Carpetariat Woes

Rashmi Rajgopal believes carpets deserve a better place in people’s homes, especially if they’re Iranian nomadic carpets.

Mumbai: Hey, you! You, who indiscriminately use the phrase “it’s a dog’s life” just because you heard it somewhere or read it somewhere or heard someone use it and thought you had it worse than dogs or your dog has it worse than other high-bred dogs or use it ’cos everyone else does. Take a look at this poor, lifeless carpet. Carpet has it worse than Dog. The moment Hierarchy tumbled out of Society’s C-section, it spread its filth so deep that it seeped into the world of dogs and carpets.

This bourgeoisie DOGma,” wails Carpet.  Image Credit:

“This bourgeoisie DOGma,” wails Carpet.
Image Credit:

But in a way it’s good, for Carpet rose in protest, gave Dog a powerful kick and decided to earn a name and place for itself in the world. Wandering around the virtual world, Carpet found its way to my blog to tell you just why its kind deserve a better place in your home. Today, Carpet will speak on behalf of some of its nomadic brethren from Iran.

Carpet doesn’t want to jump the gun, so here’s the legend. The origin of carpets—and here carpets are “knotted” wefts and warps—remains a moot point, but Turkestan (now in Kazakhstan) seems to be the commonly agreed-upon place of birth. The influence for the art of carpet-making in Persia is attributed to the Il-khanids, 13th century and the Timurids, 14th century, both originating from Central Asia. While there are quite a few theories floating around regarding their purpose, one concerns itself with the function of knotted carpets in a by-gone age. Nomads needed insulation from the ground. And they couldn’t just kill their livestock for that. So came the age of carpets, with many nomadic tribes using wool as their primary source (Enza Milanesi, “Carpet Making: Materials, Dyes and Knotting”, The Carpet: Rugs and Kilims of the World, London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 1997, p16). With time, functional needs were driven to obsoletion by aesthetic needs, and the carpet evolved from a necessity to an ornament. Another theory holds that evolved societies create knotted carpets which were later altered to nomadic tastes (“What is a Carpet? Its Origins”, Ibid, p15), and here is where those primitive, rough versions oozing nomadic charisma figure.

Compared to its west-and-central Asian counterparts, Persian carpets represented (and still do) the culture and art of Persia. With the advent of the Safavid Dynasty, carpet-making reached its peak. Then it jumped the shark. The Afghans invaded in the 18th century, and carpet-weaving was redefined by new styles.

But there must be nomadic Iranian carpets out there that can be possessed, you reason, or you wouldn’t have come all this way to share your sob-story with us, would you, Carpet? And here, Carpet gives you a sharp look and whacks you on the head with one of its tasselled ends and moves on to explaining what its nomadic brethren look like, pulling out a photo of one:

“This is a 19th century, boteh-motifed woollen kilim from Persia, now at V&A” explains Carpet, seeing your flabbergasted face Image Credit:

“This is a 19th century, boteh-motifed woollen kilim from Persia, now at V&A, London,” explains Carpet, seeing your flabbergasted face.
Image Credit:

Iranian nomadic carpets are characterised by certain asymmetrical knots, known unofficially as Senneh or Persian knots. Certain nomadic carpets like the Qashqai are identifiable by their asymmetrical knots and discordant motifs. As mentioned earlier, nomadic carpets predominantly used wool (Safavid doesn’t figure here. Everything became far too sophisticated and snobbish for my brethren’s liking, scoffs Carpet). Nomadic traditions were orally passed down generations. With the flourishing Safavid Dynasty, the role of creating and weaving was split. Silk was used for court carpets, and ateliers were established in cities (“Persia”, Ibid, pp76-77). One source attributes geometric carpets similar to Anatolian ones to the Seljuk Arab conquest.

Motifs are very, very important, as is their religious manifestation that came with various conquests. The Seljuks were Sunnis and their rule spread over Asia Minor in the 11th century. Seljuk-style carpets from Iran depict geometric shapes and floral arabesques in striking colours. The borders are of a Kufic script, originally used to record the Qu’ran. This style also found its way into prayer rugs in Anatolia. The Timurids, for instance, who entered the scene much later were Shiites, and carpet-weaving was bound to stylistically change under their rule. Living creatures began appearing in carpets in the 16th century. Iranian carpets have more of a social significance than a religious one. Nomadic carpets feature scarab motifs, stylised domestic animals, the boteh—bouquet of flowers in curvilinear or geometric arrangement, the herati—floral palmettes, the afshan—parallel rows of rosettes and palmettes from 16th century Persian designs (“Decortive Motifs”, Ibid, pp32-34) …and many more for your bourgeoisie pleasure. Now here’s a peculiarity: a Vaghireh, which in nomadic semiotics was simpler and more stylised.

‘Twas always “us” vs “them”, says a belligerent Vaghireh carpet, hinting at the difference in approach by nomads and villagers Image Credit:

” ‘Tis us vs. them”, says a belligerent Vaghireh carpet, hinting at the difference in approach by nomads and villagers
Image Credit:

And now you’ll only find them being on sale at auctions or expensive carpet stores or in museums in which case you can’t do much at all, concludes Carpet. They’re a rarity and deserve to be treated well. You graciously thank Carpet for enlightening you on its plight and promise to give Nomadic Iranian Carpets a respectful place in your home and not let your pets drool all over them, if at all you buy one. And I believe you’ll be dropping by Saffronart’s events page  pretty often to uplift Carpet’s social standing in exchange for this information. Carpet thanks you too.

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