Tibetan handwoven carpets a dying art form

Last Updated: Dec 14, 2010, 16:06 PM IST

Dharamsala: Dragons, birds, and snowcapped mountains captured in intricate detail on woollen rugs have been a beautiful reminder of Tibetan traditions for the community here, but old timers say the art of carpet weaving is dying out.

Home to thousands of exiled Tibetans, `Little Tibet` - uptown of this north Indian hill station in Himachal Pradesh - is struggling to preserve its rich Buddhist culture, one of the facets of which is the art of weaving rugs.

Lack of interest among youth and years of effort needed to master the skills mean artisans are in short supply.

"The new generation is not keen to participate in the art of weaving carpets as it`s quite labour-intensive. It`s a matter of concern," Pema Dorjee, general manager of the Tibetan Handicraft Cooperative Society, told IANS.

He said most people employed here for making handmade rugs were elderly women.

"Earlier, we had carpet weaving centres at all 52 Tibetan settlements across India. Now only four are working - Shimla, Dharamsala, Dalhousie (Himachal Pradesh) and Rajpur (near Dehradun in Uttarakhand)," he said.

Tibetan woollen carpets are handmade and decorated with traditional designs of dragons, birds, snow-capped mountains and other scenes from nature. They sell for Rs.5,000 to upwards of Rs.30,000.

"Carpet making has still not been mechanised so as to preserve its traditional essence. The entire work is done by artisans. An effort of around a month goes into making one carpet measuring 3 ft by 6 ft," Dorjee said.

Chokpa, a 56-year-old weaver, said: "The job is quite labour-intensive. I have been in this job for more than 40 years, but my children and grandchildren are not keen to do this work.

"I enjoy making carpets as it preserves the ancient Tibetan art. I want to share our heritage with the international community."

The Dharamsala centre is the most profitable one. "Our annual turnover is around Rs.20 lakh from the carpet sale. The artisans are able to weave around 800 sq metres of carpet, which means 450 carpets measuring 3 ft by 6 feet," an official at the centre said.

The centre produces carpets of varied sizes - from the smallest of 18 inches by 18 inches to those measuring 22 ft by 22 ft.

Cooperative Society chairman Lhakpa said the first carpet-weaving centre was set up by the Dalai Lama in 1959 in Dalhousie in Chamba district.

Later, centres came up in all Tibetan settlements in India and even abroad. The Dharamsala centre was set up in 1963.

"The aim of His Holiness was mainly to train unemployed Tibetans and preserve the rich weaving tradition," Lhakpa told IANS.

Dorjee said around 70 workers were involved in weaving carpets at the Dharamsala centre.

"Since their number is declining with each passing year, it`s a matter of concern. To meet the cut-throat competition, we have now started blending modernity with tradition by taking customised orders and making rugs as per given specifications," he said.

Exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama fled Tibet along with many of his supporters in 1959 to escape Chinese occupation and took refuge here. Over 94,000 Tibetans live in India today.

IANS