stage: gaja-simha image: half lion-elephant, elephant combat, grape clusters, segmented blossoms
  • over time we see complicated lattice systems and the millefleur pattern (profusion of tiny blossoms)
  • Kashmiri patterns: inspired by the Persian Chahar Bagh (Garden of Paradise) layout and medallion form. In Kashmir, carpet designs are identified by their weaving centers in Iran, such as Qum, Hamadan, Tabriz, and Kashan
  • mihrab: arch motif indicates either a prayer rug or a derivative of the quanat (screens of Mughal emperors’ tents
  • stylized variations of Kashmiri trees and flowers
  • The chinar motif on a namda
    The chinar motif on a namda

    chinar: motif featured in many local crafts, based on the leaf of the chinar tree

  • the embroidery work which uses silver zari (tilla) or silk (dori) thread found on shawls and saris commonly uses the motifs of pamposh (lotus), chinar, badam (almond), dacch gurn (grape leaf) and duin (the flower of the chinar tree)
  • motifs seen in khabdan (influenced by China and Mongolia): duk (dragon), rgya-nag Icags-ri (inspired by the Great Wall of China), snow lion, and the yungdrung (interlocking swastika border)
  • khorlo medallion motif
  • kau tortoise pendant

Source of information and photos: “Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopedia of Indian Handicrafts”

2 thoughts on “Rugs/Carpets and Embroidery: Patterns & Motifs

    1. Yeah, the book I was looking at named a lot of specific motifs and imagery seen in embroidery and carpets, but it was more difficult to find specific motifs in architecture– just from observation, though, I’ve seen that there is a common theme of plants and flowers in patterns everywhere.

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