THE ART OF CARPET-WEAVING SIKKIM
Handicrafts are an indispensable representation of Indian tradition and culture. The picturesque state of Sikkim is hailed not just for its natural beauty but also for its exotic handicraft and handloom artistry. The carpets of Sikkim in particular, are an ode to the cultural richness and dazzling beauty of the state. The art of carpet weaving is considered to be an integral part of the family heritage and is passed down from generation to generation. Interestingly, the home also doubles up as the production unit.
Sikkim practices what is believed to be one of the oldest forms of carpet weaving in the world. Hand-knotted woollen carpets, locally known as Den, are the specialty of this state. The women of the Bhutia community of Sikkim proudly claim to be the ambassadors of this artwork and are labelled as ‘expert carpet weavers.’ They use a unique method of weaving known as ‘frame-loom weaving.’ Though the underlying theme incorporates colour schemes and decorative motifs inspired by Buddhist iconography and Tibetan designs, the style of dyeing and weaving varies from region to region throughout the state.
It is believed that the practice of carpet-weaving has been prevalent in Sikkim since ancient times. In the 1920s, Chogyal Tashi Namgyal, the then ruler of Sikkim, patronised this art form and created a palace workshop known as Namkhang for carpet weaving. The art of carpet weaving is tedious and requires a lot of dedication and concentration, as it involves a number of intricate steps. The design of the carpet is first drawn on graph paper and then hung from the top of the loom to guide the weaver. Each design has a name and significance of its own. The most common designs woven into the carpets include the image of a dragon holding a ball in its mouth, two mythical Tibetan birds known as the Dak and the Jira, auspicious Buddhist symbols, and designs that depict the breath-taking beauty of Sikkim. Besides these, Tanga is considered to be one of the most famous yet traditional designs used by the weavers. It is basically a medallion or a coin that is used as a design on the carpet. Geometrical patterns are also created using different coloured knots. The colours are derived from natural products like vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
The process usually starts with the preparation of wool that involves carding, dyeing, and balling. The warp (taan) is made in the loom (den thak-thi), using wool or cotton. The loom is constructed based on the proposed size of the carpet to be made. Knotting is done with great expertise using wooden hammers (fong or thowa). After weaving, the carpet is trimmed, and the extra fibres are snipped to give it the desired shape and size. It takes about 8-10 days to prepare one carpet under normal circumstances. Apart from the traditional carpets, Bhutia women also weave small bedside carpets called Asanas.
The skill and technique applied in weaving carpets in Sikkim reflects the traditions, customs, and beliefs of the people. Today, the Sikkim carpet industry plays a major role in the economic growth of the country and is in huge demand overseas. To ensure the perpetuity of the industry and to keep this primordial tradition alive, with the help of the government and local people, various training institutions have been established in different parts of the state to train more people in this exemplary artwork.