We explore the villages of Rajasthan to discover the hidden stories behind the timeless art of handmade rugs.
BY NAMITA GUPTA
Have you ever thought that the carpet you’re treading on might have crossed a hundred hands before it adorns the stunning spaces you live in? Carpets aren’t considered just another piece of luxury or status symbol anymore, but something that one needs to experience; something that tells a story. The raison d’être behind a carpet has taken a whole new meaning in today’s world. The meaning of luxury has changed, according to Nand Kishore Chaudhary, founder, Jaipur Rugs. “Earlier when people would buy a carpet, the discussion would be around its price, but the millennial’s today will talk about the story behind it and not its price. We plan to convert all the retail stores into celebration stores that need to be experienced. Jaipur Rugs is the story of thousands of empowered weavers. Integrating current designs with the sustenance of our communities, bringing weaver’s art directly to homes. We deliver not just a carpet but the blessings of a family. We continue to work with over 2500 women yarn spinners who spin yarn on a rudimentary ‘charkha’, consciously choosing not to replace hundreds of hand-spinning jobs with machines,” shares NKC who borrowed 5,000 INR from his father to start the business 40 years back with nine weavers and two looms.
Jaipur Rugs is present in 40 countries now and was founded in Churu, a small village in Rajasthan in 1978 by N.K. Chaudhary (NKC), a humble and amicable entrepreneur, who is called Bhaisaab in his inner circle. Jaipur Rugs works with 40,000 artisans in 600 villages in India, providing families with sustainable livelihood at their door steps. Each of the rugs passes through 180 hands, perfecting the timeless art of handmade rugs. Every rug brings to the cities the stories of its weaver and binds the lives at the grassroots with urban consumers. With its creative unique designs and the revival of lost artistic communities, the brand brings the weaver’s art to homes in every corner of the world. Alongside its curated edit of contemporary to classical and eclectic carpets there’s also a large selection of rugs made from recycled and eco-friendly materials like sari silk, undyed wool and silk yarn. Their south India market contributes to 30 percent of its sales with presence in Karnataka, Andhra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Their sister concern, Jaipur Living Inc. is based in Atlanta, U.S. and has successfully been catering to fulfil the dreams of the American consumers. These made in India rugs are on window displays of eminent retail stores in more than 135 cities across the globe. Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF), was founded in 2004, to reach out to remote rural areas and establish bonds with the village communities, enabling them to lead empowered lives with respected livelihoods.
Walk into the premises of one of India’s largest manufacturers of hand knotted rugs in the Mansarovar industrial area of Jaipur and take a look at some of their most stunning creations on display. Jaipur Rugs offers a curated line-up of contemporary to transitional and eclectic carpets handmade in rural India. No wonder then that they flaunt their star buyers PM Narendra Modi, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan who also has her own line of carpets with Jaipur Rugs, Suzanne Roshan, Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor, Serena Williams, Lisa Ray, Malaika Arora, JJ Valaya, Vasundhara Raje, Shaun Tait and Mashoom Singha, Ritika Singh, Frank Schaeffer, Rob Blake, Brad Hogg, besides many others on their Wall of Fame. NKC’s work ethics has also attracted management gurus and 500 Fortune Company CEOs from across the world, who come here to witness their processes in person. This office space bears the fruit of the loom, but if you want to get the real essence of the making of the rug, then it’s best to visit the many villages where the actual work happens. NKC has created immense value in the society by using business as an agent of progression and change. The agenda of women empowerment lies close to his vision and he believes that the world has to break the patriarchal mindset and give women the power and chance. He has introduced a series of innovations to unlock the untapped potential of the weavers. A great example of this is the Artisan Originals collection which allows weavers to be the designers of their own rugs, tapping into the untamed fashion from the villages of India. On his future plans, NKC reveals, “I’m working on developing my consciousness levels and finding myself to help me improve in my work. I want to have a store in all the Metros and Cosmopolitan cities in India and I’m working on it. I want my children to take the legacy of Jaipur Rugs forward. Our business will take care of itself by the professionals we hire, but my children need to hone their skills and add new chapters. I want to hire a new CEO and take out time for myself to reflect on my own soul, go deeper and become more mindful, read some good books and also travel with my daughter and visit art fairs and museums and meet weavers and craftsmen across the world. When we see the world, we get more ideas on how we can improve further.”
Jaipur Rugs organises day trips for the enthusiasts to understand the process. You can also sign up for these experiences on Airbnb. Our first pitstop was at the Maanpura village, about two hours drive from Jaipur. Watching the bunkars weave the warp and the weft in person, is a sight to behold. Working dextrously on their looms, referring to the maps they have been given by Jaipur Rugs, they continue to weave the knots accordingly with complete passion. It’s heart-warming to see their husbands and mothers-in-law taking pride in the work done by them that helps them sustain their families and live with dignity and pride. These artisans and their communities are facilitated for better health, life skill education, sanitation and other social imperatives. On the day we stopped by, there was an eye camp organised for them and they were taking quick breaks in between their weaving to get their eyes tested. Unlike the practices of the standard carpet industry, Jaipur Rugs women weavers have now gone on to become Bunkar Sakhi (weaver’s friend) – a managerial and leadership role emerging from grassroots, that was traditionally only executed by men. We met a Bunkar Sakhi named Shanti who works like a pro, managing all the weavers in the areas she is assigned, ensuring the work is done efficiently and on time. She has also met Shah Rukh Khan, Gauri Khan and Kajol when she represented her team at a design fair where their design won an award and is full of aspirations and dreams. At a recent German Design Award their weaver-artisan Bimla Devi won for her Artisan Original Rug, Kamal. The best part was that she got to receive the award alongside the Design Director, Kavita Chaudhary (NKC’s daughter), to Germany to physically collect the award on stage amongst the world’s best designers. All of NKC’s five children (three girls and two boys) are now part of the flourishing venture.
While some of them have undergone extensive training, some follow the Manchaha initiative – where artisans are allowed a creative hand to create a design on their own. Manchaha (Made from the heart); only-of-its-kind rugs from the Artisan Originals collection is a sustainable initiative of The Weaver Design Project by Jaipur Rugs which taps into the untamed fashion from the villages of India. It experiments with the originality of rural craftspeople and nurtures their creative potential which remains unexplored at a global stage. Some of the Manchaha collections have been showcased at “Maison et Objet” and have also won several awards. Jaipur Rugs is the only Indian company to have ever won an award for the best modern collection at the Carpet Design Award as well as the only Indian company to have won the German Design Award in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Our next stop was the Surana village where all the yarns and wools from New Zealand and Bikaner is stored and sent to all the villages for weaving. We drove to the Sadwa village next, where raw yarn is then hand-dyed and dried. All the correction work, if need be, also happens here, besides embossing of the carpets giving some of them a high low design pattern and finishing touches are given before they’re despatched. Hundreds of craftsmen are spread across all the floors working on innovative designs, contemporary prints and versatile weaves resulting in an eclectic range of appealing designs in a trend-focused palette. The alluring textural details and sophisticated play of design and colours on the ready rugs is a treat for sore eyes. Pièce de résistance for every proud owner.