Posted by Gene Williams on 08-29-2006 03:15 PM:

Tree of Life Baluch Prayer Rugs


I posted a small Baluch tree-of-life (tol) prayer rug on the "Kurd?" thread. Dave has a magnificent simiilar rug which may or may not be related. I'll post better copies of my rug with some comments below. In a separate post, I'll add some similar carpets from literature. This particular tol design has little triangles at the top of the tree and is well known; the border though for me is the giveaway.

The rug is 36"x 29" (piled section). 11x9 knotspsi. It is all wool weft and warp. There is some silk and cotton in the details. The major border seems classic except that the use of color seems different, more haphazard than classical examples. The pile is low, but not worn very much; the handle is floppy. There are two small repairs. It is the size which could have been used as a real prayer carpet..but there is no sign of wear where the feet should go (I'll post a photo of a worn Baluch prayer carpet)"

(edit: I fear you all think I'm fiercely protective of this little rug. Well, I really like this carpet and always have...there is a story attached to it...It has a tribal feel to it..somewhat different from the more accomplished and sophisticated examples in books (and which I've seen in person). But, I'm not at all convinced it is a great find or a rare object, especially after looking at a lot of other examples. Still, in Karachi in 1977, it was a find for me...I still remember the thrill... and the memories which attach to the rug make it somehow more precious.)


Posted by Gene Williams on 08-29-2006 03:21 PM:

Publish examples

Here are several published examples of similar carpets. Most are larger than the above. The ones pictured in David Black's "Rugs of the Wandering Baluchi" all have the rusty red color of David's example.

1. David Black, plate 4. 1.60x.85. (513"x2'9.5") Early 20th Century.

2. David Black, platge 12. 1.25x.80 (4'1"x2'7.5"). Early 20th Century:

3. David Black, plate 24, 1.09x.84 (3'7"x2'9"), early 20th Century:

4. David black, plate 40, 1.52x.86 (5'1"x3'9.5"), 20th century:

5. Cecil Edwards, plate 1980.

6. Haji Baba (mcCoy-Jones) No. 1: Mid 19th Century: 3'3"x5'3". 108 kpsi. Colors identified as "Gold, red, dark blue, ivory, brown and some blue-green and pink silk"

7. Haji Baba, (McCoy-Jones) No. 2. Mid-19th Century. 2'6"x3'10." 140 kpsi. Colors identified as "Two shades of brown, dark blue, two shades of red, natural camel, ivory and gold"... note the double mirhab:

8. Haji Baba, (Winter collection), Late 19th Century. 2'11"x5'2". 140 kpsi. Colors id'd as "Dark blue, darkk brown, brick red, plum, natural camel and ivory."

Posted by Gene Williams on 09-01-2006 11:17 PM:

Couple of observations

Hi all,

Jack tells me there was a Turkotek thread which discussed Baluch "tree-of-life" rugs. Everyone seemed to have one..and I can understand why; There is something fundametally deeply-rooted appealing about these rugs..especially with the quality of wool used in their construction.

Reviewing Tom Cole's interview of Jerry Anderson, JA offers an interesting observation:

"HALI: What function do prayer rugs serve in the context of Baluch weaving? Are they a traditional art form?
"JA: The mihrab form is Zoroastrian, not Islamic. The word literally means ‘sun-water’ – in other words the life-giving rays of the sun. The so-called tree-of-life we see on so many Baluch prayer rugs is not a tree at all. It is a representation of the rays of the sun, a central part of the Zoroastrian tradition. Fire temples used to have splayed bulls’ horns mounted on their spires, and this symbol appears in some prayer rugs, particularly those from Sabzevar and Adraskand, as well as Turkestan. The Sistanis were the last to be fully converted to Islam and the Baluch and Brahui tribal structure is so strong that these latter groups remain less ‘religious’ than others such as the Turkoman and Pashtuns."

comment: I must say I never heard this directly from Jerry...or if so..don't remember it..but I've dealt extensively with Parsi families on both sides of the Pak-India border..bought a Parsi lamp from a family in Karachi...thus I won't discount the connection between the "tree of life" and Zoroastrianism.


Posted by R. John Howe on 09-02-2006 06:56 AM:

Hi Gene -

I own a camel ground Balouch tree of life prayer rug that I like, so I don't denigrate the type.

My post here, though, is to notice some things about what Jerry Anderson is quoted to have said.

First, notice that it is entirely an assertion. That is, he offers no evidence for his indication.

Second, he says "mirhab." This already presumes something we may not know about such designs. "Mirhab" is a purposeful word suggesting an attempt to mimic the similarly shaped place in a mosque. Steve Price is fond of saying that it is likely that most rugs with "niche" designs were neither woven to be prayer rugs nor used in that way. Notice I say "niche." This is a Richard Farber recommendation, since it simply describes the shape of the design. Even "arch" he has pointed out to me, has an architecture sense that is unearned in most of our descriptive uses. So, no great matter, but Anderson is down the road of inference a bit even as he says "mirhab."

Third, he says the "mirhab" device is Zoroastrian not Islamic (probably just everyday language but notice that his "mirhab" usage is in some tension with this assertion). Well, certainly Zoroastrianism preceded Islam and there are, no doubt, lots of residues of the former in previously Zoroastrian territories and cultures after their (predominant) conversion to Islam, but Anderson's sentence sounds like the sort of claim that a Gantzhorn-type thinker might make.

