It was the year of 1962, when a five-year-old-boy in Afghanistan visited a carpet weaving workshop with his father in a local prison. The scene of prisoners sitting in front of large looms knotting away the beautiful red wool fascinated the boy so much that it got engraved in his memory forever.
Six decades later, the boy who is now a grown up man is known as Deepak Bhadwar (64) who has created a niche in the Kashmiri art world by creating some master pieces and has contributed immensely in keeping Kashmiri art work alive.
Badhwar, a Punjabi, whose mother belonged to Kashmir, recalled that after returning to India in 1964, the only things that his parents had purchased in Afghanistan were carpets.
“I have grown up in a Punjabi family, but we were settled in the Kashmir Valley. When I was 14-years-old, my father went into the carpet business. At that time we were living in Delhi and he started trading in carpets made in Agra, Amritsar and Delhi itself. There were looms in Shahadra, Adh Chini and Lado Sarai in those days,” recalled Badhwar.
“In 1971, my father established Indian Art Carpets and I used to accompany him to the looms. The deft hands of the weavers and the designs fascinated me.”
Meanwhile, Badhwar finished his school and joined a college in Srinagar. Here he got his real education about the traditional art of fine carpet making.
“During my college days, I used to occasionally accompany my aunt, who at that time was into carpet trading, to different carpet karkhanas to select carpets. This gave me further exposure to the fine art of carpet weaving in Srinagar and slowly I started understanding the nuances and the qualities of knots, weave, etc,” he said.
Soon, Badhwar joined his father’s business and within no time became an expert in it.
“I used to make frequent trips to Srinagar, where semi-finished goods were picked up from the weavers, washed, clipped and finished and sent back to Delhi. By and by my interest in purchasing more expensive and high quality carpets grew. Our work flourished and we exported a good amount of carpets to Europe,” he said.
Badhwar said till 1990’s, the business was booming and he was now a known face among the carpet exporters in the valley.
“However, due to the situation in 1990, life got paralysed. Though, the carpet industry was still flourishing albeit mediocre work was now being sold. Soon the market got saturated by the low quality products and by early 2000s demand plummeted,” he said.
Badhwar said that it was in 2001 that he had a burning desire to do something to revive the quality of Kashmiri carpets by bringing in some innovation in it.
“I had read the book of Daniel Walters, “Flowers Underfoot” which talks about the pashmina carpets made in Srinagar, Amritsar and Lahore during the Mughal era. My aim was to revive that art. With my father’s blessings, I started my search,” he said.
Badhwar said after a long struggle it was in 2006 that he managed to get a pure 3x5 feet size “Pashmina carpet,” weaved by the skilled Kashmiri family.
“Seeing the carpet gave me an immense sense of satisfaction and a thrill. To my knowledge, the last pashmina carpets in Srinagar were woven only during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The thought of being instrumental in reviving the same era gave me a wonderful feeling,” said Badhwar.
Since then, the ardent carpet lover has created some of the master pieces.
“Today, we take pride in ourselves for weaving old styles of pashmina and silk carpets with a very high quality and unique designs,” boasted the carpet lover.
Badhwar said one of the unique carpets that he is making nowadays is the Ladakh Pashmina with pure saffron from Pampore.
“We also dyed pashmina in saffron to weave luxury shawls.”
Badhwar said he was always fascinated by the zari sarees of Varanasi and wanted to use pure gold zari with pashmina in Kaani to create a unique type of luxury shawl.
“Another innovation we did is with Assam silk ‘Muga silk’, which was only woven by royalty. We have made shawls out of them by combining silk and pashmina which is something very unique,” he said.
“I am combining different natural products with a highly craftsmanship from Kashmir and fusing it,” Badhwar said.
“Starting with Afghan Tribal carpets to Agra and Delhi carpets to Kashmiri carpet, I have traversed my life with a passion and zeal for carpets with a small endeavor to keep the art of high quality carpets alive in the valley,” Badhwar said.