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Koran Bag
Lakhai, Uzbekistan
6" x 8"
Sun Bow collection

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Inscribed Bag
Knotted pile
Obruk, Turkey
Sun Bow Collection

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Nazarlik, continued from page 1
It is commonly believed that evil does not have a strong attention span. Thus, we have those non color -related aspects of Nazarlik like long fringe or dangles which reflect (as in Moroccan weavings), or the tiny mirrors which are used in the weavings of the Uzbeks and their relatives in Rajasthan - evil doesn't like to look at itself. It has been theorized that many tribal and nomadic textiles have long fringe so that their movement can distract evil intent, and thus divert the Nazar away from its intended victim. One may see many examples of this in ceremonial kilims (such as for a wedding). These wedding kilims are draped over the camel, and the bride rides atop the animal, with long fringes dangling. The bride's hair (especially if long and beautiful), veil and clothing are covered with Nazarliks: Mostly in embroidery, beads and gold. The animal itself is covered in specially constructed decorations which are used to deflect from the bride any thoughts of envy or jealousy.

The former Sheikh Muzaffer of the Helvati-Jerrahi dervish order of Istanbul, told of 3 shapes which attract and thus deflect the attention of the Nazar: the circle, the triangle and the six pointed star. These shapes are common in traditional tribal weavings, although the 20th Century has seen a lessening of the usage of the six pointed star (perhaps more a political statement than a shift in belief). It should be noted that Islamic philosophy has created a coherent iconography of the meanings of the various kinds of stars: 5 pointed, 6 pointed, 7 pointed, etc.

The triangle is a classic form for the repository of charms and amulets - sometimes having written blessings, prayers, Hadith or portions from Koran within. The upward -pointing triangle form symbolizes the Oneness of God and when reversed, symbolizes the fertility of the earth. The six-pointed star (the unification of the two triangles) means the Unity of God and Humanity.

Calligraphy in weaving, embroidery and appliqué is also used as a form of Nazarlik. Thus the name of God, and quotations from the Koran or Hadith, or any of the traditional Sifat e Allah (the 99 Names of God) are used to ward off evil intent. These may be found on such diverse house items as Calligraphy spoons (to bless the kitchen and ward away evil) to inscriptions on Shaffee Tas (ceremonial healing bowls), Koran bags, and amulet bags, straw woven "fly palaces", horse blankets, baby cradle covers, animal decorations which are hung in the home when not in use on the animal, and strings of blue glass beads.

The usage of symbols and letters within a woven design is also a classic form of Nazarlik. Names, dates and symbols are all used to commemorate and protect. It should be noted that there is no 'H' nor 'S' in Arabic script, Persian script nor in the written script of any other language of the Silk Road peoples. Rather their usage symbolically represents Prosperity ('H' is symbolic of an open sheep's pelt - meaning food, wool and wealth) and Power ('S' is symbolic of Wisdom - the dragon or great serpent).

Apparent contradictions abound: In the Konya region, a highly religious and conservative area of central Anatolia, the locals find no apparent contradiction between their formal Islam and their usage of a symbol of pre Islamic shaministic times - Sha Miran, the Queen Goddess of the Snakes. When asked, they merely state, "She is a nazarlik."

As discussed in my article on "Bags," (please see - 1998, or Sun Bow in Print on our web site) concealment is a classic aspect within the whole belief system of Nazar and Nazarlik. Thus, things which are precious and may generate envy are not show to the generality..

And finally a few words on fertility. Cowrie shells (trade goods from the Indian Ocean) are classic items of value amongst nomadic peoples of Eurasia, and may be found as far inland as Tibet. They symbolize fertility, and the blessing of the Earth-Sea Mother, and are used to empower animal decorations and wedding textiles. They are felt to be especially potent when placed on breeding animals during mating season.

In conclusion, please note that these are but the first steps in a long journey towards our understanding the inner mind of the traditional peoples of the Silk Road. Inshallah! more work will be forthcoming, and will illuminate this unexplored aspect of the ancient nomadic and tribal cultures of the Silk Road.

Saul Yale Barodofsky
Sun Bow Trading Company
Charlottesville, Virginia - July, 2005
More images from the exhibition
We've been outfitting caravans
from Downtown Charlottesville since 1978.
   Open Monday through Saturday
11:00 - 6:00
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  Sun Bow Trading Company
110 W South Street
Charlottesville, Va 22902

Right off the Mall
The South Street Bed & Breakfast
The South Street Brewery
Directly behind
The Farmers' Market