Religious symbols in luxury carpets: what do they represent? How are they used?
In the rich symbolism of Oriental luxury carpets, decorations inspired by religion and spirituality play an important role. Just as with animal symbols, religious symbols in luxury carpets reflect the everyday life of the people who wove them and embrace the spiritual dimension of life, becoming symbols of thanksgiving or prayer.
Most common religious symbols in Oriental luxury carpets
When analysing Oriental luxury carpets from different regions, from the Caucasus and Persia to China, we can see that all cultures have used symbols of their faith in their weaving.
Some symbols are common to more than one religion, as is the case with the tree of life, represented in both Christian and Islamic areas. Other symbols, however, clearly identify the religion to which the community within which the carpet was made belonged. This is the case, for example, with the mirhab or the hand of Fatima, both symbols typical of Islamic culture and included in carpets used for prayer, or the yin and yang, an expression of Chinese Taoist culture.
In many cases, religious symbols have been used to honour and pay homage to the gods, but there is no shortage of spiritual symbols showing man's connection with nature. Trees are often used as symbols of immortality or abundance.
Main religious symbols used in Islamic and Christian rugs
The tree of life is a symbol common to these two great monotheistic religions. In both cases the symbol is related to the concept of paradise. Depicted on hand-woven luxury carpets, the tree of life symbolises immortality and eternal life. Sometimes the tree is endowed with fruit, as a symbol of good luck and sustenance. The tree of life, with roots firmly planted in the ground and a tendency to grow towards the sky, also symbolises the ability to master knowledge and spirituality.
Religious symbols are especially prevalent in prayer rugs used in the Arabian way. The symbols and their arrangement have a precise meaning and establish a close connection with the deity. One of the most common symbols is the hand of Fatima, whose fingers represent the five precepts of the Islamic faith (charity, fasting, prayer, faith and pilgrimage). As well as being a symbol of faith, the hand of Fatima is also often used as an amulet to protect against the evil eye and misfortune.
The comb, which symbolises cleanliness and purity, is also widespread. The comb represents the quest for purity, both on the outside and on the inside.
In luxury Oriental carpets it is usual to find the mirhab, the niche that symbolises the entrance to paradise, inside each mosque. In the centre of the mirhab is a lamp, symbolising the immortality of the gods.
The kufic motif is frequently used in the border decoration of carpets from Arab regions. The Arabic alphabet, by extension, represents the word of God and is therefore sacred.
Religious symbols used in the Taoist and Buddhist traditions
Religious symbols associated with Taoist and Buddhist cultures are commonly found in the Central Asian tradition. Among the most common and recognisable Taoist symbols are the yin and yang. According to Taoist tradition, all natural elements derive from yin and yang. From time to time, yin and yang may represent good and evil, day and night, male and female, or other opposing concepts.
In contrast, the Buddhist tradition uses eight symbols to represent good fortune and prosperity. These symbols are associated with the virtues of the Buddhist religion and take up some of the elements used by the Buddha in his teachings.
The eight Buddhist symbols are the conch shell, the endless knot, the canopy, the umbrella, the lotus flower, the wheel of doctrine, the vase of victory and the two golden fish.
The use of religious symbols in luxury carpets unites peoples who are culturally and geographically distant. Through the decoration of carpets, people seek inspiration from the gods, wish for happiness and protection and represent their beliefs and everyday life.
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