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Rossi & Rossi

Carpet of flayed man (g.yang gzhi)
Ningxia, China
c. 19th century
wool, cotton and dye
165 x 99 cm – 65 x 39 in

The carpet represents the figure of a flayed man (g.yang gzhi) stretched out on a sea of blood (khrag mtsho). This potent image may have been used as a ceremonial offering to protector deities, perhaps as the ground upon which other offerings were placed, as seen in the illuminated manuscript of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, who gained access to secret practices associated with Himalayan protector deities during the 1950s, wrote that a human skin was thought to suppress any “demons who might try to obstruct the ceremony.” Offerings to protector deities include the human skin, often together with the tiger and elephant skins, which symbolize the annihilation of desire, anger, and ignorance, respectively. Tibetan tantric practitioners are occasionally shown to be seated on a human skin, and one cannot therefore rule out the possibility that this carpet was meant to be a seat for special Tantric meditations.

Flayed men are represented in several published examples of Tibetan carpets and textiles. All show a naked, eviscerated male with long hair whose lifeless body is symmetrically arranged on a blood red ground. This superb example depicts some internal organs, perhaps the stomach, lungs and intestines. Beyond the sea of blood are severed heads, each unique in expression, hair color and pattern of facial hair. The carpet tableau is enclosed by a border of flames. Such powerful imagery was meant to evoke cremation grounds, where legendary Indian yogis perfected their practices and inspired generations of Buddhists to follow in their wake.

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