Bhotiya Carpets

Craft, Handloom, Art, Luxury, Safeguarding, Endangered

Bhotiya Carpets

Chhabra, Jyoti

BHOTIYA CARPETS – New notes to an unsung legacy
This monograph is part of the research done towards a MSc. Degree under the guidance of Mrs. Veena Kapur in the Department of Home Science, Delhi University.

Bhotiyas are a nomadic tribe that moves from place to place in Garhwal and three districts of Himalayan Uttar Pradesh – Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Pithoragarh.

Bhotiyas are a nomadic tribe that moves from place to place in Garhwal and three districts of Himalayan Uttar Pradesh – Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Pithoragarh.

It is noted that for nomads, floor is the most important place. It served as a sitting place and also a bed to sleep on. Man’s urge to beautify his surroundings was reflected in wall and floor paintings and was probably the main reason for development of floor coverings. All forms of present day floor coverings have had their origin in the humble dwellings of the nomads.

Amongst the Bhotiyas, the cold climate of the mountains is another factor that necessitated the used of carpets (Chottopadhaya,1965). For these mountain dwellers, carpet is the main form of furniture. They sleep on it, seat their guests on it and spread it out for ceremonies and feasts. The history of pile rugs and wool is like a legend with the Bhotiyas. Since time immemorial, they have been using wool and their life seemed to be revolving around it, so much so, that it has become deep rooted in many of their ritualistic practices.

It is reported that trade was the main source of income for Bhotiyas and links existed between Bhotiya and Tibetans across the mountains. The trade was chiefly in the hands of Bhotiyas, who alone were permitted to cross the frontier (The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908) 


Carpet’s weaving is an art form surrounded with the aura of mystique. It has been romanticized to such and extent that it is difficult to separate fact from fancy, there are number of stories and legends associated with the birth of carpets. One such legend recorded in the rabbinical literature states,

“When God appointed Soloman, King over every created thing. He gave him a carpet, sixty miles long and sixty miles wide, made of green silk interwoven with pure gold and ornamented with figured decorations and surrounded by four princes: Prince of men, prince of demons, lion the prince of animals, eagle the prince of birds, When Soloman sat upon the carpet, he was caught up by the wind and sailed through the air so quickly that he breakfasted at Damascus and supped in Media.” (c.f. Chattopadhaya, 1969)

The oldest example of carpets known as the Pazyryk carpet, was found in southern Siberia in the Atlai Mountain valley of pazyryk. The carpet is approximately 2,500 years old. According to Kamla Devi Chattopadhaya(1969), there seems to be little evidence to date the antiquity of carpets, especially in India.

It is accepted that art of felting and later of embroidery preceded that of spinning and weaving. It is presumed that Patalika mentioned in the Pali literature as a floor-covering was a kind of carpet. In the later Buddhist literature of early Christian era, reference is made to Kachilindika, which is described as a soft stuff. There is a theory that this may be a Sanskritised form of Kalin, the Persian term for carpet.

Hand-knotted carpets were probably initiated in India by Zain-ul-Abadin Shah, Akbar of Kashmir (A.D. 1425-75). He established the wool industry in India. Major breakthrough in carpet weaving came during the reign of Mugal Emperor, Akbar in 16th Century A.D. He provided boost to the industry by bringing some weavers from Persia to India and by setting up a Royal workshop. Carpet weaving flourished and important carpet weaving centres developed from Kashmir to Tanjore.

In the year 1962, the flourishing trade between the Bhotiyas and Tibetans received a severe blow with Chinese invasion in Tibet. Both suffered severe economic crisis. Due to financial reasons, the craft of carpet weaving lagged behind as Bhotiya found weaving of punkheeslava and other woolen items more remunerative. 

Significance of the Study
Carpets in India have existed at two levels – the royal workshops and the abodes of the weavers. Bhotiyas, a nomadic tribe, produce carpets mainly for personal use. They have a distinctive style of weaving and designs used. But because of certain reasons, the art of carpet weaving could not flourish in the region. Consequently, the importance of Chamoli as an important weaving centre for carpets is not widely known. In recent years, Office of Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Government of India, has opened a number of government and government-aided centers to help revive and encourage the craft of carpet weaving.

