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Tibetan Rugs

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Tibetan rugs – The country of Tibet is a fascinating and unique place in the world. It is a culture within a culture that has developed a very distinct identity over the centuries. Certainly owing in part to the ever-present and tremendous influence of the rest of China, the people of Tibet have created one of the most immediately recognizable cultural traditions in the world. Music, visual art, dance, and religious practices that are unique to Tibet all possess an underlying devotion to the Tibetan identity, a strong and proud identity. Tibetan rugs are no exception to this rule: indeed, Tibetan rugs are considered notable for their distinctive style and their strict adherence to local traditions.

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In Tibet, antique rugs have traditionally been made from Tibetan highland sheep wool, which is an abundant and important resource to the Tibetan people. It is also interesting to note that Tibetan rugs are generally woven with a different knotting method than those that are commonly utilized in other regions. Just as the local livestock provides Tibetans with the fibers that they need to weave superior rugs, so too does the natural environment of Tibet provide weavers with the raw materials necessary for dyeing.

Consisting of dyes found in the elevated plateau of Tibet, the colors most commonly found in Tibetan rugs are primarily blue, brown, grey, red and yellow. Motifs consist of geometric patterns and gau design, important cultural symbols for the people of Tibet. Of all the distinctive designs of Tibetan rugs, the most common design is the kanden, which measures 3×5 and is used for sleeping and sitting. Meditation rugs are a popular among Tibetan monks with individual small squares woven together, forming one rug.

The Robust Cultural Traditions of Tibetan Rugs

Situated along the edge of the rugged snow-topped Himalayas is one of the world’s most isolated and unique weaving cultures. Tibetan rugs are exceptional representations of an artistic culture that relies heavily on religious symbolism and local motifs influenced by Chinese designs.

The iconic tiger rugs of Tibet and the shaggy Wangden prayer mat are just two of Tibet’s outstanding contributions to the world of Oriental rugs. Here on the rooftop of the world, disenfranchised weavers developed a graceful, fluid style and a strong language of decorative symbols. Stylized dragons, fierce tigers and mythical snow lions are featured prominently alongside celestial clouds, lotus blossoms and Buddhist motifs. Tibetan rugs are prized for their high artistic value, extraordinary craftsmanship and stunning use of symbolic iconography.

History of Tibetan Rugs

The carpet weaving industry in Tibet has been active for many years now. It is a craft that was not mentioned in many writings. The only time it was featured was when the reference was being made about prominent religious figures.

In the years 1903 and 1904, there was a British invasion of Tibet. The foreigners who were present in this invasion came up with detailed accounts related to Tibetan rug weaving. Laurence Waddell and Perceval Landon came up with a description of a weaving workshop that they came across near Gyantse, on their way to Lhasa.

According to Landon, the courtyard was full of rug weaving looms that accommodated both male and female weavers who were busy making rugs of different designs. He believed that what he saw was beautiful. The most common norm in pre-modern Tibet was that a workshop had to be owned and run by a local aristocratic family.

Most of the Tibetan weavings that were used for domestic purposes were home-made. This is in contrast to the decorated pile rugs which were woven in workshops and then later sold to the wealthy families in Lhasa and Shigatse.

Thousands of monks used to live in religious institutions and sat on low, long platforms that were made using hand woven carpets during their religious events. The wealthy monasteries used to change their carpets on a regular basis with a bid of promoting the weaving business. Additionally, they took gifts from thousands of weavers instead of paying tax.

In the 19th century and part of the 20th century, the Tibetan carpet industry  was at its peak. However, when it got to the second part of the 20th century, it started declining.

In the year 1959, the social upheaval began. Due to this, people living in the rural areas could survive in other jobs and did not need to rely on rug weaving. Therefore, the powers of the landholding monasteries declined drastically. The aristocratic families that were in charge of all the weaving activities relocated to India with all their money and belongings.

In the 1970’s, the business of Tibetan rugs began to rise again. It did not do so in Tibet, but in India and Nepal. During this time, accounts of Tibetan rugs and their designs were written about by westerners. The information was obtained from the communities that were in exile.

The western travelers in Kathmandu made plans to set up workshops that wove Tibetan rugs. Their main agenda was to export the Tibetan rugs to the west. Eventually, the local non Tibetan rug weavers dominated the carpet workshops in Nepal and India.

The Nepalese weavers quickly reacted by widening the Tibetan carpet production. They began shifting their productions from the smaller traditional rugs to larger area carpets. They did this so that they could supply the western markets which demanded larger size rugs for their homes.

This led to the emergence of an industry specializing on carpets that is crucial to the economy of Nepal. However, in the 1990’s, scandals regarding child labor started emerging and ruined the image of the business.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, some workshops in Lhasa and parts of Tibet were re-established. The problem is that these workshops did not have any connection to the external markets. Nowadays, most carpets woven in the Lhasa factories are purchased by tourists who visit or carried as gifts by visiting Chinese government officials.

On the other hand, the cost of making Tibetan rugs in Tibet is not that high. The reason for this is that the labor costs are considerably low. They also used wool from other countries and carpet dyes that are affordable. In the last decade, luxury rug makers in Tibet have been able to achieve a lot of success. However, there is still quite a considerable gap between products that were physically made in Tibet vs the more inferior “Tibetan style” rugs that were woven in South Asia.

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