Weaving a life in exile!

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It’s tough to kickstart the life at a new place, suddenly uprooted from your home and doomed to live rest of your lives in exile. Tibetans have faced this almost 55 years ago and they continue to weave a better life at their new homes in India. Search of Tibetan souvenirs to be taken back home took us to Tibetan Handicraft Society premises located on one end of the main market in Mcleodganj. We had to wait for a while as the manager was away for a work. The collection at the centre was very attractive. While others were busy in their purchases, I went towards a modest workshop adjacent to store, where a few women were busy weaving carpets. 

Tibetan Handicraft Society was established in 1963 at Mcleodganj near Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh to provide work and income for Tibetan refugees in exile. Mcleodganj is the headquarter of Dalai Lama headed Tibetan government in exile. Since then, cooperative has trained many Tibetans in the traditional method of rug weaving and provided employment for thousands of exiled Tibetans.

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Traditional Tibetan Rug Weaving

Rug weaving is a very important part of Tibetan culture. Dalai Lama always emphasised importance for Tibetans in exile to maintain their cultural heritage. Without a country, exiled in India, the Tibetan way of life could have easily been lost, ultimately resulting in loss of cultural identity and the Tibetan struggle for recognition. The institution also provides accommodation, assistance for education, medical care, and pension plans for retired workers.

It’s a closely bonded community which shares its joys and tears. Its also highly religious with full faith in Dalai Lama. You can feel this all when you see these women working in tandem at the society workshop in Mcleodganj. Honestly, it was first time that I was witnessing the process of handmade carpet weaving so closely.

Around Mcleodganj? Read: Triund in the shadow of Indrahar Pass

Handmade Tibetan Rugs and Carpets

All rugs are handmade in high-quality wool by skilled workers. The rugs are of the finest quality available with each one taking days, even weeks to be made depending on size. Rugs are made using traditional methods with traditional Tibetan patterns and symbols. Rugs can be made to order and customized to suit buyers’ needs, even incorporating custom designs. Visitors to Mcleodganj, Dharamshala can visit the Tibetan Handicraft Society and view the work in progress. Watching the ladies working one line at a time is quite mesmerizing! Since rugs and carpets are made in different sizes, it depends on size that how many women will work upon a piece together. They have a printed full scale design hanging in front of them, using which they weave the carpet. There is also a tailoring section nearby which is devoted to produce Tibetan traditional dress and handbags.

The hanging job card and Dalai Lama at the back

Tibetan Clothing and Buddhist Crafts

In addition to the rugs and carpets, the Tibetan Handicraft Society sells many traditional items including clothing (including handmade scarves and shawls), paintings (thangkas), and items of significance to Tibetan culture and Buddhist traditions. A large selection of products including malas, jewellery, singing bowls, tingsha, dorjes, and incense holders etc can be purchased from here. Before that you can also learn about cultural significance of each of these items from the staff or the local Tibetan people.

You will be surprised to know that rugs and carpets of various designs and sizes are sent to various countries from here. Many tourists coming here from different parts of world will select a size and design here and then book it to be delivered to their place.

So, next time you visit Mcleodganj, don’t forget to visit these women and witness their extraordinary skill and labour.

Interested in Tibetan art? Also read: Tibetan Wood Carving: Craft for the Art

You can watch a video of these women making carpets on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below.

Staying at Mcleodganj? Read: Fabulous property, excellent location: Norbu House

Have you ever seen process of handmade carpet weaving? How was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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