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What Are Tibetan Rugs?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Amanda L. Wardle
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Tibetan rugs are one of many traditional crafts coming from the ancient kingdom of Tibet. This country covers a large swath of land comprising the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. It borders India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and numerous Chinese provinces. The region has a long history, beginning with the Zhang Zhung culture and Bon religion, but is widely known for Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.

No matter the style, Tibetan rugs are made from highland sheep’s wool known locally as changpel. Production is based on traditions handed down over thousands of years. These traditions are often based on hand weaving and knotting techniques that utilize wooden frames. The yarn or wool is looped around the rod and then cut. This produces a denser pile than many other types of rugs.

Manufacturing bases for Tibetan rugs moved to neighboring Nepal and India in the 1950s after China invaded Tibet. Since then, the majority of Tibetan rugs, while still made in the traditional fashion, are produced in Nepal. The streets of Lhasa have many local rug stores catering to locals and tourists alike. The rugs are intended as pieces of art as well as functional items. Due to their hand-woven nature, they are considered a high quality item and may be expensive.

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Modern technology has allowed designers to e-mail or fax designs from anywhere in the world to the Kathmandu-based factories. These hand- or computer-drawn designs can then be turned into new rugs. This has allowed the patterns in Tibetan rugs to change, though traditional ones remain popular.

There are many uses for Tibetan rugs. The khaden rug can be used as a sleeping carpet. Others can be hung on walls or used on floors. Other popular rug styles include tiger rugs and wangden rugs.

Tiger rugs are not made out of tiger pelts, although they can be fashioned to resemble them. They are made out of changpel like all other Tibetan rugs. Such rugs can be designed to look realistic or to be more abstract. Tiger rugs are associated with tantric meditation and Buddhist Lamas. Many have been donated to Buddhist monasteries as gifts.

A wangden rug has a looser weave and a thicker pile than many other types of Tibetan rug. Shaggy fringes are also popular with the wangden style. The intended purpose of the wangden rug was to be a sitting mat or carpet for monks in monasteries. They became less popular in monasteries and are usually sold for domestic use or to tourists.

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