July 1985

Illustration 3. “Gul-e-khaf” of the Boruti.

The keshmiri motif has been used for several generations by sixteen different Balouch groups in a rather large area. This shows that it has been passed on to at least twelve neighboring groups of weavers, who are of different ethnic origin. These weavers’ attempts to make the keshmiri pattern their own led sometimes to formal alienations. They did not, however, try to adopt other typical Balouch designs, like “do-guli”, “botteh”, or “hashie-je-narges” (narcissus border). This illustrates that it was hardly imitative instinct only that caused the spreading of the keshmiri motif. The fate of a subordinate motif shows how intensively some “secondary” weavers studied the keshmiri pattern. This subordinate motif is–with little modification–on all keshmiri rugs made by Balouch, but also often on those made by the “secondary” weavers. Its contours resemble a step pyramid with a platform on top. An elevated–sometimes multiple–symbol of horns on a pedestal is shown on a white ground, occasionally also horned quadrupeds (see Fig. 19). According to information by Balouch this design represents “sacred places” (an abstraction of places of sacrifice?). It is reproduced either in each corner of the center field, or two times, mostly three times, sometimes five times along the innermost border of the small sides, or more seldom of the small sides and the long sides (see Fig. 17-21). The Bah’luri in the border area of Khaf-Ghurian up to Tayabad developed this motif into another field design, which is typical of them: They combine four motifs to form a central cross and repeat this figure several times (see Wegner 1964, Fig. 13, or Wegner 1976, Fig. 21).

[This five-part article originally appeared in print in Volume 5/4 of Oriental Rug Review, July 1985, and is reprinted here with that publication’s kind permission. Translated from German by Lola Froehlich, August, 1981. Reviewed by Dr. Wegner, May, 1985]

It is interesting to note that the keshmiri motif does not occur anywhere outside a wide zone that starts in the west region of Kashmar, goes east via Turbett-i-Heidari to the mountain valleys of Turbett-i-Sheik-i-Djam (Djulghe Djam), Bakharz and Khaf, and further into central west Afghanistan. Therefore the keshmiri is characteristic of this zone.


The “do-guli” meaning “two flowers” motif is another typical Balouch design: Two different floral motifs alternate over the central field checkerboard-like. It is often used as a traditional motif mainly among the following Balouch:

1. Sultan Khani north of Kashmar (Kuh-e-Khab)
2. Abdul-Sorkhi Anabad (region of Kashmar)
3. Taheri Kelat-e-Foulat (region of Kashmar)
4. Tshubdari south of Kashmar down to Bidjestan
5. Djanbeghi between Khaf and the Afghan border
Figure 23. Abdul-Sorkhi Balouch, region of Kashmar, “do-güli” pattern, c. 1930.

All the patterns of the Kashmar region show an additional, small and always white star shaped floral ornament between the brown and dark to medium red flowers on the black blue field (Fig. 23). Among the Sultan-Khani this additional ornament has mostly five elongated leaves. The Tshubdari use two, four or six more rectangular leaves. Both have at least one minor border with unusually high latch-hooks. The main borders differ again. In the Tshubkari rugs the ground color of the border is often the same as that of the field, in any case dark. The favored alternating latch-hook pattern (“Turkoman line”) is only recognizable at a closer look.

Figure 24. Djanbeghi Balouch, Djughe Khaf,, “do-güli pattern, c. 1900.

These rugs look somber and dull in comparison to those made by the Sultan-Khani, in which the red of one of the floral motifs corresponds with the ground color of the main border. The Djanbeghi, who live 300 km. further east use differently formed flowers, which are typical of them (Fig. 24). In older rugs made by the Boruti one single floral motif alternates its color checkerboard-like. The Boruti live in small and very scattered clans between Salame, in the eastern Khaf valley, and central Afghanistan. They do not consider themselves Balouch, and probably belong to the Timuri. The Boruti use the floral motif “gul-e-khaf” (Ill. 3) in their rather rare pile rugs. It appears more often in the main borders of medium sized saddle bags, which  are made in western Afghanistan, south of Herat (Wegner 1978, Fig. 18).

Figure 25. Ali-Akbar-Khani Balouch, Djulghe Khaf, diagonal rows, octagon lattice, c. 1930.

