Home Page Discussion

Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Colours of Life: A Perspective from Tibet

by Jaina Mishra

“jo hai wo hai – jo nahi hai wo nahi hai’,  said a poet once. Translated roughly into English, this means : ‘what is, IS and what is not, is NOT’ - A statement of fact asserted to make one accept life as it is. This poet was not from Tibet , but it appears that all Tibetans live by this poem. In acceptance of their given lives, in surrender to their destinies.

In living one of my life dreams, I visited Tibet in early September on a solo trip. I shall remember it as a country of contrasts.

The first black and white contrast that awed me, is of the gentle and the harsh, living in consonance. The gentle nature of Tibet ’s people represented the white and the harsh nature of its landscapes represented the black. The soft spoken smiling people living within a ruthless unforgiving terrain totally unlike them, is somewhat of a misfit. Yet they live in complete harmony with their surroundings. The starkness of the topology leaves no room for pretense and meaningless niceties. Lives get spent in organising the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – for survival. Yet people connect unabashedly, without a need for manners and etiquette, from the purity of their hearts - with each other and with nature. ‘what is IS, and what is not, is NOT’ seems to be their way of shrugging off anything false and holding on to only that which is real and true. Black and white.

The second contrast I cannot ignore is my own black and white reaction – black to nature-made structures and white to man-made structures. There are raw mountains that have split the earth to rise, themselves slashed and cut mercilessly, by rivers of melting ice, all the way to the Everest Base Camp.  The landscapes along the path are evidence of the earth’s violent nature. And this path along Gyantse and Shigatse is dotted with amazing pieces of man made architecture, bearing the message of peace. In the starkness of the landscapes I feel fear and dread and overpowering awe – all black reactions. While in the man made structures I am spellbound by the passion and the devotion that must have gone into their creation – all pure white reactions. How did they create all this beauty while living in such difficulty? How did they profess and practice peace in this violent and angry geography ?  A land of contrasts !

Lhasa – shows me more contrast – the austere prostrating pilgrims who seem to know nothing beyond their worship, and are totally unaware of the physical damage to their bodies in the quest to acquire a good afterlife. Pure white intent.

And within meters of them are the colourful street sellers, with lots of eye candy in the form of old bags and old animal trappings and silver ware, with a  commercial willingness to make a piece as old as the buyer would like it to be, without a thought about the sins of lying or its impact on the afterlife! Black Intent.

The lives and deaths of important monks represent stark contrast. The frugality and austerity of their lives, is completely different from the opulence of their tombs covered with thousands of kilos of gold in the Potala.

The contrast between the blazing hot sun and chilling temperatures in the shade…

Lots of black and white!

In traveling through this land of colours and discovering its conceptual black n white contrasts,  I came across nice traditional things, in metal and fabric that still live within its culture.  I am displaying here the little that I saw of Tibet ’s textiles.

Traditional textiles are a statement of identity that say “This is where I am from. This is what I do. This is who I am”  (World Textiles)


In many of the monasteries and chortens that I visited

some areas are out of bounds for tourists, with their doors locked and covered with curtains. I must have missed a good number, before I realised that the tie-and-dye kind of work seems to be a characteristic of Tibet , and started taking pictures.



And so, it was only on my final visit to my favorite antique dealer in Lhasa, that I saw this coat made of the same kind of tie & dye work. As you can see, we had an impromptu celebration modeling and dancing in that itchy old coat!

The coat and its details :



Later that day, I was lucky enough to see two nomadic old women with beautiful weatherlined faces and prayer wheels doing a ‘kora’ or circumambulation around the Jokhang in Lhasa, wearing such coats.  Taking pictures of locals is not something to be done without their permission, and I missed that opportunity to click those beautiful women. 

In the same style of tie and dye, below, is an old skirt apron.

The traditional woman’s dress consists of a long sleeved shirt, a sleeveless shoulder-to-ankle length pinafore-tunic of a thick material, and a skirt apron. The nomads wear a sturdy apron – made of wool, with an inner lining. All the three examples that I saw had beautiful outer layers with tie and dye work, in different field colours and all had an inner lining of unwoven wool in varying degrees of deterioration. All had the waist belt component, but the fasteners material varied between fabric, leather and metal. Exchange of complicated information with the dealers with whom I shared no common language, was limited, and so my understanding remains incomplete.

Pictures of skirt apron and its detail:



I am sure I will always regret not getting the other two…


This other kind of skirt apron almost always had a horizontally lined pattern and seem finer than the nomadic counterparts. This may be a warm weather apron.

 This kind of an apron has been described in the book, “World Textiles”: “A weft faced weave is one in which the warp has been obscured by the weft threads and any pattern, most commonly horizontal stripes, is therefore carried by the weft. The wefts are more densely packed than the warp or are of heavier weight – example a woollen weft and a cotton warp.”

Discussion Proceed to Part 2 Proceed to Part 3