Sacred oriental mountain rugs

Between the Caucasus district and the region
of the Great Rivers lie the three lakes Gokcha, Van, and Urumiah, with
Mount Ararat as a somewhat central point : these give a permanence to
the physical aspect of the country and to this tract, men have come and
gone from far and near all through the years since, according to tradition,
the peaceful dove was sent forth from the ark by Noah.

During the past century railroads have made
life in this part of the Orient very different from what it was before
; but, whatever the detrimental effects of steel-rail invasion may be,
we are at present gainers, for travellers are giving us both impressions
and photographs of things that materially assist us in our study here
at home.

Within half a century many most learned writers
on the architecture of the Orient have frankly said that there were certain
places closed to travellers, about which one could only speculate. Even
Ferguson, in speaking of Samarcand less than forty years ago, writes:

” Unfortunately no photographs have
yet been published of Samarcand, and no plans of the buildings of that
far-famed city. We have not seen any such detailed descriptions as would
enable us to speak with anything like certainty of their affinities or
differences with other buildings of the same age.

All that can be said with certainty
is that the Great Mosque and tomb of its founder at Samarcand are enamelled
in the same style as the mosque at Tabreez. .. The whole facade of the
mosque, together with minarets and domes, is covered with painted tiles
so far as can be ascertained.”

In contrast to this, in a letter written
within the present year, a friend states that a returned traveller who
has very much enjoyed his trip through Turkestan, has brought back 565
kodak views of central Asia. Close study of these views of the details
in the ornament of the mosque and tomb of Tamerlane, to which Ferguson
alludes so guardedly; of the interesting features connected with the life
of the people all along the way in Russia, Turkestan, the Caucasus district,
and the region of the lakes, where on his return trip the traveller made
a careful study of the physical aspects of the country,—all tend
to stimulate the stayer-at-home to perfect his methods of making an analytical
study of objects, that by and through them he may be led into a comprehension
of all that they embody.

As it seemed appropriate to consider the
tree in ornament where it had its mythical origin,—in the Garden
of Eden,—just so it seems not amiss to formulate our opinions about
sacred mountains while in thought we are wandering in the region of Mount
Ararat. The Garden of Eden and the story of the Deluge have their counterparts
in the folk-lore of all peoples. It has been given to the student of Chinese
symbolism to trace unmistakably, in ornament, the sacred mountain of eastern
Asia, and to follow it on its migration westward, where, in the rugs of
Turkestan and the Caucasus district, as well as in certain Persian and
Turkish antique specimens, Mongolian influence is strongly felt.

A symbol that has to do with something people
can understand is more readily adopted than one about which nothing is
known. On this account the tree and the mountain, like the sun and the
planets, have always been popularly considered and universally adopted,
and the worship of the mountain manifested by those who embroidered its
outlines upon their garments, and who called one of their divinities ”
The Great Mountain,” was easily suggested and perchance communicated
to others all along- the line of conquest. In the old days this ”
Great Mountain ” was considered the god of the Tartars.

Be this as it may, we find in antique rugs
enough to verify our most venturesome belief in the meaning and migration
of the pattern. The sacred mountain of China, as it appears in ornament,
is mythical ; for, while that land abounds in mountain peaks of interest,
it is to the mountain in design that allusion is here made.. At the centre
of all things it arose from the ocean of Eternity. It had to do with elemental
conditions, and was the first material manifestation when all was void.

The mountain in Mongolian ornament is often
pictured as having five peaks, sometimes only three. As an emblem in the
hand of the ” Pearly Emperor” and the Taoist priests, it is
represented as a single peak, as is also the case when the symbol is held
by Confucius. However significant this emblem, together with the sceptre
and the fungus, may be to the student of symbolism, they have in ornament
become known and verified features, and have been given names by which
they may be designated. In the ornament of no other part of the world
have single features been so perpetuated as in China, because, as has
been before stated, that which was vital in the past has still meaning

In naturalistic representation, t h e mountains of
the Orient, from Fujiyama in Japan to the Mount of Olives in the west,
have figured in art and story ; but, with the exception of the mythical
mountain Sumeru, of Hindu mythology, there is nothing that equals in importance
the Mongolian conventionalised representation of the sacred mountain.

All primitive peoples have believed that
the souls of the righteous mounted to heaven from the branches of trees
on high mountains, and for this reason the mountains are revered, and
are sometimes pictured in early art as bearing a crest or crown of stars.
Star myths have in this way become intimately associated with legends
of mountains, and deities presiding over the events of life are, by imaginative
mortals, given special stars for their abode.

The clouds, too, form part of the conventionalised
ornament that bears directly upon these considerations ; and one special
cloud form, which can be traced more directly than almost any other from
the eastern to the western Orient, appears again and again in rugs and
can be vouched for as a symbol of the presiding deity, whether it be Jew
or Gentile, Christian or Pagan, who in looking upward calls upon the Divine.

This cloud form originally represented the
constellation of Ursa Major, in which, by the Mongolians, the Great Ruler
was supposed to reside. In sixteenth-century carpets the form of the constellation
and the star circles themselves are preserved, but in later copies the
cloud form remains, with loss of meaning, as a simple ornamental form.

The outline of the fungus, or joo-e is sometimes
mistaken for a cloud form in ornament, and one should use thought in deciphering
and determining forms and their derivation and meaning. When a Mongolian
Tartar, 300 years ago, wished to represent Paradise, he threw over the
field of his rug a design which resembled twisted ribbons and flowing
bands, which threaded their way through numberless cloud forms, and which
connected small circles and discs representing stars. Celestial beings
were so designated by their surroundings, and not by wings or halos.

One of the genii would be represented with
clouds at the base of the figure, and a favourite deity would be surrounded
with a conventionalised star ornament representing his own special constellation,
from which he was supposed to control the fates of men. Later thought
has shown itself in designs in old Ispahan rugs, where Mohammedan influence
has introduced and mingled winged angels and other symbolic representations
quite at variance with the older thought. There are certain famous old
carpets now treasured in museums and homes, upon which is indicated, as
plainly as though written in so many words, a verdict by the weaver like
this :

” I am by birth a Persian Mohammedan
; but I intend in this rug to copy many old Mongolian devices which I
do not understand, so I will faithfully reproduce them. I will, however,
reserve the corner spaces for ideas of my own about Paradise, as the designs
I am about to copy evidently refer to that happy place. I will also surround
the entire field of my rug, in which I intend to weave these to me foreign
ideas, with pure Persian border patterns : in this way I shall remain
true to my birthright.”

And the student must one day be so familiar with the
migration of ornament that he shall be able to distinguish at a glance
between foreign and native elements in the design in any fabric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *