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The History & Design of Antique Indian Agra and Dhurrie Rugs

In addition to their visual splendor, hand-made Indian rugs carry within them a rich tradition that can be traced back through the centuries to enlightened ruler Akbar the Great, who essayed Persian rug-making and made it India’s own.

Here in the comfortable and connected 21st century, it’s easy for us to believe that we are truly enlightened, or “woke” if you prefer the vernacular term. We like to think we fundamentally understand and promote fairness and justice, art and beauty, gender parity and religious differences and can immediately detect — and address — deficits in those areas.

But we are deluding ourselves if we think that such high-mindedness belongs to our era alone. A quick scan of the Wikipedia page for the aptly named and groundbreaking 16th century Indian ruler Akbar the Great — the third Mughal Emperor, for those keeping score — reveals a person far ahead of the curve in terms of egalitarianism and, especially for our purposes here, appreciation for beautiful objects.

Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great is Harry Styles or Lady Gaga’s idea of a superstar. And it’s because of him that today’s discerning consumers, interior decorators, and designers have at their disposal gorgeous Indian rugs — specifically Agra rugs — in all their hand-woven, hand-knotted, antique, Persian-influenced, works-of-art splendor.

Dhurrie rugs (15536)

What did Akbar the Great do for his people over the course of his reign?

What didn’t he do is the better question. A tireless diplomat and innovator, Akbar’s achievements include but were not limited to fomenting peace between local Hindus and Muslims, reducing taxes, promoting literacy while bringing glamor to his palaces. He did the latter in grand style via rugs, thus impacting interior design throughout the millennia.

As legend has it, Akbar — inspired by his peripatetic and beauty-loving grandfather — brought to the booming Indian city of Agra the best carpet weavers from Persia who quickly set about establishing an enviable, high-quality, carpet-making industry while passing on their craft to the locals, who imbued their creations with sensibilities distinct to their location and lived experiences.

(Fun fact: Agra is also home to the most famous Indian landmark of all: the Taj Mahal, commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is now, and has been since its creation, the planet’s most conspicuous monument to everlasting, knock-kneed love.)


It wasn’t long before gorgeous Agra carpets — sometimes also referred to as “Mughals” — were also emerging from places such as Delhi and Lahore.

The rest of the world soon noticed, paying particular attention to the craftsmanship and embrace of color that earmarks so many Indian creations. Though the Indian carpet industry flagged over the centuries, most agree that it was revived under British rule in the 19th century, a rare example of colonialism producing positive results.

Back to Akbar the Great. According to some sources, he ordered the prisoners of Agra jails to become weavers, at once tapping into a (presumably) abundant and compliant work force while enriching prisoners with a skill they could use once freed to better their own lives while enhancing the homes of domestic and foreign nobles.

Of course, the Agra rugs we see today were not hand-crafted by keen 16th century thieves. But they nevertheless boast the hallmarks of stunning Indian Agra rugs: the craftsmanship we often equate with Persian rugs but with exotic, highly decorative motifs and florals, sumptuous colors, and exceptional weaves.


A classic, must-have example is Mansour’s rug #2175, a large North India late 19th-century Agra with “a stark ivory field with sparse blossoming palmette vine enclosing a majestic teal gray and merlot arabesque medallion, and in complementary teal spandrels with reciprocal ivory palmettes, in an imperial merlot palmette border, between refined tonal floral stripes.” Which we could also describe, quite simply, as wine-colored, richly detailed, and flat-out divine.

Similarly, the slightly smaller but no less dazzling hand-woven reproduction Indian Agra Traditional Rival (rug #14203) “has a charcoal field with an inviting Garrus field, in a muted beige interlaced palmette border, between delicate ivory floral vine stripes.” 

Like Agra rugs, Dhurrie rugs are yet another of India’s many, many gifts to the wider world. (We are also looking at you, Palak paneer). Far more every day in use, highly versatile Dhurrie rugs are handwoven thin flat carpets — typically flat weave rugs made using 100 percent pure wool though sometimes silk, or cotton— used for home furnishing. 

Notable for unique designs such as geometric motifs inspired by their Indian state of origin, Dhurrie rugs are used traditionally in South Asia as floor coverings. But because they are lightweight and often reversible, they sometimes double as bedding, wall hangings or, for the very well-heeled, yoga and meditation mats.

Dhurrie rugs (15536) were also frequently part of a girl’s dowry in India and surrounding regions like Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and were often woven by women with each design handmade with unique patterns, representing the weaver’s own history alongside religious or spiritual symbols. Dhurrie rugs have been dated back to the 12th century, making them a long-standing backdrop to humanity.

 As with any Persian, Oriental or other high-quality antique rug, Agra rugs and Dhurrie rugs attract imitators who can skimp on materials and manufacturing, meaning that purchase through a reputable dealer such as Mansour is crucial for proof of quality and provenance. 

Moreover, discerning purchases help to keep the Indian carpet-making industry alive and thriving, which we can all agree is important… especially since Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great might very well be looking down and taking notes.