Carousel of Carpets: Bringing stories of hinterland with Jaipur Rugs

We visited the esteemed carpet brand to know about their new collection Nuray, an in-the-offing experience centre and how the company's leadership broke caste and class barriers

Priyamvada Rana Published :  24th February 2023 01:38 PM   |   Published :   |  24th February 2023 01:38 PM
Jaipur Rugs

Jaipur Rugs

The onset of spring just adds more colour to the already vibrant Pink City. At Jaipur Rugs — country’s finest carpet-weaving social enterprises — the new season was marked with a brand new collection of Kilims, a kind of carpet made in Middle Eastern countries like Turkey and Kurdistan. We travelled all the way up to Rajasthan’s rustic capital to catch a glimpse of this collection. On our visit, we learnt that Nuray is a Turkish name which translates to ‘bright’ in English. We saw that the re-imagined line of Kilims stood out for the geometric designs that lent it a contemporary appeal while also staying true to indigenous tribal motifs.

Carpets from Nuray collection

The brightly coloured carpets were meticulously hand-woven from supreme quality wool. They vividly brought the nomadic traditions from the hinterland of India. Given its deftly done process, we were intrigued to know about the genesis of the carpet weaving process at Jaipur Rugs which takes place in over 600 villages in five states of India namely Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Gujarat. Our travel bug then took us to one such village — Manpura about 40km away from Jaipur city where the wonder woman Shanti Devi — a third-generation weaver takes care of the production process.

From Nuray collection

Loom lores
On our way, we were told that Shanti is a Bunkar Sakhi — a one-stop solution provider to all the problems that weavers face during the meticulous process of weaving. As we entered Manpura by afternoon, the sleepy village’s quietude was interrupted by the chorus of deft hand movements of five women artisans at Shanti’s home. They were weaving the carpet on looms as per the design given to them, unfettered by our presence and intently working. We asked one of them how much time it takes to complete the weaving of a rug. “Anywhere between three to six months if it’s being done by a group of five to six artisans,” she answers while weaving at an unparalleled speed with the warp and weft. These women finish their household chores by early morning, feed the family and come to Shanti's house to start their day’s weaving.

Shanti Devi

Meanwhile, Shanti, their supervisor comes dressed in a two-toned green sari with a veiled head and gets candid with us. “Growing up, I saw my brothers weaving carpets. I learnt the craft just by observing them, without any degree training,” she begins. “I started with just two looms and eight artisans at Jaipur Rugs and today, I have 60 looms and 250 artisans under me. So many women got along during the journey as they saw financial stability and scope for experimentation here,” she tells us with pride.

Carpet — a canvas of creativity
The skilled artisans are given ample freedom to use their imagination on making carpets under the Manchaha concept. In this, an artisan can craft anything on the carpet that inspires their imagination. “We have brought sartorial concepts such as Saawan Ka Lahariya on carpets. Saavan (monsoon) brings hope for an arid state like Rajasthan and Leher means wave in Hindi. When this wavy pattern adorns the silhouettes like Pagdis, scarves, saris, suits, bedsheets, carpets and rugs, it makes them an heirloom-worthy piece here, worn especially during occasions and festivals. It’s a mark of joy, reverence and flaunting fashion,” shares Shanti.

Artisans on looms

The company also has a Freedom Manchaha concept where it collaborates with prison inmates from Jaipur, Bikaner and Dausa Jail to bring stories of warp and weft. One such touching story is brought by prisoner Wahid. He crafted a rug in remembrance of his wife Shabnam whom he lost some time back over an accident. The loss left him scarred and remorseful and he used carpet as a medium of expression. He made a rug that had flowers scattered from a vase in memory of how his wife once strewed all her clothes to find suitable wear, the day after their wedding. The rug was woven in deep red colour — an insignia of a new bride’s attire in Rajasthan and symbolic of passion. The collection is a hit amongst buyers primarily for its eye-catching details that represent a story. “My favourite collection is always Manchaha. There is an element of unpredictability in those carpets as weavers are given complete freedom to create the designs they want to,” shares Yogesh Chaudhary, director of Jaipur Rugs. He further shares a heartwarming account, “We have a six-month education program with artisans. Once, when we were distributing certificates after completion, a woman walked up to me and said it was after 55 years of her life that she is finally able to read a newspaper! (smiles) To me, that is a gesture of love. It goes beyond money and gives you a sense of purpose.”

