Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-04-2008 06:42 AM:

The Baluch

There was a smattering of Baluch pieces in the exhibition. The first, both in the exhibition and the book, was this charming Dokhtar-e Ghazi prayer rug. It is in the Textiles In The Service Of Religion section of the Timbuktu To Tibet book, plate 12.

"Prayer Rug, Baluch Iran or Afghanistan 19th Century"
Believe it or not, it surprisingly has "Wool pile". It is 106.5x167.5 cm (42x66 in) and is from the Bevis Longstreth collection. There is no mention of the construction. We might assume it has two wool wefts and is AS knotted, open left. We were admonished not to touch the textiles, so a more accurate analysis was not possible. The book was included in the cost of the conference, but it was not made available to us until the end of the first evening. Perhaps when the exhibit travels to Washington DC some of the details might be made available to those of us interested in more than just the cultural aspects of these pieces.

There was a Wall of Baluch pieces in the exhibit (OK, just a small Panel of Pieces) which included this delightful "cushion cover" from the R. DeWitt Mallary III collection. It is 58.5 x 81.5 cm (23 x 32 in) 19th Century. This one, different from the rest, has "Wool, pile"

There is a similar piece in Oriental Rugs from Atlantic Collections, the 8th ICOC in 1996 (plate 300). If I thought I could distract DeWitt and overwhelm the guards, this piece might have ended up in my own collection. Cowardice overcame avarice and DeWitt still owns it, though.

If your collection does not include one of these "Bird" Baluch pieces, you may want to cash in your 401K to acquire one:

It is plate 66, a "Baluch Bag-face Iran 19th Century" (yes, your suspicions are correct, it has "Wool, pile") This one is 63.5 x 56 cm (25 x 22 in) from the Richard Stewart Collection.
As has been noted by other commentators, the selection of cultural photographs in this book is arguably more important than the rugs. There is an abundance of pictures showing textiles and weavings in-situ unequalled in other rug books. Here is one showing "A dervish boy praying." British Library, London.

The caption notes "Some of the usual equipment of the mendicant dervish is present, including a begging bowl and an axe. It is interesting to find an early image of a Baluch prayer rug in use. Iran 1903."

Patrick Weiler

Posted by James Blanchard on 05-04-2008 07:46 AM:

Hi Patrick,

Well, you've done it now. The Baluchophile floodgates have been opened...

Just a few impressionistic comments...

At the risk of being expunged from the worldwide Baluchophile tribe, I'll make the brave admission that I am not that wild about the "Doktor-e-Ghazi" prayer rug format. Clearly there are better and best versions, but most tend to feel a bit crowded and sterile to me. There, I've said it.

The second piece you illustrate looks marvelous. A few of the central motifs look to be a variation on the Doktor-e-Ghazi design. This piece shows one of my favourite visual devices of old Baluch weavings... a generally dark palette with bits of lighter (often blue) highlights that shine out from the rest of the weaving. Note the same approach on the "bird bag" Baluch (#3).

Finally, I suppose we have just a bit more evidence regarding the actual use of Baluch prayer rugs for prayer in that region around the time of manufacture. I know that some have questioned whether these Baluch prayer rugs might have been manufactured for show, rather than use.

They were all made out of wool??? Who knew???


Posted by Steve Price on 05-04-2008 12:33 PM:

Hi Pat

The Dokhtor-i-Qazi is the first one I've ever seen with kilim ends that weren't a specific sequence of horizontal red and blue stripes. The mihrab is atypical as well, with two small arches flanking the narrow central one, and the borders aren't the usual for Dokhtor-i-Qazi. Here's an image showing the usual features of Dokhtor-i-Qazi prayer rugs. It's from a nice article on Tom Cole's site. The one from the Hajji Baba Club is directly beneath it, to make comparison easier.


Steve Price

Posted by Steve Price on 05-04-2008 12:35 PM:

Hi Again

The "prayer rug in use" photo is clearly staged. The first requirement for a rug to be used in prayer is that it must be a surface that is undefiled by soil. Muslims remove their shoes before stepping onto one. The one in the photo has not one, but two pairs of shoes on it. The first pair disqualified it from being a clean place to pray. The second one? Who knows? The two pair look like they're different sizes. Maybe one of them belonged to the photographer.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-04-2008 06:17 PM:

Hi Patrick,

The Dokhtor-i-ghazi in your first image seems to have a somewhat livelier look as regards color than the usual. Is this the impression one gets in person? Your other two images are also on the light, bright side (in a good way!). Maybe the effect is from the photography. Both of those are corkers, too.

The catalog for the Christmas Exhibition of the International Hajji Baba Society of Washington, D. C., 1974, shows at plate 6 a very similar example. It was in the collection of Aram H. Garabedian. Common features are the notches at the shoulders, the diagonal ("half-chevron") treatment of the kilim ends, and all of the border treatments except the outside border. Garabedian's border was the familiar string of zig-zag arrowhead devices. Incidentally, that rug is reported to be all wool, strongly supporting your prediction for the New York rug, in my opinion.