And there are some others who feel otherwise.

Walter Denny has argued that niche-forms are often likely efforts to depict the entrance into paradise and that the reason why there are often more than one is that it is held that there is more than one entrance into heaven. This view of niche-forms seems to be held by both Christians and Muslims and it may be that there is a Zoroastrian heaven that can be depicted with a niche as well, but I think the flat assertion that niche forms on rugs are Zoroastrian not Islamic requires evidence.

By the way none of the above is meant to detract from Anderson's clear experience "on the ground." He clearly had a lot of close-up experience with these cultures and undoubtedly knew some things. But he seems often not to have had much interest in moving beyond assertion, and that cannot, often, be distinguished from mere opinion. I keep wishing that he had been led to document a bit more the basis for some of his indications.

Likely life is too short and one needs to be excused not to have lived in terms of the interests of rug collectors who follow. But we need also to be alert when we read what he is claimed to have said.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-02-2006 08:19 AM:

Mmmh…This is the most complete web page I have found on the definition-etymology of mihrab:

No sun-water etymology, but one connected to Mithra, a Mazdaist/Zoroastrian angel or deity (mihrab meaning Mithraeum in Persian = place of worship of Mithra).


Posted by Steve Price on 09-02-2006 08:27 AM:

Hi All

I understand that discussions late at night over a bottle of scotch are not professional symposia and don't involve the same formality or documentation. But, like John, I am reluctant to take things as fact without some evidence to support them.

The notion of the niche being something other than a mihrab doesn't bother me much, for reasons that John mentioned. But the proposition that the Belouch "tree of life" is actually a representation of the sun's rays borders on implausible. Is there any culture in which the sun and sun rays are represented except as a more or less circular object with projections on its periphery? It may not be a "tree of life", but the sun seems like a very unlikely alternative.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-02-2006 08:52 AM:

Hi folks.

Steve, is John accurately stating your view that most niche design rugs were not intended to be prayer rugs? If so, what are your grounds? Do you mean they were not primarily aimed at a praying consumer, or that they were not woven and designed by a person mindful of that Islamic function and practice?

Incidentally, I find the "sun's rays" explanation unappealling myself, just looking at the design. Neither am I impressed by the rooster comb one occasionally hears about. I am curious about where they came up with it. The oldest ones seem to have it drawn more rudimentarily, would you agree?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-02-2006 09:29 AM:

Hi Richard

Fascination with the exotic orient was widespread in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, as evidenced by the so-called Orientalist paintings, "Turkish" marches in music by people like Mozart and Beethoven (to name a few), "Turkish" gardens with minarets on gazebos on the grounds of palaces and estates, and acquisition of prayer rugs as interior decorative devices.

I hosted a Salon awhile ago that went into much more detail than I can go into here, but the basic notions that were presented and discussed include
1. a Moslem doesn't need a rug with a niche in order to meet his obligation to use a clean place for his prayers,
2. very few extant prayer rugs show physical evidence of having been used for ritual purposes,
3. many rugs with niche designs were simply too big to be handy as portable places for prayer (which doesn't mean that they couldn't have been stationary places to pray, of course),
4. there are a number of rugs which look like typical prayer rugs in most respects, but which have niches at both ends,
5. there is photographic evidence of at least one late 19th century Belouch prayer rug being used in a non-ritual situation,
6. there was a commercial demand for "prayer" design rugs in the west which fed the wheels of production in the east.


Steve Price

Posted by Gene Williams on 09-02-2006 10:28 AM:

Prayer Rug use

Hi all,

I agree that most of the "tree of life" Prayer rugs were never used to pray on. I suspect they were made for sale or export. And they are still attractive (I also suspect most Caucasian rugs for 150 years were made for sale and probably a vast range of "tribal" items from Anatolia to Agra as well).

As for actual use of prayer rugs, in Pakistan, Afghanistan (and the Gulf), when one went to a Masjid, the rugs were already in-place...even in small Madrassas and Masjids in FATA. The faithful did not take their personal mats to the mosque.

However, prayer rugs are used at home. I've seen Pakistani troops (officers) praying in their room (alone) on their personal rugs...these rugs were small enough to go easily into their luggage. As I mentioned previously, the rug of one friend of mine, a Pak army officer, had the place where the feet were put completely worn through.

I have maybe 8-9 prayer rugs (rugs with a niche). 4 show evidence of actually having been used as a prayer rug. I'll post one here.


Posted by Gene Williams on 09-02-2006 11:39 AM:

Zoroastrianism and Niche carpets


I spent a lot of time with JA. I pretty well (thought) I knew when he had wandered off the face of the known world with his ascertions. Now, in reflection, I'm not so sure and would not dismiss what he says without taking a look at it. Here are a few points.

The conversation Tom Cole published with JA has maybe 3 sentences devoted to the Baluch "niche" tree of life prayer rugs. JA tossed out an idea about Zoroastriasm origin to the "niches" and zoroastrian origin to the "tree of life"; there is no evidence in the interview that this idea was explored further... The question, "why do you say that Jerry?" may have been asked; it may not have been. And unfortunately JA is dead now and we may never know why he said what he did. However, when I did ask Jerry "why" related to some controversial ascertation, if he didn't laugh and change the subject...I'd always get an exhaustingly detailed response which could at least serve as the basis for beginning a scientific investigation.

