The interest of western collectors of Tibetan rugs was particularly piqued by tiger rugs, in part because of their associations with Tantric meditation; many Tibetan tiger rugs were gifts for lamas in the monasteries.
There are several kinds of Tibetan tiger rug designs. Some consist of “realistic” renderings of tiger pelts, while closely related rugs show more abstracted versions of tiger stripes.
Another type of tiger rug shows a “whole pelt”, complete with legs and grinning face.
In a religious context, tiger rugs are related to the tiger skin loin cloths seen in painted images of fierce (wrathful) Tibetan Buddhist gods.
The tiger skin is believed to provide protection to a person engaged in meditation. Female wrathful gods sport snow leopard spot loin cloths, and old Tibetan rugs are occasionally found with leopard spots too.
Tiger design rugs are found in several other carpet cultures, including Khotan rugs to the north, however it is amongst Tibetan weavers that these designs achieve their highest development. The designs are lively and amongst the most original of all traditional Tibetan motifs.