Framed legacy

Celebrating differences
The company whose journey began in Jaipur with just two looms and nine artisans has turned into a glorious rugs empire exporting to over 80 countries. All thanks to the progressive vision of its founder Nand Kishore Chaudhary who blurred caste, class and gender barriers at the local level to take it to great heights. We sat with him at his head office at Mansarovar in Jaipur to know how his family and society reacted when he collaborated with artisans from ‘othered’ caste backgrounds, “Caste system was very strong during 1970s. My relatives and society in general used to distance themselves from me. When I would go to public functions, people refused to shake hands with me saying I interact with untouchables (artisans). At that moment, I realised how I am also a part of a hypocritical society. Caste or any social barrier can’t define one's identity; it's their work that makes them.”

Narain Niwas

NKC, as he’s fondly known, was never let down by criticism. In fact, he would often take his five kids to the villages of artisans. Today, each of them is handling a division at Jaipur Rugs — Asha heads the American market, Kavita runs design planning, Yogesh heads the business wing and Archana and Nitesh take care of other operations. “When we talk to a fellow human keeping aside the social differences, they shower immense love on you… it feels like you’ve got the whole world!(smiles). Both – the artisans and I – were rejected by society, so two forsaken souls met to create Jaipur Rugs (smiles),” NKC, known as the Gandhi of the Carpet Industry in India, shares.

Experience centre

From artisans to 'artists'
We asked the Churu-born entrepreneur how artisans trusted him to join forces and the answer is 'dignity'. He shares an interesting anecdote, “An English friend of mine once told me that artisans are the most innocent people in India. People have exploited them over years, that’s why they don't easily trust anyone. The need is to treat them with compassion, patience and resilience to gain their trust.” NKC followed the same philosophy and went on to have a backing of 40,000 artisans. We asked him why other brands based on handcrafted local businesses are finding it hard to push the envelope and he replies, “Most of the handcrafted businesses treat artisans as labourers. They give them meager wages and no dignity. Here,we ensure an artisan is made to feel like an artist. By that I mean, they are known for the unique product they are making, are respected in society and are supported financially.” He tells us how he shortlisted the weavers to work with, “Whenever we go to a village and teach them the craft, some of them not only ace the work but are able to naturally align with our ethos. Those who bear any kind of toxicity or negativity get filtered out on their own leaving us with only the gems.”

Carpets in experience centre

Local roots, global appeal
It’s with this human resource that the brand has been thriving for the last 30 years. It has previously collaborated with leading designers from India and abroad like Matteo Cibic, Gauri Khan, Vinita Chaitanya, Tania and Sandeep Khosla, Lorenzo Vitturi, Ashiesh Shah, and others. “We look for designers who have a distinguishable aesthetic than what we have, to bring that variety in. That way, we are able to make traditional as well as abstract art-inspired carpets. For instance, when we collaborated with Gauri Khan, she brings a very transitional vibe to the rugs. We have designers from abroad who also brought in a funky appeal to the carpets with motifs like monkeys, Maharaja’s face and a very comically amusing interpretation of Jaipur city. Having different people brings different perspectives to the overall look of the rugs.”

Rugs in valley

While the company’s carpets fly to the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia and adorn the homes of the well-heeled, its feet are firmly rooted in native culture. The company also makes sure to skillfully train local artisans by using digital means to connect with international designers for widening exposure over workshops. They have also focused on sustainability by making 99 per cent of the carpets using natural fibres like wool, silk, cotton, and jute instead of artificial materials like polyester and acrylic.

Experience luxury
Our next stopover was at their store aka experience centre located in the heritage courtyard of Narain Niwas Palace. The 1,700 sqft store divided into two galleries showcased different ways of using the rugs in interiors. The left side of the gallery has been envisioned as a salon room with intimate seating below an eight feet high mirror studded wall carpet. A corner of the space had a vintage bathroom with carpet-clad ceilings suspended with honeyed lighting and beautiful rugs covering the floor. The room further led us into a living area bathed in sunlight. It exuded a tropical vibe with massive indoor plants at the corner and tall arched windows, white slip covered sofas, and a bespoke botanical rug on the wall.

Rugs with vibrant shades

Next, we entered their cozy home theatre space known as The Quiet Room. It had walls fluted and wrapped in tone-on-tone carpets to soak the extra noise and let you enjoy matinee shows without disturbances. The right side of the gallery space was more like a museum housing a gorgeous collection of internationally loved carpets. The space has become a go-to for locals and foreigners alike who wish to get immersed in the exuberant world of carpets. We learnt that the company is soon to have a new experience centre at Mansarovar which will act as a showroom for Jaipur Rugs. It will display a larger variety of rugs and exhibit their more expansive usage. 

The writer visited Jaipur Rugs on invitation.
Twitter: @ranapriyamvada