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A Tibetan tiger rug (modern) with and abstract pelt design. Rugs like this were used as meditation seats when tiger skins were unavailable
The interest of western collectors of Tibetan rugs was particularly piqued by tiger rugs, in part because of their associations with Tantric meditation; many Tibetan tiger rugs were gifts for lamas in the monasteries.
There are several kinds of Tibetan tiger rug designs. Some consist of “realistic” renderings of tiger pelts, while closely related rugs show more abstracted versions of tiger stripes. Another type of tiger rug shows a “whole pelt”, complete with legs and grinning face.
In a religious context, tiger rugs are related to the tiger skin loin cloths seen in painted images of fierce (wrathful) Tibetan Buddhist gods. The tiger skin is believed to provide protection to a person engaged in meditation. Female wrathful gods sport snow leopard spot loin cloths, and old Tibetan rugs are occasionally found with leopard spots too.
Tiger design rugs are found in several other carpet cultures, including Khotan rugs to the north, however it is amongst Tibetan weavers that these designs achieve their highest development. The designs are lively and amongst the most original of all traditional Tibetan motifs.
The term, “Wangden” is a marketplace term referring to a group of rugs of similar structure (a warp faced back weave). But given the wildly different palettes seen in these rugs, it is doubtful they could all originate from the small village of Wangden, located in south/central Tibet. A Tibetan Wangden sitting rug from the late 19th or early part of the 20th century. The red coloring and red fringe indicate that this rug was used in a monastic setting, probably by a senior lama since junior monks rarely owned such pieces
Many Wangden rugs have a looser weave, lower knot count, and a thicker pile than a typical Tibetan carpet, and also sport a thick shaggy fringe. Today these rugs are woven only in the Wangden valley, in the region south of Shigatse, though their manufacture may have been more widespread at one time.
This type of rug was originally made for monastic use as a sitting carpet. Some monasteries still have long Wangden runners on the bench seats used by monks during ceremonies. New rugs are still being woven, though mainly for domestic use and for the visitor market in Lhasa.