The history of weaving in the Varanasi, Bhadohi, Mirzapur area of Uttar Pradesh, and Agra, Jaipur in Rajastan in India goes back hundreds of years to when the Mughal hordes from Persia overran the northern part of India and what is now Pakistan. The skills were brought to these areas by Persian artisans who settled here after the invasion. They taught the indigenous people these same skills of carpet weaving, copying all the various weaving patterns of Persia and Turkey. In many ways the Indian weaver is better than his Persian counterpart weaving straight, flat and almost flawless carpets (they say, however, that only Allah is perfect) for a fraction of the price. Fine Indo-Persians as their name implies are carpets with more knots to the square foot. The other advantage here is that being part of the Commonwealth gives Indian producers access to the finest New Zealand wools which is probably the best wool in the world for imparting a beautiful lustre to the finished rug.
The term Gabbeh does not refer to a particular tribe of people but rather to the style of weaving worked by any one of a number of different tribes. One must remember that the Mughals conquered northern India bringing with them the skills of carpet weaving and other fine artistic artisanship, so do not think of the Indian pieces as mere copies but as an evolution of artistic development. The actual meaning of the word Gabbeh in Farsi is "thick"or "unclipped". They are nearly always simplistic in their depiction of animals, with backgrounds that reflect the topography of their transient settlements whether it be a desert, mountain or meadow. They can come in a multitude of colours such as a green, multicoloured speckled ground that represents a field in spring, full of flowers, to the berber natural wools that evoke a desert or barren place.
Many Nepalese and Tibetan people have migrated to the Varanasi as the site of Buddha's burial is at Sarnath just outside this most holy Ganges city. Using traditional weaving techniques where the knot is tied over a bamboo pole and then cut through after each row leaving the rug with its distinctive ribbed look. Again the use of New Zealand wools give these rugs a lovely softness that local wools cannot impart.
Special pieces including those with a high knot count are of particular value when woven in India. Copies of famous Persian designs such as Tabriz Mahe and Nain can be produced at the same quality as Iran at a third of the price. When done well they can be virtually indistinguishable from their Persian counterparts. In fact we have one supplier who is Iranian who has set up a master weavers workshop in India to take advantage of the lower labour costs.
We are seeing the return to the old carpet weaving ways of utilizing hand-spun yarns and vegetable dyes in India. From copies of Persian Heriz called Serapis, to the hardy hand-woven Soumaks the Indian weaver is capable of weaving anything. Fine pieces copying the famous 19th century Kashan weaver of Haji Jajili are also found.