A turn off the legendary Grand Trunk Road that links Varanasi to Allahabad leads one to the riverine town of Mirzapur, the headquarters of a district synonymous with carpet weaving. Passing along the enshrined banks of Varanasi, the Ganges touches the Badohi district at its carpet making hub — Mirzapur.
As I embarked on my sojourn to unravel the entire process of making rugs and carpets, there was a lot of apprehension and trepidation of what was in store. On reaching the picturesque town on the banks of the Ganges, I discovered that it was a stark contrast to the gangsters and drug mafia, the violence and gore, which formed the exciting backdrop of a recent web series. Mirzapur is where the Ganges enters the Vindhya mountain range. Here, the river meanders in a U-shaped course, enveloping the town on three sides.
The town flaunts some charming ghats built around its perimeter. Cargo vessels used to drop anchor near the ghats in Mirzapur. Anthropologists head to it for its ancient cave art and historians delight in delving into its atmospheric past. Nestled in a bend of the Ganges at the foothills of the Vindhya mountains, Mirzapur’s fascinating history goes back to the Mesolithic Age. An interesting feature is that the 82.5 degrees E longitude, which was used as the reference longitude for IST, passes through Mirzapur.
The trail started with a visit to the design department, the backbone of the rug-creating process. We watched the designers merge fresh perspectives on traditional crafts with state-of-the-art design technology to recreate authentic designs and visual masterpieces at Obeetee factory. From there, we moved to the advance dyeing plant where pieces with distinctive and vibrant colouring are recreated for different fabrics.
From the factories the wools are dried and carpets conceived to be sent out replete with their nakshas (plan). We tarried at a village and saw men sitting behind frames on which a net-like backing has been stretched tight, punching wool through the net in a process resembling embroidery but was called ‘tufting’. When it is ready, it is stuck on a packing of cloth with its edges tucked in. It was a delight watching the women moving in a systematic manner knotting each warp to weft with measured fluidity under the supervision of the inspectors. A single Badohi carpet can boast up to 425 knots per sq. inch — the penultimate figure in premium carpets.
At the washing units, the carpet is transformed into a stunning work of art and infused with vibrancy and a soft moving lustre. They are tested before shipped to some of the biggest clients in the world.
After the factory visit, we headed to the premises of the Municipal Corporation office of Mirzapur to see the Ghanta Ghar (clock tower), an excellent blend of Indo-Saracenic and Gothic architecture. We gaped in admiration at the richly carved, white sandstone structure which has a 1,000 kg. alloy, weight-driven clock. It was built on such a large scale because the IST Merdian passes through the city.
A stroll through a maze of narrow lanes in the old town of Mirzapur led us to the steps of Pakka Ghat, one of the most prominent ghats in the town, leading down to the Ganges. Made of Chunar sandstone, it boasts of a pillared baradari (pavilion) and carved stairs that lead to the river. With the growth of trade and commerce, various traders started settling in Mirzapur and contributed to the town’s development. In fact, all the monuments in the city were patronised by local traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. I learnt that the Pakka Ghat was built in the late 18th century by a local rich trader, Sri Bhagwandas Umar. Sitting on the banks of the river, I watched the world pass by. I felt a tinge of sadness at having to leave this tranquil retreat and head back to the din and bustle of the city.