Since the middle of this century this motif has been seen on Boruti rugs also in diagonal arrangement: The same pattern is repeated in the same color along diagonal rows. Diagonal rows are another very popular pattern in the center field of Balouch rugs. Geometrical figures fill the lozenge, hexagon or octagon lattice. This arrangement and these figures are unknown in Turkoman rugs.  Fig. 25, 26 and 27 show three of the most common patterns, Ill. 4a and 4b two others; the “gul-e-khat” motif of the Boruti has already been mentioned. The patterns vary a little according to time and place of production.  Pattern variants cannot be attributed to particular weavers. In the first half of this century the ‘Ali Akbar-Khani Balouch from the area of Fazelman used two different patterns simultaneously. Nothing could be found out about the original symbolic meaning of these motifs. If none of the older women of a clan?the ones that preserve the tradition?could remember the meaning of the patterns, the usual, unfortunately frequent answer was “adat hast”, i.e. “this is customary, this is the proper way.” Diagonal rows are found in the area of Turbett-i-Heidari, then west to the region of Kashmar, and south across Mahwalat, where they were especially popular, into Gha’inat, where they were still used frequently at the turn of this century (Ill. 4c), and further?now getting rarer?to Sistan. East of Turbett diagonal rows were seen on rugs from the Djulghe Khaf and Djulghe Bakjarz, and with decreasing frequency up to Afghan Badghiz. They were neither found north of Meshed and Nishapur, nor in the regions of Ferdows and Bidjestan. They were used by Balouch, as well as by groups of Timuri. It seems as if the Timuri wove more complicated motifs (see Fig. 26 and 27).

The following groups of weavers could be identified:

1. ‘Ali-Akbar-Khani Balouch Fazelman Djulghe Khaf
2. Abdul-Sorkhi Balouch Kuh-e-Khab Kashmar
3. ? (several clans) Balouch Mahwalat Turbett-i-Heida
4. ? (several clans) Balouch around Gha’in Gha’inat
5. ? (several clans) Balouch ? Sistan
6. Boruti Timuri Salame Djulghe Khaf
7. Moreidari Timuri Abbasabad pain Djulghe Khaf
8. ? (several clans) Timuri ? Djulghe Bakharz
Figure 26. Balouch, Mahwalat, diagonal rows, lozenge lattice, c. 1910.
Figure 27. Timuri, Djulghe Khaf, “gü-e-moreidari” in diagonal rows, hexagon lattice, c. 1920.

4. In east and southeast Iran and Afghanistan there are still today sacred places from pre-Islamic time. They are marked with a pole, on top of which there is a horned skull of a ram. This “elevated skull” can presumably be viewed as pars pro toto of the animal that was to be sacrificed. Maybe the stepped form in these rugs represent a holy (?) mountain.

During Islamization these holy places became Muhammedan “holy tombs.” E.g. the mountain in Sistan, which contained many sacred artifacts from a pre-historic period, became the Kuh-i-khwadja, “mountain of the (venerable, Islamic) priest.”

The “all-over” pattern or “infinite rapport” needs to be presented next. It is a field pattern closely related to the diagonal rows. It shows among others the same geometrical motifs, but does not emphasize the diagonals through colors. It may occur within a lattice-work, which consists mainly of squares. Those may be filled with Turkoman “kotshanak aine”, as in the rugs made in Tsheshme-Gul. Besides the volute cross there is a wide variety of partly rather complicated motifs, some of which were reproduced for generations. Fig. 28 shows such an old motif on a Badghiz (?) Balouch rug from the last third of the 19th century.

Figure 28. Balouch Badghiz, “all-over” pattern, c. 1870.

Another one is the “botteh” motif (Fig. 8), furthermore there is the lozenge with attached latch-hooks (European work name: “Tarantula”), and a motif that resembles the Turkoman “ashik”, but its outlines seem changed and elongated vertically (Ill. 5). The three last mentioned motifs can also be independent figures without lattice. In the “botteh” or “badam” motif a division of the field is obtained by orienting its points to the left of one horizontal row and to the right in the next one. Also the vegetal-looking motifs of the Dokhtar-e-Ghazi need to be mentioned. Presumably they are very abstract animal symbols (Fig. 29 and 30).