Process and Material Required
The history of carpet weaving in the region dates back to antiquity. It was learnt that till a century back, the only form of pile rugs known to Bhotiyas were Chhayara Dan. These ‘woven carpets’ were used as saddle rugs, asans and as bed mattresses to provide warmth and comfort. The sizes varied but the construction remained the same.

Construction of Chhayara Dan
Long strips of woolen fabric are woven in variety of colours. The width of the woven strip is about 1.5 feet and length could be upto 20 feet. After weaving the strip, the central looped portion called garbha is woven.

The traditional Chhayara Dan from Harijan community
It is a simple looped uncut pile. For this, a bamboo stick called ringaal is passed through the woolen warp-shed. The height of the pile obtained is determined by the diameter of the ringaal. To create the pile, woolen hand-spun yarn is looped around the 0.5-2″ thick stick. Beating is then done with wooden hammer and weft yarn laid. After removing the ringaal, again beating is done which raises the loops to the surface. The process continues till the required length is achieved (generally 3 feet) Edge binding is done by simple knotting.

‘Garbha’ of Chhayara Dan being woven on loin loom
(Source: Personal album of Principal, Govt. Inter College, Chhinka Village)

After finishing the garbha, the Dan is given an edging of previously woven woolen strips. Around this a 2″ wide facing is hand sewn which apart from providing strength adds to the aesthetic appeal of the DanChhayara Dan is also given a backing of white canvas to increase its serviceability.

Caste distinction in Bhotiya community is reflected in this craft. The people of Harijan community made simple check patterns. They do not create elaborate designs which members of higher caste can use.

The metamorphic change from simple Chhayara Dan to hand-knotted carpets, still remains a mystery. The origin of hand-knotted carpets and transformation from loin-loom(pitha-chaan) to the vertical loom could neither be traced in books nor in conversation with the community but they were of the opinion that hand-knotted carpets were introduced around the turn of 20th century.

These carpet pieces were used as covers for cots, asans and saddle-rugs called Satan-Batan (Satan means hanging on sides and Batan means the seat).

With the Chinese invasion, the traditional trade between Bhotiyas and Tibetans came to a halt. The economy of the Bhotiya people based upon trade with Tibetans through rearing of a large number of animals like sheep, goats, jibbers, ponies and mules staggered under this blow (shashi, 1979).To make the two ends meet, Bhotiya weavers had to concentrate more on weaving punkhee, shawl and lava. The time taken to produce the above stated items was far less than required to produce a carpet. A rough estimate proved by a respondent at Bhimtalla shows that one carpet takes nearly one month to finish but in the same time period, around 15-16 lava could be produced. Hence, it was more profitable to produce these items than carpets.

Raw Material
The main raw materials required for carpet weaving are wool and cotton. Earlier, large amounts of wool were imported from Tibet. Wool obtained from locally reared sheep was also used but the quality of the local wool was inferior to that of Tibetan wool. It was coarse, thick and had short fibre length (1.5 -3.0″). Tibetan wool on the other hand was supple, lustrous and had long fibres (4-6″).

Wool was brought from Tibet in form of balchas, each weighting upto 12-15 kg. Balcha had wool in sliver-like form wound around a rim to form a tyre-like structure that made opening of fibres easy and free form entanglements. The entire process was a five stage process involving opening and cleaning, washing, carding, spinning and dyeing.

Opening and Cleaning
Wool fibers were first separated by hand. Opening also helped in separating out the entangled twigs and other loosely held vegetable impurities. After opening, the fibres were laid on a flat surface and beaten with two wooden sticks. This removed the dirt and entangled burrs, straw and other vegetable impurities.

Cleaning was followed by scouring wool in boiling water. Reetha was added in water that acted as a surface active agent to remove grease from the fibres. Wool fibres were boiled for nearly one hour, thorough rinsing done and fibres dried in sun.

Fibers were then carded by means of big wooden combs called kangi. Carding removed entanglements and broken fibres form the lot. After carding, the web of parallel fibres was converted into balls ready for next processing step, spinning.


Fibers were hand-spun generally by ladies of the household. Yarn was spun by using a spindle and whorl. Women did spinning while sitting, standing and even taking their sheep for grazing. Two ply yarn was prepared with little or no twist in individual yarn and stored in form of balls.


