The Symbolic and Ritualistic Characteristics
of Turkmen Rug Designs.
Religious officials among the Turkmen's can be divided into three types: the officials Moslem pastors, the Sufi teachers of the Ishane sect and the pre-Islamic priests or shamans called porchanes. This is why Islam often seems like a shell covering the hidden forms of pine- Islamic belief...'
'In our view, the most common indicators of pre-lslamic beliefs arc such o'superstitions as the "evil eye", malevolent ghosts. faith in the powers of various talismans and amulets, faith iii the power (if prayer to heal, pilgrimages to holy places related to nature cults, obvious remnants of religious fetishism and totemism, beliefs connected to the powers of plants auth trees, the Jildiz star and other omens and belief in Pin, the benign rulers of natural forces, livestock and So forth.' The two important quotations given above (MB. Durjev and M. Demidov in Turkmems Research, op.cit., vol.V111) represent one significant starting point for research into Turkmen weaving, namely the interpretation of the motifs found on such weavings as iconographic, with mythical and ritual overtones. The Islamisation of Central Asia never succeeded in eradicating completely earlier shamanistic beliefs: even after Islam was officially adopted in the major centers such as Samarkand and Bukhara, these beliefs still exerted considerable influence. together with) the continuance of what might be described as 'Turkmenoglyphs'. The ability to interpret such iconographic motifs was gradually lost, as was knowledge of them origins, event though their talismanic power remained.
As a result, many of the more ubiquitous motifs have been given different meanings depending on the philosophical auth religious inclinations of the interpreter:
Tire Tree. According to comnion shamanistic belief, heaven and earth are connected by a tree which grows at the earth's center. This has to be climbed by the shaman spirit on its journey to heaven; on the way, the spirit has to pass through various levels, denoted by the tree's branches. The so-called 'Tree-of-Life' at the center of the Islamic Paradise is related to this concept as, (If course, is 'The Tree of the Know hedge of Good and Evil' which, according to) Genesis, grew in the Garden of Eden.
Tire Bird. This also has a major role in shamanistic belief, a role so rich and varied that it cannot he discussed fully here (see R. Pinner, 'The Animal Tree anti the Great Birch in Myth and Folklore' in Robert Pinner auth Michael Franses, eds.. Turkmens Studies I, London. 1980 pp.04-5 1). The birch symbolizes the flight' of the human soul and thus stylized trees are often delineated in concert with) equally stylized hinds, the latter either 'complete' or in part. Eventually, tree and birch 'merge' into one motif.
With this in mind, it is possible to offer an interpretation (If those ensis with the 'cross' (so-called hachli) design. This design can be said to reflect the idea of a cosmos with a tree at the center of the earth, the hatter 'represented' by the design found within the lower elem panel. The four separate fields created by the cross-shaped composition represent the cardinal points, the hook-like motifs, reminiscent of candelabra, within them representing the various spiritual levels through which the soul must pass. A more banal, albeit equally possible, theory (if this type of ensi composition is that it is a stylizes representation of a wooden door with cross-beams. ensis taking the place of doors in the nomadic yurt.
Tire Ram. Reverence for this animal also has an important role in the shamanistic beliefs of the Turkmen's and their ancestors. It is not only a symbol of strength butt was also regarded as containing the spirit of dead forebears. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that its horns were used as part of the design repertoire of Turkmens weaving, being known as the kotshak motif. The pelts of mountain rams were supposed to have served in the ecstatic journey of the soul, a use similar to that accorded to tiger skins in Tibet and China. The ram's skin is also supposed to have been spread as a prayer mat in shamanistic rituals and was subsequently represented. albeit in a highly stylized manner, on felts.
There are also Turkmen prayer rugs (II comparatively recent (late on which pairs of huge horns appear as the principal motifs. Carpets from many different weaving cultures auth from many different periods have motifs which are either obviously stylized representations (if stretched animal skin (if pelt on can, and have been, interpreted as such; hook, for example, at the motif from a well-known design group of late 19th-early 20th century rugs from the Kazak weaving area of the western Caucasus Illustrated in fig.59 (the so-called 'bug motif'). Certainly there seems a logical progression from animal skins being used for warmth underfoot and oven the body to their representations in woven textiles, particularly pile rugs, which mutate the fleece of a sheep iii a number of obvious respects.
Tue Talisman or Amulet. Many motifs have a talismanic function. For example, they were used as protection against the 'evil eve', as agents to ensure or to encourage fertility, good health and so on. The elem of the Ersari chuval bears the so-called, nuska motif, which was also used for silver pendants and as a motif on silk embroideries (it is sometimes rendered as quite a realistic hand anti is called the 'Hand of Fatima'. although it retains the same on similar talismanic functions). There is also the totemic aidi gul. which appears piled on the narrow flat-woven lower end (if the Tekke namazlyk or prayer rug.
For a clearer understanding of die many theories surrounding Turkmen weavings. It is as well to have a simplified table of Central Asian history. Over many millennia, the peoples (if this region were subject to many different influences and dominated by many different powers. Urban cultures were never homogeneous hut the 'meltitig pots' of diverse ethnic groups, which were partly assimilated but also brought with them their own customs and beliefs to add to the rich cultural 'stew'. These influences, of course. Also spread outwards to touch the lives of the various nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes living 'beyond the pale'.
Felts and fragments (if asymmetrically piled carpets, interred in Scything funeral harrows in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia (discovered in 1947 by the Soviet archaeologist. 5.1. Rudenko).
11th-14th centuries. Putative dates of so-called Seljuk carpets made in Anatolia. 15th century or earlier. Surviving Anatolian 'animal' rugs and depictions of such rugs in European paintings.
15th-16th centuries. Egyptian rugs (if the so-called 'Mamluk' type. Allen 1517, when the Ottoman Turks completed their conquest of Egypt, 'Mamluk' rugs were made probably by the same weavers together with rugs of the so-called 'Cairene Ottoman' design type.
15th- 16th centuries. Anatolian rugs with so-called Holbein' designs. Persian carpets with medallion and flowers designs: also 'hunting' carpets. Earliest Caucasian 'dragon' carpets, probably dating from the end of the 16th century. l6th-l7th centuries. Persian 'vase technique' carpets from Kerman and establishment of looms in Isfahan by Shah Abbas in 1601-2. Caucasian 'blossom' carpets (18th century).
Without doubt, beliefs and ideas which originated in other cultures and which were expressed in symbolic term on weavings had to some extent influenced the iconography of Turkmen rug designs.