In addition, in Karachi in the 1970's (and Bombay) we interacted with a Zoroastrian community, one of the few active such in the world...the sub-continent Parsees. I have know General officers of the armies on both sides of the frontier, Indian and Pakistan, who were Parsees (I don't think this could happen in the present day Pak army). The Parsees of the sub-continent know where all the remaining families are. I met several at Jerry's house...we talked often. There was a chance in Karachi to exchange ideas on what was one of the first monotheistic religions in the world in a way and place you just don't find everyday. The point here is, Jerry had access to this information, or at least the legends and oral history, first hand.

Further, there are non-islamic elements in Islamic carpets. Many you you have pointed this out in the past and speculated on this,, elements ranging from from shamanistic designs to symbols of tribes to opium poppies. You can find Zoroastrian columns in Islamic masjids in Iran and Afghanistan. The Ottomans adopted the archetectural form of Hagia Sophia for their mosques... etc. Thus again, I wouldn't reject the possibility of zoroastrian symbols being carried over into Islamic archetecture and weavings in the area of ancient Persian influence. any more than I'd reject the notion that pagan symbols managed to make their way into Christian theology/thought (Easter eggs, Christmas trees, etc. come to mind).

Re the Zoroastrian origin of "mirhab"..see Filiberto's link above. It turns out that it is a Persian invention/source...and probably spilled over into Coptic Christianity as well as Islam. So was JA wrong about this then so many years ago?

Several of us mentioned that the "sun's ray" theory is unattractive or implausible. I wouldn't reject it all out of hand. I've always wonder about those "oak leaf" symbols, one part red, one black; There was something in Zoroastrian theology about the duality of man which these "leaves" do seem to recall...ok this is a stretch and specultation... Then there is the way the dead are handled in Zoroastrianism...

Finally, the fact that JA used the word "mirhab" does not negate what he has to say. That was what they were called in the industry at the time. We all called them "mirhabs" with thinking what in the world is the origin of the word. The semantics in the interview should not be used to negate the principle.

So to sum up, JA tossed out this idea without expanding upon it. On the surface the statement seems bizarre...but I believe it should serve as a point of departure for some thought and investigatiion. JA was not a guy in sitting in a bar (or in an academic library) with an opinion about everything and nothing to back it up. There were reasons he said what he did and not all of them were crackpot.


Posted by Steve Price on 09-02-2006 12:45 PM:

Hi Gene

My skepticism about the tree of life representing the sun's rays were not intended to be a criticism of Jerry Anderson. I didn't know the man, but from all accounts he was knowledgeable and honest.

That being said, the notion of the design being a representation of the sun needs more to persuade me of its correctness than a general trust of Jerry. I find it so close to being implausible that I can't give it serious consideration with nothing more substantial behind it.

There are several approaches we can take to things that seem implausible.
1. We can accept them uncritically or, as seems to be the case here, on hearsay evidence that someone who we think of as reliable once believed them to be true.
2. We can explore possible avenues through which supporting evidence might emerge. I can't think of any, but will be glad to look at anything someone else can come up with.
3. We can reject them for the moment, recognizing that this might change in the face of further information. This seems to me to be the only sensible alternative.


Steve Price

Posted by Gene Williams on 09-02-2006 02:48 PM:

Possible avenues of investigation

Hi Steve,

I agree that stories about the origin are interesting but not scientific...see the Sistan thread for legends about the origin of the Pathans and the Baluch...obviously legends even if the geneology is still influential to this day in tribal affairs. In this case though the person who made the statement about the "tree of life" and the sun motif in Zoroastrianism is known. The question then is, where did he get the info and on what was it based? I can think of 3 or 4 avenues to investigate:

-- Ask Tom Cole about the subject; he may have more info on what JA was talking about.

-- Investigate Zoroastrian symbology to see if any of it resembles the Baluch "Oak Leaf."

-- Contact Parsees in Karachi and/or Bombay and run the story by them to see if they can add to it.

-- Ouiji board with JA.

I'll try doing steps 2,3 for starters.


Posted by Gene Williams on 09-02-2006 03:51 PM:

On second thought

I enjoy theology/philosophy about as much as I do rug structure. A google search on (zoroaster symbology "tree of Life" fire) produced a ton of stuff right down to the origin of the "tree of life" symbol itself (in Zoroaster's Persia?) from whench it transfered to the Hebrew Qabbalists (with their representation of the tree of life in the Menora)...with a direct relationship to Hindu gods and goddesses...and on into modern literature including "Simon Magus" by George Robert Shaw... The prose rapidly became difficult for me. But there is enough out there without even hardly trying to connect Sun, Fire, Tree of Life, and Zoroaster.. Maybe Jerry was onto something?

Here is a sample of what you're facing if one of you wants to delve into the subject:

"Both the Golden Dawn and Thelema are qabalistic in foundation, based on the Otz Chiym, or Hebrew Tree of Life. This ideology, termed theurgy, is a doctrine supposing one Divinity who manifests down through the planes of existence. The gods of various cultures are attributed to these “faces” or manifestations of the Divine according to similarities in their characteristic natures and traits. To say they are guided by different gods contradicts their very foundation. We may accept, however, the potential for a varied nature of this energy depending on the focus of disparate sephirah in ritual and symbolism."


