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Perhaps the most coveted Turkmen weaving is the bird asmalyk made by the Tekke and the example we illustrate below is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, of the type.
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Asmalyk were supposedly used to decorate the bridal litter and this appears to have been their function, at least during the end of the 19th century when this practice was seen and recorded by various ethnographers.

As this issue has already been breeched we will not dwell on it but the reliability of transposing end of the 19th century Turkmen cultural practices with all of those of earlier periods is at the least questionable. In that regard it is really uncertain if that was the use of an archaic period bird asmalyk like this one.

In any event the birds that decorate this and other archaic and classic period asmalyk are the only large and fully articulated birds found on any Turkmen pile weavings. Numerous bird heads exist both as border and as ancillary motif, and it is clear the bird icon played a significant role in Turkmen tradition, culture and mythology.

One of the Weaving Art Museum’s other Turkmen exhibitions, Turkmen Trappings, discussed the bird’s significance within southern Siberian spiritual traditions. It is also clear the Turkmen shared many cultural traits, traditions and mythology with these Siberian groups, language being one of importance. The idea the bird icon maintained important significance for Turkmen as well is a given and beyond much doubt.

Below we illustrate an ancient Persian silk textile rondel with a large bird with exaggerated tail feathers.

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illustration 29

This textile and others like it are believed to date from the end of the Sassanid Dynasty, circa 600 A.D. The Sassanids, who were indigenous in Persia, ruled a vast western Asian empire for over 400 years and are credited with creating a golden age of art and culture.

In our opinion a textile like this was probably made quite a bit earlier, as from the beginning of the 7th century the Sassanid empire was under intense military pressure from Muslims living to the south and west. Soon thereafter, the Sassanid Dynasty was crushed and the first Islamic state in Persia was established. This unsettled atmosphere was surely not conducive for the production of complex and technically demanding artworks like this textile and most probably ideas it is earlier by a century or so seem far more plausible.

Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the Sassanid Dynasty but their propensity to maintain economic, political and social relations with the Roman Dynasty in the west, the Chinese in the east, and others in-between, created an enlightened court where art, literature and philosophy of all kinds flourished. In fact many of the subsequent Islamic period artistic and cultural accomplishments in these same areas were based on and influenced by the Sassanid.

Sassanid merchants and court sponsored emissary traveled the silk road and during their four hundred year reign many caravan plied goods from the east and west to their court, and from their court to points east and west. Of course with this ongoing trade came other types of iconography, some of which became incorporated into Sassanid arts and culture, and the idea some of these iconic symbols and patterns of significance are also found in Turkmen artistic ideology seems equally supported by history and fact.

There is no wonder and little uncertainty many Turkmen groups, who inhabited parts of post-Sassanid Persia, were heir to their culturally rich and varied traditions and ideas. The belief Turkmen woven articles are resplendent with this inheritance is far more than conjecture and can readily explain how an iconic design, like a 7th century silk textile’s bird, as well as others we reference, found its way onto a 1,000 year later Turkmen knotted-pile weaving.

     
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