Pile carpets woven on a vertical loom, believed to have originated in Tibet (now Tibet Autonomous Region) and made by the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Ladakh, khabdans are widely used as floor coverings in houses and prayer rooms of monasteries and are considered ideal for winters.
Traditionally, the khabdan is 3×6 meters in size and has a stretched warp of unbleached cotton threads, while the weft is made of natural, handspun wool or synthetic wool (in recent times), dyed in various colours. The weaver, usually a woman, sits on the floor, or a raised stool, in front of the loom to weave. The process begins with the insertion of an iron rod perpendicular to the warp. The weft thread is then looped around both the rod and the warp and knotted; this is repeated to create a horizontal row of knots and most khabdans have 48 knots per square inch. After a row of knots is created, the rod is removed and the weft is beaten down with a comb-like device known as the punja and hammered with a wooden dhunki (hammer). In a final step, to complete a row, the loops are cut with a knife called tee and the remaining hanging threads are clipped with scissors resulting in an evenly cut and raised pile surface.
Khabdans often feature motifs placed either in the centre, at the corners or a combination of both with a geometric border along all four edges. The motifs are typically outlined in a contrasting colour, lending dimension to the surface. The designs are largely drawn from Mahayana Buddhist iconography, particularly the eight auspicious symbols; the lotus, the eight spoked wheel, the vase, the parasol, the white conch, two golden fish, the knot of eternity and the victory banner. Other common motifs are dragons (druk or duk), snow lions, clouds, flowers, birds and medallions, which have stylistic influences from China, Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia, as a result of historic trade in the region dating to the tenth century. Khabdans in orange and red – both auspicious colours – are created specifically for Buddhist monks residing in monasteries and incorporate religious motifs such as the swastika in the centre of the design.
Khabdan making is one of the few craft traditions, alongside wood carving, that has survived in Ladakh and continues to be practised in the region. The production of khabdans is centered at Choglamsar as well as other parts of Ladakh that house Tibetan settlements, while government run centres at Leh are known for promoting and encouraging craftspeople engaged in khabdan weaving. The technique used to make khabdans is also practised in other parts of India where Tibetan and Buddhist communities reside, such as Darjeeling, West Bengal as well as parts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh.
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