Posted by Steve Price on 09-02-2006 03:59 PM:

Hi Gene

Just to touch earth for a moment, we were talking about the tree of life motif seen on Belouch prayer rugs (and other textiles made by the same groups) from about 1875 on. It typically consists of a central vertical axis from which various lines extend and terminate with a characteristic leaf form.

Now, I have no grounds for disagreement with anyone who says its a tree of life or any other vegetation-related motif, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that the "tree of life" appellation comes from western merchants, not from the Belouch. But the sun? Zoroastrian? In late 19th century Belouch culture? Color me very skeptical.


Steve Price

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-02-2006 04:47 PM:

Hi Gene

You could also just concede that flowers and plants enjoy a long and varied hisory as symbols of life, rebirth , ect., and that this symbolism in no way substantiates a Zoroastrian origin for these motives found in Balouch prayer carpets.


Posted by Gene Williams on 09-02-2006 09:40 PM:


Hi Dave,

Yes I certainly will concede this. the whole spring-summer-fall-winter...planting cycle is so much bound up with agricultural societies that its hard not to see it in their handiicrafts. And I'm not big on psychic interpretation of motifs or whatever.

Still, if it is conceded that turkoman tribes wove tribal "guls" the original meaning of which was lost in the ages..but which possibly were totems of some sort or another...then the possibility of zoroastrian symbols surviving in the Sistan area from 1200 AD on can also be admitted. It may be useless to delve further into the dusty, forgotten past looking for the ideas behind the original of motifs in Tribal carpets...we've all gone done that road...its pretty much a dead end.

Yet, JA made a pretty straight forward (and controversial) statement. He had to have a basis for it from hands-on, face to face contact with someone..I suspect the Parsee community in Karachi..but quite possibly in Iran as well. So It may be worthwhile retaining the gem of the idea in the back of the mind...not totally rejecting it...and as time permits look at Zoroastrian symbolism... maybe starting with old persian coins.

And by doing so...we keep alive also our curiosity about our hobby. I must say when I started looking at pictures of Sistan mosques, trying to figure out the masjid motif on classic Baluch Sistan prayer carpets...I was pretty amazed at what turned up in only a cursory search..(Indian hatted yellow domes with three dome mosques of a type created in the area in the late first millinium, etc.),... no proof of course...but at least dots which could theoretically connect.

At least in JA's favor, I'll say this...he talked every day to an incredible cross-section of sub-continent and western Iranian intellectia and tribal leaders and his statements, while maybe reinforced by academic research, had to be based at the least on some sort of oral tradition.

And the Baluch "tree of life" motif is interesting enough, possibly universal enough to take a second look. After all, we can identify Persian classics literature figures relating to Rustam woven into Arab-Baluch rugs...probably for 3,000 years,.

edit: Finally we can do research on when tribe A took over oasis B...and when Faction C was subdued by Government E and pursued to F. But how often have any of us looked at the theological currents and idea which pulsated through this area... from the Sufis to the Zoroastrians (whose religion was incredibly wide-spread) to the Islamic Qadirites (whose idea of free will and free choice echo Manachaesim - Zoroster - and Greek philosophy and who were behind the most incredible epoch of islamic scientific advancement before their supression) etc.... I don't think one can understand the history of Europe without understanding the Roman church; I'm not at all sure one can understand the history of the area from Anatolia to Delhi without understanding the religious (and superstitious) interaction of beliefs in the area. To reject out of hand Zororastrian influence in the rugs of Sistan, seems somehow "hasty.")


Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-02-2006 10:48 PM:

Hi Gene

I will be the first to admit that there could, just possibly, be some connection between Zororastrians and the tree of life motive in Balouch prayer rugs. True, we can cast our net further and wider, and still end up with nothing but yet more to prove. I understand what you are saying, but don't quite follow your reasoning.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-03-2006 02:53 AM:

Hi Gene,

I agree with Steve, ‘the proposition that the Belouch "tree of life" is actually a representation of the sun's rays borders on implausible’.
And… As the discussion is about trees of life, you could read this article on Tom Cole’s website as well:

I bet that the "tree of life" symbol has its roots in a prehistoric ground.


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 09-03-2006 09:24 AM:

Low Coefficient of Plausibleocity

Hi all,

Toss me in with the skeptics, regarding the "tree of life" and solar symbolism. It makes plenty of sense for an Islamic culture to depict a "tree of life". The stories in the earlier books of the Bible have a strong resemblence to the Koranic verses. Remember, it's in Genesis that we first know of the tree of life: Adam & Eve, sin, all that ? The notion of carrying a symbol of everlasting life through the centuries, that is consistent with religious texts, works for me.

Zoroastrian symbology is pretty well documented. One doesn't actually find many references to the sun, but rather, fire. The "tree of life" design doesn't look much like fire. It bears no resemblence whatsoever to the Faravahar (the bearded and winged symbol carrying the complexities of the human spirit), and certainly doesn't remind me of any depiction of Zarathustra that I've ever seen.