I would post a picture of the Garabedian piece, but

a) I still haven't hooked up my scanner; and
b) it's in black and white anyway.

Rich Larkin

Posted by James Blanchard on 05-04-2008 08:17 PM:

Hi Steve,

I don't want to quibble, but I only see one pair of shoes and from the angle it looks like they might not actually be on the rug. The only other articles on the rug are a "donation bowl", some sort of ceremonial implement (axe?) and a cloth where the forehead would touch the carpet during prayer. I am not sure, but I think that part of the Shia prayer ritual includes touching one's head to a stone during prayer, with the stone often wrapped in a cloth.

You are probably correct that the picture is staged, but it begs the question... why stage an activity that is incongruent with the local tradition? In all of my experience and travels I have never had any doubt that the Baluch and other Afghan groups use prayer rugs for prayer. Moreover, I think it is not uncommon to find old Baluch prayer rugs with patterns of wear that are entirely consistent with being used for prayer. That doesn't mean that all prayer rugs were necessarily used that way, but I am persuaded that many were.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-04-2008 08:26 PM:

Hi folks,

I also think the actual photo was staged, but I'd bet the staging was based on familiar practices of the time. I'd also bet the boy didn't own the rug.

What is that flat item bent over his knees that his hands are resting on?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Steve Price on 05-04-2008 08:55 PM:

Hi James

You're right. That means I must be wrong. I hate when that happens. I didn't notice the axe handle, and the head of the axe and the stone are both the same color as the shoes, and have shapes that hit my eyes as side views of the same kind of shoes but in a smaller size.

Like you, I don't have the slightest doubt that some Belouch prayer rugs were used for Muslim prayers.

My apologies for the error.

Steve Price

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-04-2008 09:15 PM:



I took these photos from the book and on my screen they looked flat, so I supercharged them. (or whatever editing phrase the software uses)
The first rug definitely has that luscious orange similar to what is often found in Varamin and Afshar rugs from the 19th century. It is a good, vegetal dye. The photo caption of the second piece mentions three shades of blue. The orange, too, is more of a light red than the orange that now appears on my screen.
The bird bag is also not as "bright" or "lively" as it looks on the screen. Sometimes you gain a bit of color, especially with Baluch pieces, when lightening the photograph enough to see the details. As I indicated previously, if I had brought a large duffel bag with me to the exhibition, I would have these pieces at home with me to photograph better.
Perhaps when the exhibit gets to DC you can get a closer look....

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-05-2008 01:15 AM:

Hi Pat, et al,

Believe it or not, the dervish bowls are referred to as a "kashkul" - ring any bells ? The axe is called a tabar (tebar, tebarzain, etc...)

These days, more ceremonial ones are decorated with hammered or engraved designs (see below). I rather imagine those in use by dervishes are probably pretty simple, but who knows ? Dervishes adopt the humble life to appreciate humility and do not necessarily come from a life of poverty; prior to such a decision, I suppose they may well have had sufficient resources to acquire such decorated paraphernalia. They do not actually beg for themselves, but rather, are required to pass on any funds to other needy persons.

The bowl in the photo has a thick, well developed rim around the opening and appears to be metal, and under close examination can be seen to have a metal chain. Here's one we have.

Interesting salonette Pat; I've been up to my ears in work with not much time to post. Hopefully, life will be back to normal soon.

I have to agree with James on one thing. I wouldn't have spent any money on that Dokhtor-e-Qazi piece. I find it somewhat interesting, but unattractive on the whole.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-05-2008 01:27 AM:

Hi Chuck,

There you are! Long time, no hear. Very interesting images and comments on dervish life.

Funny, I think that Dokhtor-i-ghazi is the aces. I agree with James' comments in general that a lot of them are a bit boring. I used to have one that I de-accessioned on the grounds of "not too exciting." But I like the look of the one Patrick put up. I know Steve has one we've seen a few times that I would be happy to install in the presently vacant "D-i-G" slot in my collection, in case the boredom becomes more than he can bear.

Incidentally, I mentioned the Garabedian example the Washington D. C. Hajjis put in their 1974 catalog. The outside border of that one is the same as the outside border on the Tom Cole example Steve posted. Otherwise, it is a close approximation of the one Patrick posted.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Paul Smith on 05-05-2008 01:35 AM:

Chuck, James, et al...

I join the chorus of those not thrilled by that DiQ. The c. 1900 Baluchi prayer rug border format evolution (devolution?) of having the main border go around the entire rug seems to my eye to make these look flatter somehow. I am intrigued by the differences that make some of these DiQs look shoe-horned into their design while others appear more relaxed in their bearing.


