Central Asian carpets...star decorations

Central Asian carpets...star decorations

Patterned and pretty, Central Asian carpets cover the cultures of the region well.

Turkish carpet

Did you know Turkmenistan has a Ministry of Carpets? In fact, it also has a national holiday called ‘Carpet Day’. Not just that, its flag features five traditional carpet designs representing the country’s five major tribes.

Central Asia abounds in magical handicraft. One of these is the art of carpet-weaving. And of the five countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — that make up the region, it’s the last one that’s the heart of carpet-making.

Weaving carpets has been an integral part of Central Asian culture. The carpet has an almost-sacred place in the region’s culture and its myriad designs express a shared artistry passed down the ages. For valuable keepers of culture and customs, looking at carpets is like viewing pages of history. They’re almost a pictorial script. In a category of their own, these floor coverings have become a priceless basis for ethnographic research with experts being able to gauge migration patterns, customs, community habits and social standing based on woven patterns.

Knotted up

The weaving of pile carpets is all about knotting. The two most common tying techniques are symmetrical knot, also called Turkish knot, and asymmetrical knot or Persian knot. Central Asian carpets use both techniques. However, they don’t boast of knot-count elegance that creates refined pieces. These are more about bold colours and large, arresting motifs. They represent a certain style of carefree nomadic weaving that echoes across the neighbourhood, too. The reason similar patterns can be found in the Middle East, Turkey, Afghanistan, Mongolia and even Russia.

Traditionally, carpets have always been made in village homes by women of the family who carded the wool and spun it. The men have usually set up the warp and been involved in the dyeing process. Primitive looms were used along with a few rudimentary tools, mainly scissor, comb and a hooked knife. Designs have typically been passed down the generations and were almost-always re-created from memory.

Central Asian carpets are rectangular and have a central field surrounded by a delicate border. The ground is classically filled with a symmetrical design, usually a stylised geometrical motif. Some carpets, though, have a design running from top to bottom — those used for prayers and pictorial ones for instance — and are viewed from only one end, most others have a central medallion around which is woven a recurring motif or a complex trellis pattern.

Woven songs

“Most carpets that you see on the stands are Turkmen pattern. Their copies are made across Central Asia and in Afghanistan. That’s because a Turkmen carpet is like a joyous song,” Hamayoon, a carpet dealer from Turkmenistan visiting India, tells me with passion. “For us, carpets are an essential part of every occasion. The patterns reflect our emotions, rituals, beliefs and traditions. In our flag, the five conventional carpet designs along the hoist represent our major tribes: Tekke, Yomud, Saryk, Chowdur and Arsary,” he adds.

The classic Turkmen carpet is in all shades of crimson, which is complemented with the use of brown, blue and black colours for the patterning. The pure wool used is dyed with vegetable colours, the reason these carpets have an unmatchable lustre. Carpet designs of Turkmenistan are usually named after the nomadic tribes that have created them over generations. In the eastern side of the country were Tekke, Salor and Saryk; in the western part were the tribes of Chowdur, Yomud and Goklen; while in the north, the Arsary held sway. All are known for their high quality of woven carpets.

As seen across Central Asia, geometric patterns dominate the field and the most popular Turkmen motif is the Tekke or the stylised octagonal gul (flower). These guls can vary in number, from maybe just two large ones in the entire field or 10 smaller guls being knotted in a repetitive sequence, lending a grid-like appearance to the carpet. Interestingly, the Tekke design and its variants are popularly called bukhara, not because it was created in the Uzbek city, but as it was sold in bulk from this trading outpost on the Silk Route.

The shift to chemical colours and large-scale factory production has dimmed the quality of carpets available these days, but Turkmenistan has such a wealth of weaves that there will always be that sparkler amidst the ordinary.

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