One might be able to make an argument that a square "mihrab" is a representation of a Zoroastrian fire temple, but only if it has flames on top. A tree within doesn't fit. There are some who claim that the patterns on certain Uzbek & Tajik embroideries have their roots in Zoroastrianism. However, these have circular depictions of the sun, not branching designs.

The closest you get to this kind of symbol, absent the Christian-Islamic tree of life, is the Yezidi symbol for their Peacock God. And I don't think any good Muslim will be putting Peacock Gods onto their textiles.

Gene, I recognize that your one comment has generated a lot of verbage, but as the others have noted, it's not by any means critical in a personal sense - solely in the academic sense. I'm with the tree bunch.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-03-2006 11:26 AM:

Hey gang!

What a shock! The “tree of life” device in Baluch rugs, so-called in the rug literature through the years, may turn out to signify the tree of life. Who’da thunk it!?

Filiberto, that link to the Tom Cole site reproducing the Galina Serkina article is very interesting and well appreciated. Whether any of that custom and usage she describes has filtered through into the Baluch rugs, and if so, how and when it happened, is too much for me. But she establishes a solid body of tree-related cultural belief in the greater region, on the one hand. And her cited textile examples (as well as others we can probably come up with) seem far more plausibly and proximately connected to the Baluch rug style we are talking about than an ancient connection to Zoroastrian belief. Thus, a source rooted (pun unintended, apparently unavoidable) in symbolic tree representations seems quite plausible.

I fall in with those who consider (from a distance) Jerry Anderson to have been a most remarkable character who had a lifetime of impressive experience in the region. Kudos to Tom Cole and/or HALI, or whomever, for having preserved what they did of his recollections. It is a shame a lot more of that sort of thing didn’t happen. But it is too big a swallow to head down the Zoroastrian road on this rug device just on his comments.

My immediate interest in the “tree of life” device is, where did it come from recently? As Steve has noted, these rugs seem to have come onto the scene around 1875, or not too long before that, and the volume became large soon after that. It doesn’t seem to be a synthetic design conceived on the spot for a perceived market. But it obviously spread rapidly. One of the aspects of these rugs that has always made them interesting to me is the fact that there are so many variations on the theme from various weavers, yet they are obviously from the same matrix. Witness the two rugs serving as the focus of this thread. And to my eye, the range of variations one encounters, collectively, reflects a maturity in the design’s evolution (can I get away with that?) that bespeaks greater age than seems apparent from the available evidence.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Jack Williams on 09-03-2006 11:33 AM:

The Hali interview....

I deeply regret not having had the chance to meet Jerry Anderson, unlike my brother who spent 4-5 days a week with him in the 70s. Having been born in Quetta, lived his whole life in the regions, wandered far and wide, was locally known as an expert in the flora and fauna of the region, and was the advisor, confidant, etc. of a truly impressive number of Baluch familys, perhaps he should be regarded not as an academic, but as an original source especially of oral history. If his comments are taken in that context, they become something more than an academic statement of fact with proofs, etc.

I've talked briefly with Tom Cole from time to time. When Tom did his famous interview, what was published was just a small edited portion of the hours and hours of tapes he made over two or three days spent with Jerry. Tom stated to me that the environment the interviews were conducted in was incredible...filthy, poverty stricken (if you knew Jerry, that was his life), yet constantly interrupted by the comings and goings of the elite of baluch tribal family members.

Tom has those incredible hours of tapes, unedited and in the raw to this day. To produce the Hali interview, he used what was germane to his topic at the time. But, I get the impression that what Jerry said in toto to Tom has created a long lasting impression...and Tom has seemed to move toward incorporating the germs of certain ideas into his own formidiable knowledge base.

If Gene gets around to writing his obit of Jerry, perhaps Tom, who may have the only recorded information received directly from Jerry, will begin to glean through his tapes and produce a selectively focused series of articles similar to "from the horses mouth." And perhaps Jerry carried on at some length about this topic in those tapes.

As an aside, I have heard that many years ago, certain person(s) well known in the rug world, attempted to seriptiously tape talks with Jerry Anderson. The attempt failed and the tape recorder found, tape destroyed. May or may not be true, names withheld to protect the innocent.

I find it all terribly interesting. Regards, Jack Williams

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-03-2006 06:19 PM:

Hi Richard

The Ersari have a long and varied history of production of prayer rugs, and some suggest an ancestral relationship with the balouch variety. I personally believe the tree of life motive to be indigenous to the region, frequency of use and volume of production of same said rugs being more a consequence of commerce than the design itself. Follow this for some examples.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-03-2006 09:20 PM:


That's a great link, and though I don't see that smoking gun link among those Ersari/Beshir pieces, I agree the resemblances are very intriguing. Those old "tree of life" models look ancient to me. I think Herr Grote-Hasenbalg underestimated his example by about a century.

Rich Larkin

Posted by James Blanchard on 09-04-2006 05:27 AM:

Hi all,

A few years ago I encountered this small prayer rug, which I think is Ersari.

I found it appealing and somewhat unusual. I suppose it is a relative of the one below, which Dave referenced a while back.

Both of these have fields with Turkoman guls which might be relevant in light of the discussion about the Baluch examples with what looks like the archetypal Turkoman gul in the mihrab.


Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-04-2006 11:06 AM:

Hi Guys

I'm suprised that no one has introduced the theory which states that the "tree of life" motive is of shamanism. While we are at it, why not cover all the bases...


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-04-2006 11:15 AM:

Hi Dave,

That was covered in the link I posted in the previous page

i.e. in the article "Traces of Tree Worship in the Decorative Patterns of Turkish Rugs" by Galina Serkina.



Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-05-2006 10:38 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Yes, a great link. I was hoping, however, that Sue Zimmerman might be tempted to wax loquacious on this theory regarding both the engsi and balouch tree of life design, in which this vertical "trunk" with it's lateral branches is purported to represent the axis which connects the "underworld" with the earth, and in turn heaven (or some such?). I have read this somewhere, (which at present I can't recall), but I believe we discussed this theory at some length in the past here on Turkotek.

I believe it a subtle but important point to remember, that if indeed the origin of such designs and symbols have roots in the distant past, their current use may be deviod of any real connections to ancient belief systems aside from simple copying or repetition.

If memory serves, this potential for ascribing too great a symbolic significance to such artifacts is something that the aspiring anthropologist would do well to remember, in regard to symbols and artifacts from different time periods.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-06-2006 08:11 AM:


Hear, hear!

Rich Larkin

Posted by Gene Williams on 09-06-2006 03:52 PM:

Ents and Solar fires

Hi Dave, Richard...all,

Yes I agree that whatever is the origin of the "tree of life" motif, it is (1) likely ancient and (2) its meaning may have been lost in the ages and continues to be woven by rote and according to commercial principles.

Now, my question was..."why did Jerry claim what he did about the Sistan/Baluch "tree of life" being Zoroastrian and related to fire/the sun rather than a tree (or maybe to both?). It seems to me that there are three possibilities:
a. He made it all up...or wondered off the edge into meta-physical speculations (he was known to do least we all thought at the time).
b. He heard the story as part of oral tradition from Baluch families in Sistan
c. he heard the story from Zoroastrian Parsee community in Karachi.

If b or c...what was the story he heard? I'm not much interested in philosophycal speculation myself (I get enough of this from various family members) but I do enjoy oral histories. And, I dare say there are very few of us on Turkotek which have had the opportunity to sit down night after night with an active Zoroastrian community.

Dave, I think in your metaphor you're referring to the Jewish Kabbalists (Cabalists, Qabalists, etc.) ...which took elements of their tree of life ... from a number of previous religions..which include cirles of heaven, earth and hell...variously 9 branched up to 72 branches...etc. .and whose symbolism was adopted (allegedly) in part by the Masons....I'll let you look on the internet for sort of gives me a headache.

Oh the way..i'm "sure" the central column of the TOL motive is actually a "May Pole" the barber pole colors being "woven" symbolizing the rays of the sun... ... uhhhh Ground-control-to -Major-Tom .... ok ok, enough of this....I'll let the mystics carry this on further into Celtic mythology....(after all Celtic tribes surged into central Anatolia and occupied it in the 2nd and 1st century BC).....

Finally, I can maybe speculate (this is a thesis only...not a scientific investigation) as to why there seems to be few Baluch "Tree of Live" prayer carpets older than say last quarter of the 19th century.

a. I don't think people collected used prayer carpets. Take a look at the one I posted above ... its not something a normal collector would take. Thus there may have been realy TOL baluch rugs used as prayer carpets at one time but they didn't survive.

b. Silk/cotton etc. are rare in Baluch but are found in virtually all of the examples posted above. This indicates to me that they were woven for ceremonial purposes (perhaps as a dowry?) originally or perhaps later for commercial purposes. Doesn't much matter which.. either reason produces a very attractive rug which truely draws one in.


Posted by Igo Licht on 09-06-2006 05:22 PM:

More Turkoman/Baluch

Since my post in the referenced link
I managed to find one more prayer rug from the same family.
Here it is.


Posted by Gene Williams on 09-07-2006 01:56 AM:


Hi thought you'd heard the last on this topic...Hah!! I fooled you.

In respect for JA's memory, I'm going to deconstruct his quote to Tom Cole (subject to some editing over the next couple of days):

"JA: The mihrab form is Zoroastrian, not Islamic.
-- Comment...per Filiberto and Wikepedia..True

JA: The word literally means ‘sun-water’ – in other words the life-giving rays of the sun.
-- Comment: not confirmed..

JA: The so-called tree-of-life we see on so many Baluch prayer rugs is not a tree at all. It is a representation of the rays of the sun, a central part of the Zoroastrian tradition.
-- Comment: Not confirmed.. unless you get into the Celtic May Pole theory...

JA: Fire temples used to have splayed bulls’ horns mounted on their spires, and this symbol appears in some prayer rugs, particularly those from Sabzevar and Adraskand, as well as Turkestan.
-- Comment: possibly true (can't find modern examples on the net and there are fire temples still in Iran). However, there is a lot on the net on Zoroastrian temples...apparently Zoroastrian (Madzian) was a follow on "improvement" to an Aryan basic Hinduisn (Vedic) religion. The religion attracted an immense following in a huge area from Turkestan to the Gulf to the Indus. When the "old guard" took over the religion after the assassination of Zorantra, they may have put up bull's horns on the new temples they created (I mean, you have to have a Priest caste..right? can't have the unwashed going off and interpreting things on their own). You can find examples of the Bull on old architecture in Persia from Cyrus on..take a look at Persepolis reconstruction.
-- comment: But you can also find rams horns in Zoroastrianism.. Zorastratra was born a Capricorn... some Zoastrian symbols claim the rams horns differentiate between the dark and light, good and evil in the duality of man's personality.