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-08-2008 12:37 AM:

A Few More

Here are a few more "Baluch" pieces from the book and exhibit. Dr. Thompson does not present any groundbreaking research on these tribal pieces, but the intent of the book, and exhibit, was to show what is being collected by the members.
This first one is a 9" x 9" "Small Bag", 20th Century, Wool, flat weave. Richard Stewart Collection:

"Though of no great age, this small bag scores highly for sheer visual excitement."
"The style is Baluch, but whether it comes from Baluchistan "proper"... or elsewhere in the region, is difficult to say."
It is certainly something I would collect.

The next piece is a: "Baluch Bag-face, Iran 19th Century 37 1/2" x 29 1/2" Wool, pile, from the Dr Robert P. Hendrikson Collection.
Again, no tribal group attribution, but a lovely piece with the five-petalled mina khani design:

The next one is described exactly as the previous one, with the exception of the size and the owner.
This one is 31" x 26", a bit smaller, and owned by R. De Witt Mallary III.
It seems older than the previous piece, with some of the black corroded and "the general approach is more playful and the workmanship less precise in the quality of its detail.... Most apparent is the use of a new colour for the lattice, a pinkish-red, almost certainly one of the expensive insect dyes, either lac or cochineal."

The lattice reminds me of Afshar Tulip-rugs, although the motifs in the lattice are like the Shirvan "snowflakes."

A common feature of these last two pieces, and the earlier ones in the thread, is the orange-red color. I guess they chewed up a bit of the stuff to determine dye quality

Patrick Weiler

Posted by James Blanchard on 05-08-2008 08:07 AM:

Hi Patrick,

I concur about that little Baluch "dazzler"... I wouldn't mind having it.

You mention that you think the second bag-face appears older than the first. What clues are you considering for this assessment? Personally, I find it very difficult to find a clear set of accepted patterns to assess the relative age of Baluch weavings. It certainly seems much less defined than the popular wisdom associated with dating Turkmen weavings. As I have noted in previous discussions, insect dyes seem to be rather uncommon in 19th century Baluch weavings, and there seems to be a general association between their use and an older age estimation.


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-24-2008 07:38 AM:

Deeper and Deeper

I have been reading through the marvelous book, Timbuktu to Tibet, which accompanied the exhibit. I finally found the one piece from Timbuktu, plate 59, a Cover (Arkilla Jenngo) from Mali, West Africa, Timbuktu region. It is on page 193, just before the section on The Baluch & Their Neighbors. Which is where this easily overlooked section jumped out:
"Carpet studies to date reveal that craft habits within populations are more stable than designs, and are a better guide to attribution, but in the absence of a set of historically reliable attributions it is only possible to divide carpets into sets according to their observed characteristics, and hope that at some future time it will be possible to say who made what."
At this point there is a footnote:
"This approach is well illustrated by the careful work of Pittenger 1996, and an effort in this direction also has been made by Craycraft 1983, but this work lacks rigour and his implausibly specific attributions are not supported by evidence."
The book then continues thusly:
"The ethnography of these regions is extremely complicated, and even a summary is not possible here."
Another footnote:
"For those wishing to embark on this study the following are a good place to start, and lead to further reading: Yate 1887, Schurmann 1962, Ferdinand 1959, Janata 1963, Ferdinand 1964, Janata 1970, Janata 1975, Janata 1986."
And then:
"What we can say, however, is that although settled Baluch populations in Khorasan undoubtedly produced rugs, so did others in Iran, including Sistanis who are often classified together with the Baluch, and the Brahui, whose lifestyle is similar to the Baluch. The particular problem comes with the peoples of western Afghanistan who live on both sides of the Persian-Afghan border, especially those known as Aimaq, a term which at root means 'tribe', with the sense usually attached to it of 'nomadic'. There is no agreement as to which tribes fall under this designation because tribes merge, split and re-group according to the prevailing political situation, so they rarely remain constant for any length of time. The tribes most often mentioned in this connection are the Jamshidi, Taimuri (Timuri), Taimani, Firuzkuhi and Hazara. All five speak Persian, are Sunni Muslims and use felt tents with straight roof struts, with the exception of the southern Taimani who use large black goathair tents related to those found in Iran. Here the designation Hazara refers to a group quite distinct from the Hazarajat Hazaras of central Afghanistan, who are Shias. The Taimani show most evidence of being a tribal confederation. All are semi-nomadic in that they have permanent winter quarters, practice agriculture and do not move far from their settlements. Janata has argued that it is the Aimaq, especially the Taimuri who 'come into consideration' as the weavers of the best 'Baluch'-style rugs, and that their women are among the most versatile textile artists of the Near East."
When you have all read the books Thompson has suggested, let me know what you think.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Richard Larkin on 05-25-2008 05:49 AM:

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for those excerpts. You can't beat Thompson for clarity and putting things into perspective. We've been wallowing in and choking on the "Baluch" hodge-podge for some time (on TurkoTek and more broadly), but that short statement from him pretty much summarizes the situation.

Rich Larkin