Both local wool and Tibetan wool provided a wide range of natural colours ranging from pearl white, fawn, camel brown, dark brown, grey and black. Many a times, natural wool colour is used as the field colour and for motifs.

When dyeing is to be done, the balls of wool are made into hanks. Later, these would be reconverted to balls. It was learnt that the art of dyeing with natural dyes is limited to a few people and is kept a secret by those who excel in the art. Dyes are obtained from tree barks, roots, fruit coverings, flowers and from other natural substances.

Acid dyes were introduced because the state Government placed restriction on plucking certain plants as they were medicinal plants e.g. Dolu.



Traditionally loin-loom was used for weaving Chhayara Dan. But when manufacture of hand-knotted carpets started, it lost its popularity. According to the Pradhan of Chhinka Village, the first vertical loom developed for carpet weaving was called Dan Raanchh or Khadda. He described the loom as a 4’x4′ structure consisting of 2 vertical beams, kharha balli. The beams are mounted on 2 flat rectangular wooden platform for balance and support. Another wooden rod called fatti is used at the base for extra support. There are 2 pairs of holes in the vertical beams to accommodate both the warp and the cloth beam. After placing the beams through their respective holes, they are tightened by means of screw. At one edge of the cloth beam is a small hole for an iron rod called Khunti. Khunti is used to rotate the cloth-beam for winding the carpet.

When Bhotiyas shifted their attention from carpet weaving to shawl weaving the vertical loom was simplified. The size of the simplified vertical loom is 4’x4′. It consists of a pair of uprights with 2 cross-bars. Cross-bar is about 5″ wide and 1.5” thick and 4-5″ longer than the size of the frame. There are no extra pegs or beams for support or tensioning devices.

The loom rests against the wall while the weaver weaves the carpet. In case of simple loom, the woven carpet moves to the backside of the loom automatically when beating is done. 

Mainly two techniques of knotting are being employed by the weavers in Chamoli District viz. The hand knotting and using gauge rod of which hand knotting is an older technique. The knot used is Turkish knot which would indicate that the art of carpet weaving in Chamoli could be older than carpet weaving in Kashmir.

The second method i.e. knotting by the use of gauge rod was introduced by District Industries Centre around 1954.

Carpets produced by gauge-rod technique look neat and are commercially more acceptable. The gauge-rod technique produces carpets at a faster rate, the pile obtained is more uniform and reverse of the carpet does not show the rows of cotton weft insertions as they do in hand-knotted carpets.

The accessories required for weaving and finishing the carpet are: 

  1. Chhuri – Knife for cutting yarn after knotting.
  2. Panja – Fork-like wooden object for beating the pile and weft yarns.
  3. Kainchi – Scissors for leveling the pile on the loom.
  4. Chhatti – Gauge rod.
  5. Khurpa – Sickle shaped knife with sharp outer edge, used for slicing the knots in gauge rod Technique.
  6. Hathoda – Wooden hammer used for beating the pile & weft yarns especially in gauge rod method.
  7. Badi Kainchi – Big sized flat-blade scissors for shearing while finishing the carpet.
  8. Brush – Flat board of about 5×8″ with a wooden handle on one edge and many short nails projecting from one side of the surface.It is used for teaseling while finishing the carpet. 

Hand Knotting Technique
The technique employing Turkish knot is the traditional way of creating the pile. This technique has the advantage of using whatever colour as and when required as per the design specifications. Changing colours is easy and each product has its individuality and is a beauteous work of art.




Knotting With Gauge Rod Technique
In this technique, end binding and edge binding are similar to hand knotting technique. The difference lies only in the pile knotting technique. 


Finishing The Carpet
In Bhotiya households, carpets are either used without any kind of finishing process or at the most a little shearing was done to level the pile. Shearing is done keeping the carpet flat on the ground. 


Designing The Carpet Pattern
There is no written record of the technique to guide the weavers to make the designs on carpets. Unlike the Talim in Kashmir, Bhotiyas had no graphical or pictorial representation that would guide through the knotting process. It was probably because Bhotiyas produced carpets for personal use at a leisurely pace whereas in Kashmir, carpets being commercial products, emphasis was on both accuracy of the pattern and speed of execution.

In Bhotiya households ladies generally use old carpets to copy the design. 