JA: The Sistanis were the last to be fully converted to Islam and the Baluch and Brahui tribal structure is so strong that these latter groups remain less ‘religious’ than others such as the Turkoman and Pashtuns."
-- Comment: True to this day. The Baluchis are not very religious at all unlike the Pathans tribes bordering them. There allegiance is to their Sadars. The Brahui on the other hand speak a language left over from the Mohendarro civilizations...they were overthrown in Vedic tradition by Aryan Chariot driving hoards. I'd expect them to have Hindu elements deep in the Psyche....still.. And Jerry spoke Brahui.

Hope this helps put JA's comments into perspective. The only person who could add to this now is Tom Cole.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-07-2006 03:49 AM:

Hi Gene,

quote to Tom Cole (subject to some editing over the next couple of days):

"JA: The mihrab form is Zoroastrian, not Islamic.
-- Comment...per Filiberto and Wikepedia..True

My Comment: only if you accept as proof the Persian etymology of mihrab (which means “the Mithraeum”, a place of worship for the followers of the Mithraism). Besides that, there are other etymologies.

There is also the possibility that this niche form is a variation of the Anatolian "couple-column" niche-design rugs. As John Howe explained in the thread
“Walter Denny thinks it most likely that this "architectural" design is based on arch forms that existed only in Spain in the 14th-15th centuries He further thinks that the Jews, driven out of Spain during the Inquisition, carried this design in the form of "torah" rugs into Turkey and that it is reflected in the Anatolian "coupled column designs of the 16th-18th centuries”.
In this case there would be no relation with the mihrab of a mosque and our labeling of this design as a mihrab is erroneous.

JA: The word literally means ‘sun-water’ – in other words the life-giving rays of the sun.
-- Comment: not confirmed..

My comment: IF you accept the first point, i.e. the Persian etymology of mihrab, I would put “wrong” at the place of “not confirmed”.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-07-2006 04:50 AM:

Hi Gene,

Now that I think about it, at the end of Kaffel’s “Caucasian Prayer Rugs” there is a six-pages chapter written by Jim Dixon, “DESIGN AND SYMBOLISM”. I never paid too much attention to it.

It deals with worship, mysticism, planes of spirituality, tree of life as cosmological representations of the universe and so on.

It shows several representations of the tree of life: a 9th. Century B.C.Assyrian stone relief, a mosaic from the Dome of the Rock and two Kabalistic diagrams.
You could find it interesting.
The only problem is that – if you have any hope to find definitive answers - it shows how broad and complicated this matter is.


Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-07-2006 05:35 AM:

Hi Gene, Filiberto

I would suggest that the word "Mihrab" is of Zoroastrian origin, and that the device is a mere architectural embellishment. Regarding J.A., seems he also professed (according to Tom Cole's article) a belief that goat hair cords would repel snakes. The following is from Mr. Cole's introduction to "From The Horses Mouth- Talking Balouch with Jerry Andersom"

"Anderson’s avowed passionate interest lies in “the ethnography behind tribal rugs, the ancient ethnogenesis of those great Steppeland nomads who gave rise to the piled rug concept, and particularly the cosmic symbology of motifs and designs”. His views of the Baluch pile-weaving tradition, as yet unpublished, include some ideas which are simple, others extremely complex, with far-reaching implications. His exposure to the conventional wisdom of rug scholarship has been limited, but together with his field experience, this very isolation has afforded him a fresh and, at times, thought-provoking perspective"

Notice that no mention is made of credibility in this passage


Posted by Gene Williams on 09-07-2006 06:49 PM:

JA's credibility

Hi David,

I've spoken several times in this forum about Jerry Anderson and his credibility. You may have missed these I'll address it again for you.

He lived the entire 72 years of his life in Pakistan (the 1st 15 years of couse in the British Indian Province of Baluchistan). He spoke Baluch, Brahui, Urdu. For the first 40 of these years he lived in Quetta. He was a naturalist but also dealt in carpets during this entire time. He traveled extensively from the Makran Coast to Herat and Mashaad. He had Baluch Shikaris who worked for him trapping game for zoos in the West and Falcons for sale to Arab Sheikhs.

The last 30 years he lived in Karachi, sometimes on his own, sometimes with other friends. He was visited daily by numbers of the most amazing people from Baluch tribes and families...I'll explain why in his obiituary.

He rarely could keep his mind on one project for very long and died penniless. He wandered off sometimes into ethnography (a spin-off of carpet mongering I suppose and of his travels), linguistics, history (oral and formal), geography and legends. But he knew his stuff. He could be wrong about some things (and he had a pencent for occasionally saying something outrageous) but the longer I thought about what he said, the more some of it made sense.

And David, frankly, I'd trust him on the subject of attributing Baluch and Afghan and East-Persian tribal carpets far quicker than some of the persons who claim to be experts but have never left the United States for any appreciable time.