Soon after the beginning of this century mere ornaments–as fillings in the lattice-work or by themselves–appeared in addition to the elaborate motifs. In the early stages of this development there were still figures as shown in Fig. 31, 32, 33: The outlines of stars, stepped polygons, flowers or cruciforms represent motifs that are divided each into eight parts. Remembering the significance of the number eight and its representation through octagons in Turkoman tribal guls we can assume that we are dealing here with a deformation of an important symbol into a pure decorative ornament. We do not know anything about a meaning of the number eight in pre-Islamic time. If there was one it might have merged into the Islamic interpretation. According to this, “8” symbolizes the omnipresence of God, that is in all four directions and the areas between them, and represents the prayer for divine protection everywhere. A very dense arrangement of small hardly differentiated ornaments–among them “botteh” each 2 cm high–create the impression as if flowers were strewn all over the center field. This reflects the weaver’s horror vacuii, who no longer have a true relation to the designs they reproduce.

At the time of my field studies it was almost impossible to attribute the multitude of “all-over” variants to certain regions. The following classification lists these groups of weavers that used all-over patterns besides other patterns:

1. ‘Aliza’i Balouch (?) region of Ghurian  5 x 15 star filled small octagon, no lattice
2. Asgharza’i Balouch Dehanshur
Djulghe Khaf
a. narrow lattice with stars
b. “botteh”, direction of their points changes, no lattice
3. Barawi Balouch region of Sistan a. very simple little crosses, no lattice
b. “Tarantula” outlines, no lattice
4. Dokhtar-e-Ghazi Balouch region of Badghiz a. flowerlike motifs, no lattice (Fig. 29)
b. fishlike motifs, no lattice (Fig. 30)
5. El-Khani Timuri Hadjiabad and Djulghe Khaf “gul-e-khaf”, no lattice
6. Ghara’i Balouch Petro a. stepped polygons in narrow lattice (Fig. 32)
b. “botteh”, direction of points changes, lattice
7. Jaghub-Khani & other Timuri region of Zurabad cruciforms made up of four leaves of Balouch type tree of life (Fig. 33)
8. Khoshabi Baluri Zaraghari & Djulghe Khaf eight-leafed flowers, no lattice
9. Moghulzadeh (?) ‘Aliabad & Sangan-bala’ 3  x 13 elaborate cruciforms, no lattice
10. Mokhtari (?) Tshaghmagh a. very elaborate “botteh”, same direction of points, no lattice
b. lozenge lattice with “Tarantula”
11. Rahim-Khani Balouch region of Serakhs “kotshanak aine” in coarse lattice
12. Name unknown Balouch region of Turbett-i-Heidara “botteh” same direction of points (Fig. 8)
13. Name unknown Balouch Gha’inat stalked flowers, no lattice
14. Name unknown Balouch Gha’inat arrowhead type figures, no lattice
15. Name unknown Balouch Gha’inat vertical “ashik” variant, no lattice
16. Name unknown Balouch region of Badghiz stars in reticulate lattice
17. Name unknown Balouch Gha’inat figures similar to “spools of thread”
18. Tabissi Balouch Azizabad, Kashmar “botteh strewn flowers”

A cautious determination of origin is somewhat easier for rugs that have medallions in the center field. Stepped/indented polygons have already been mentioned. They were adopted from southeast Persian Afshar Turkomans. Some rugs made by Fath’ollahi Balouch have also an unmistakably Afshar main border. Even the knotting structure can be similar to one of Afshar products. Only the mentioned “vases” (Ill. 2) and other small field motifs, that are exclusively used by Sistan Balouch, point to the real producers (see Fig. 2 and 3). One should think that this mixture of designs occurred mainly in south Khorassan, and in western Sistan, where a close contact and even intermarriage encouraged the adoption of Afshar designs. Obviously this did not, however, happen very often. The northern edge of this contact zone is assumed to be in the area of Gounabad. Bidokht lies south, already in the northern Gha’inat, where Balouch made finely knotted prayer rugs that show two stepped polygons with white outlines one above the other in an aubergine-colored field.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part V