The colours used in Bhotiya carpets are generally bold and brilliant but always harmonious giving warmth to the surrounding. The ground color is generally dark and provide an ideal base for vibrantly coloured motifs. Traditionally, the ground color was either of natural colored fleece ie. dark brown (bhoora), black (tind), fawn (halka bhoora) and occasionally white(sheed) or dyed in dark colours like dark blue(neela), maroon(mahroon) and shades of brown were obtained.

The motifs were often worked out in bright combinations or monochromes and the outline sculpted in white or light colurs. The outline gave a 3-dimensional effect to the carpet. The popular colours for motifs in old pieces as observed were turquoise blue, sky blue(aasmani), red (mangd), yellow and shades of green.

Traditionally, carpets made for bride’s trousseau often had yellow as one of the colours. 

The patterns used in Bhotiya carpets are often reminiscent of snow-capped mountains and surrounded by the sky and the brown and red earth with flowing waters. The entire surface is not coverd with designs but the design is worked into a smaller area and an impression of space is given. Quite often along with the border enclosing the four sides, three circular motifs are worked out in the central field. Sometimes a single pattern is woven in the centre of the field.

The designs woven in most of the carpets are essentially central Asian. The motifs are inspired by Mahayana Buddhist symbolism.

Swastika or Laabh Chinh or Shubh Chinh – It is the most common motif used . Swastika is considered auspicious by the Bhotiyas.
Double key meander design – Locally called Matu design. It is a popular motif.Traditionally, carpets made for bride’s trousseau often hand yellow as one the colurs used.
A close study of old pieces reveals an influence of Tibetan motifs, motifs like Dug the dragon; Dak and Jira, the mythological birds and cloud and mountain motifs have been adopted from Tibetan iconography.


I. Border Designs
Border is one of the important element in Bhotiya carpets. It is often wide and can go upto 8″ in width.

a) Swastikaor Laabh Chinhor Shubh Chinh – It is the most common motif used . Swastika is considered auspicious by the Bhotiyas.
b) Double key meander design – Locally called Matu design. It is a popular motif for narrow borders.
c) Changri motif – This important traditional design was used in combinations with other motifs.
d) Pearl border – Locally referred to as Moti border is either used as edging of main border or used exclusively as narrow border.




















II Corner Desgins
Corner motifs were either geometrical or floral.

III. Central Field Designs
Central motifs are both floral and animal motifs.

1. Floral motifs –

a). Lotus – Locally referred to as Kamal is a popular motif used to represent the Brahma Kamal, a flower considered sacred by the Bhotiyas. Lotus flower is represented in both simple, geometrical and stylized forms.



b) Chameli – often used as a filler motif in the field.

4-petalled lotus with Phool-Changni border 8-petalled lotus with Phool-Changri border 8-petalled lotus with Phool-Changri border 12-petalled lotus

12-petalled lotus carpet with unusual peacock border. 12-petalled lotus with Phool-patti border

  1. Animal motifs –
    a) Dug, the dragon motif
    b) Dakand Jira, mythical birds
    c) Hiran, deer
    d) Yak 


Significance of The Carpets
On all auspicious occasions the Bhotiyas use wool in some form or the other. It was found that amongst the Bhotiyas it is imperative to give carpets to the bride in her trousseau as symbol of blessings for marital bliss. The number of carpets given to the bride depended on the financial status of the family.


The priest while chanting the vedic versus/hymns during the marriage ceremony sat on the asan provided by the bride’s family. This was a small square piece (2’x 2′) and was given as a gift to the priest.

Summary and Conclusion
Grandeur of the nostalgic Bhotiya carpets entices their beholders. The bright and brilliant colors of these flat woolen pieces add colour and warmth to the otherwise hard and challenging life of these mountain dwellers. For long Bhotiyas have led a somewhat isolated life due to the remoteness of area and poor means of communication.

The craft of carpet weaving has for long remained a household craft. It was little known to the outside people. But in recent years, this vocational craft has made its headway into the commercial market. Government and Government-aided Centres are trying their utmost to improve upon the quality and technique employed for weaving. D.I.C. introduced the faster gauge-rod technique and is also working on improving the quality of the product by giving good finishing to the carpets. The gauge-rod technique is now gaining popularity with the younger generation. However, the older people still refuse the technique of gauge-rod as they believe that the carpet produced would be less durable. New designs other than traditional designs are being used at different centres.

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