Hope you'll understand what I'm saying.. JA could be wrong..he related a lot of oral history. But, in general I would be a bit careful in dismissing the expertise of a dead man who spoke the languages of and lived his entire life amongst the tribes of Iranian-Pak-Afghan borders. I not at all sure an academic (or an amateur) could learn what he knew by studying in a library or in his/her living room even for 50 years... but, then perhaps I didn't comrehend exactly what you meant by your post.

Oh, by the way. I heard the story of goat hair keeping snakes away long before Tom Cole printed it. TC has a picture of Jerry demonstrating what he was claiming (you didn't mention that)....(JA always had snakes around the house as well as cages of mice to feed the falcons...) I saw it demonstrated (loop of goat hair encircling a snake who refused to move afterwards) myself on several occasions. Now this may be a Baluch old wives tale...there is a strange sub-continent penchent for believing utterly in goat hair might be something of an anti-snake amulet. But why use this to attack everything the man says? And, if you want to investigate this further...start with researching the venimous vipers which live along the Afghan-Pak, Pak-Iran, Iran-Afghan borders. You won't laugh very long....they aren't your normal pit vipers... ''

Anyway, hope that answers some of your questions about JA. I have been asked to write his obituary. I'll reserve some information for this; and I hope you'll read it when it comes out.

Regards, Gene

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-07-2006 11:46 PM:

Hi Gene

Oh, come on now Gene. My post wasn't intended to in any way denigrate the memory or the man Jerry Anderson. Rather than a pot shot at Jerry, it was actually intended as a friendly nudge in the ribs of a certain confabulating personage with a tendency to dispense ad hominem arguments


Posted by Gene Williams on 09-08-2006 09:14 AM:


I went back and read all the thread. Sorry I still don't understand what you're saying. I think its something along the line that the devils you post are not aimed at the dead...right? Its early and maybe I'll need a second cup of coffee; I'll take a second look later. But in the meantime could you explain a bit more who/what you're talking about? Thanks.


Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2006 10:22 AM:

Hi All

This thread is lurching rapidly in the direction of being about people. That's not what we're here for, and our objectives aren't going to change soon.

So, here's how it is:
1. Any further posts dealing with personalities will be blocked at the moderator queue, deleted if they get through by mistake.
2. You are, of course, welcome to engage each other via e-mail; your e-mail exchanges are none of my business and occupy none of my time or effort. But for those of us whose source of such information is Turkotek, the identities of the unidentified subjects of any any post already in the thread will remain mysteries.


Steve Price

Posted by Richard Larkin on 09-08-2006 11:30 AM:



I fully appreciate your sentiments, and hope this doesn't transgress. I would be interested to know whether that is Jerry Anderson in the photo posted by Gene, i. e., the man admiring the falcon.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2006 11:34 AM:

Hi Richard

I don't know for certain, but the file name on the image suggests that either the falcon or the man has the initials, "JA".


Steve Price

Posted by Gene Williams on 09-08-2006 12:53 PM:


Yes Richard. That is him as of 1977. As I mentioned, among many things he did, wildlife trapping (and rug dealing) were the two most persistant. Among many other things he trained and sold falcons to the Arabs, who came to Pakistan to falcon-hunt bustard (it was illegal to hunt them in the Gulf but in Pakistan with money they could pretty much do what they wanted). He also sold Falcon gear (gloves, falcon hoods) to the Gulf...I'll post a picture of some of his hoods on Sheikh Rashid's falcons. That is a female Saker falcon in the picture with him.

When I first met him October or November 1975..he was sitting with 4 Arab Shykahs around a table in his apartment in Clifton, Karachi, rugs, huge camel tassels, bags festooning the walls, three Baluch shikaris (hunting assistants) squatting along the walls "manning" female Peregrin and Saker falcons, a pile of dirty ruppees heaped on the coffee table as they bargained...a scene the romance of which would be hard to duplicate today.

He also sold sub-continent mammels to Western zoos...Felus Manul (Palas cat) and Makhor Sheep being two I remember.

I must say I feel now I'm ready to write my rememberances of this strange, flawed yet fascinating individual.


Posted by Steve Price on 09-08-2006 01:16 PM:

Hi Gene

We'll be glad to post your remembrances on our Miscellaneous Topics forum; I'm sure it will be an interesting read about an interesting person. This thread will have no more posts about his life and activities. Unless the falcon hoods have some interest as textiles, please defer using the photos of them for a more appropriate occasion.


Steve Price

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-09-2006 07:45 AM:

Hi Igo

Congratulations, you have done it again

Simultaneously a beautiful work of art, a fascinating ethnographic artifact, and potential evidence of both the transmission of a design, here from the Ersari to the Balouch, and an early example of this "Tree of Life" design in Balouch(?) weaving.

Notice this "Middle Amu Darya" blue in the transverse panel across the top of the rug. The motives of same said panel are often found in Turkmen work. But what of this panel itself?

It is difficult to see because the wool has corroded, but in the first camel ground Balouch above, the colors of the upper transverse border (the one accented with white) have abruptly changed, creating a panel like effect, kindered to the transverse panels demonstrated by the two proceeding balouch examples?

Note the border system, a main border with two large guards as found in the second camel ground rug, opposed to a more simple sequence of borders. Most interesting...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us!