Prayer is a most ancient and universal human approach to Deity.
It would seem that all peoples had some method of formal prayer and supplication.
Seclusion is used here to connote the idea of protection through intentional separation.
There is some 'discussion' on the exact meaning and nature of the origins of the so- called prayer rug. But, suffice it to say, most scholars tend to give origination to the early Ottoman court in the 15th century.
Many weavings and fragments from before this period still exist, the most famous being the Pazyryk carpet, but no 'prayer designed' weavings exist prior to the advent of the Ottoman Court.
There is an injunction in the Koran to "pray in a clean place".The first mosque, according to tradition, was a space drawn in the sand by the Prophet Mohammed, who said "take off your shoes when you enter here. This is Holy Ground."
Many will claim that the prayer arch is but a borrowed rendering of the traditional pointed arch , or "mihrab", the niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction of Mecca. It is earlier referenced in the Koran as a "niche of light,"symbolizing God as the Light. A hanging lamp within a prayer rug is another symbol of this.
The prayer arch takes different forms, from the traditional arch to a single chevron (sometimes called a 'secret prayer') with many variants in between.
There would seem to be a relationship between the weavers' tribal affiliation and the design of their prayer arch. Thus, the Baluch prayer arch falls into a distinct category, as do the prayer designs of Uyghurstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Persia (Iran), the Caucasus and Anatolia.
Shia Muslims tend not to make prayer rugs with arches, many believing that this symbol is of Christian origin.
Strange as it may seem, the prayer rug format was not restricted to Muslims. Jewish and Christian designs are not uncommon - such as crosses and even six pointed stars . There is also a very famous Spanish Jewish (Sephardic) prayer carpet from the 14th century, as well as Jewish examples from the 18th and 19th century.
The prayer design is also used for the bestowal of blessings, and as a "nazarlik" to help ward off the evil eye. Here, prayer designed arches are placed in positions from which they can exercise their 'magic' - radiating the power of protection and beneficence.
From the image of prayer to the "protection" of sacred objects through intentional seclusion:
Within the Islamic world, the physical Koran holds a place of adoration, reverence and honor amongst believers. Even a page, or a piece of a page will be treated as Holy, and often carried as Nazarlik in a special "amulet" holder or bag.
The rarely seen Koran bag is a superb example of the usage of seclusion. Here we find the object of veneration (the Koran), being removed from casual, secular interactions with the general population by covering it.
Just as all rugs may be used for prayer, so all bags or envelopes may be used to protect and cover the Koran. Over the years, however, there has evolved an accepted form for the Koran bag to take.
Here we have a square 'envelope' with a chevron shaped outer flap. This closing flap is reminiscent of the prayer arch. However, just as all prayer arches are not uniform in their design and structure, we have found the same to be true of many Koran bags.
Finally, not all peoples made or used special bags in which to keep their Koran. These examples, out of nearly 100 which we have collected over the past 30 years have come from Anatolia, Persia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. We await further examples of this textile art from other areas.
We hope you will enjoy our presentation as much as we enjoyed putting it together.
Saul, Stephanie and the Sun Bow Crew
Bags - Saul Yale Barodofsky - Turkotek. And on our web site.
Nazarlik - Saul Yale Barodofsky - our web site.
Prayer Rugs - Textile Museum Publication - Prayer Rug Exhibition 1974
Baluch Prayer Rugs - Adraskand Gallery Publication - Exhibition 1982
Caucasian Prayer Rugs - Ralph Kaffel - Published 1998 by Laurence King in association with Hali Magazine
Hali Magazine Issue 127 - Forum - 'Ends and Means' - Islamic Prayer Rugs in context. P.105
Some of our previous exhibitions in Charlottesville:
U.V.A. Bayley Fine Art Museum: Antique Oriental Rugs in Virginia Homes, 1982
U.V.A. Bayley Fine Art Museum: Yurts , 1985
Our Gallery: Thracian Textiles, 1987
Second Street Gallery: Prayer Rugs, 1991
Our Gallery: From the Hands of Fatima, 1998
Paramount Theater Reception for Yo Yo Ma: Silk Road Textiles and Artifacts, February 2006