A.S. Tahir Chaudry, 40, owner of Farah’s Oriental Rugs & Carpets, a pioneer of the carpet business in the UK, compares carpets to paintings.
“Carpets are an art in itself. They draw admiration, not so much because of their beauty, but because each one of them actually contains a magic formula of its own, telling a tale of tradition, perseverance, hard work, expertise and also of romance and riches.”
Part of an essential design of elegant living as found in most interiors of middle-income housing, carpets also denote a status symbol for their owners.
“Without a carpet, a room appears empty and lifeless. It would be a room without character,” stressed Tahir.
According to Chaudry, carpet weaving is an Islamic art whose origin dates back as far as 4000 years ago. The earliest pieces were traded by the nomadic hill tribes of Persia, the Middle East and West Asia.
Shaving lamb’s wool and hand-spinning it into yarn was the spare time activity of the tribes’ male members. The wool yarn was soaked by the women while they took care of the young and kept up life in the tents. The women then soaked the yarn in a mixture of leaves, roots, tree bark, kernels and fruits before weaving them into colorful carpets of unspeakable beauty. It was an activity that filled up their days on end.
“Genuine carpets are true pieces of art, in them are interwoven emotions aroused from incidents, experiences and profound feelings of the carpet maker,” said Tahir. “It is no surprise if a carpet takes as long as 15 years to make. It doesn’t mean laziness on the part of the maker, it just means that the maker was under emotional stress,” added Tahir, a father of three.
To nomads, tracking from one dessert plane to another, carpets were multi-functional items. They were used as bags to carry household items, sleeping or sitting mats, treasury sacks, chest covers, and so on, and so on.
The oldest carpet dates back to 500 B.C. It was made by an ethnic tribe in South Siberia, East Asia, said Tahir. The carpet was one of several burial items like gold, diamonds, various gems and weapons which once belonged to a tribal chief. Grave robbers, having no use for the carpet, left it for archeologists to discover after thousands of years.
“That carpet is now in a British museum,” explained Tahir.
The traditional carpet industry of Iran, the most renowned in the world, grew with leaps and bounds when it enjoyed support and protection from the Persian kings. Throughout the 17th century Persian carpets were imported by the Moghul emperors in India, including Akhbar the Great who brought carpet makers from Iran into the country to develop the carpet industry.
Carpets enjoyed a respectable place when Islam rose to its greatness. Carpets became a major interior object in the salons and living rooms of leading politicians, generals, rich merchants and members of the aristocracy.
Today, original and traditional carpets, evaluated on the basis of basic materials used, size and motifs come from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and India (Kashmir).
“I have to hunt for quality carpets every month, deep in the interiors of Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, or Pakistan,” said Chaudry. He visits carpet making centers and buys genuine antique or unique pieces straight from the makers.
Chaudry’s interest in carpets is rooted in the family’s history. His father and grandfather, Mitran and A. Hameed Chaudry, were Indonesia’s first prominent carpet merchants.
“Both my grandfather and my father were the first representatives in the country to cater to carpet collectors since there was such a big demand for Farah’s carpets from Indonesians in England. They considered Indonesia a potential market then,” said the man, who confessed that he’s never had to formally study carpets because he was born into a carpet environment.
“As soon as I opened my eyes my vision was crowded with bundles and stacks of carpets,” said the young Chaudry, a member of the third Chaudry generation hailing from Lahore, Pakistan.
“They never miss an international carpet exhibition, let alone in Jakarta, just to see if there are any new pieces entering the market,” commented Hussein, 50, one of the directors in Farah’s.
It does not take much to maintain a carpet.
“Cleaning once a month at most with a special broom will make it last for ages,” said Ahmed, 32, service manager of Farah’s Carpets.
Use of a vacuum cleaner should be done with reservations and the equipment should be of medium sucking power only. Anything stronger could destroy the fine threads of Persian carpets which are made of six-month-old lamb’s wool and cotton.
“Carpets used in air-conditioned rooms don’t need airing at all. Broom cleaning suffices now and then,” said Ahmed.
Persian carpets are very sturdy home accessories.
“In Iran, carpets are often laid down on the road for days, with cars riding over them as a proof of their sturdiness. Such stunts make them more attractive in the eyes of prospective buyers. We cannot give such demonstrations in the UK because of rough and gravely roads. Iran’s roads are made of very fine sand,” explained Chaudry.
Carpets are not just a pleasure for the eye like paintings, they are also considered investments.
“The older they are, the more value they will catch. carpet prices are always rising,” according to Chaudry. This is because there is only one copy of every carpet. “Carpets are so exclusive,” he remarked. “Even after becoming machine made products, they can never be the same.”
Designs may be similar, but generally the motifs, materials, color elements and weaving techniques are different.
“A carpet making machine will never turn out the same carpet because of material complexities,” he said.
“Carpet prices are unlimited, it could be US$4,000, $40,000, or even $40 million,” said Tahir.
Who wants to be a collector or an investor?