|Imagery and Imagination - What do the designs mean?
The Kyrgyz patterns were called “the song of silence.” Some of the symbols are derived from the ancient Saca tribes (the Scythians of the Bible) who left petroglyphs on rocks throughout the mountains and valleys of Kyrgyzstan. the master saimachy of these patterns were highly skilled women whose embroideries interpret what they called “the endless song of Celestial Nomads.” Each saimachy would envision a unique series of designs and then weave an epic message into each tush kyiz.
The Mandala alternating with the Tree of Life are the controlling designs in most Tush Kyiz. Within and around these designs we find symbols that represent the journey of life through change and transition, rites of passage, and repeated cycles of positive and negative in our lives. The symbols remind them to establish rapport with nature, to be at peace with change and challenge, to acknowledge the earth energies around them, to acknowledge God in the four corners of the earth, and to accept the strict traditions that guide nomadic life.
Tush Kyiz designs illustrate some of the ideals of the Kyrgyz people: fertility is very important, and nurturing is prized. It is important to cherish the young, live in joy and appreciation of life, have a happy marriage, strive toward goals, achieve spiritual power, and live in balance and harmony.
Mandala alternating with Tree of Life:
Tree of Life represents fertility and regeneration, and will include flowers, vines, birds, and other living things. The designs can be representational or stylized.
Mandala is a circular design that contains within it elements of ancient Kyrgyz philosophy and spirituality. Their vision of life is one of balance and symmetry, so the designs within the mandala will often be of equal size.
Typical designs within the mandala:
A Cross of equal sides. This is not the Christian cross, but rather represents a crossroad to the four corners of the earth, and implies the message that god is wherever the nomads travel. Most mandalas consist of a circle of eight designs (often including the cross). These represent eight spirits of life on earth (or eight earth gods). There will be one central emblem, representing the god within that is carried to the four corners of the earth.
The Mandala and the Tree of Life are the controlling designs in most Tush Kyiz. Within and around these designs are other symbolic elements:
The Sekirtme (jumping pattern): a line of alternating colors, usually red/white. This is a yin-yang line symbolizing life’s rhythm and balance: good/evil; joy/sorrow; light/dark. The meaning is a philosophical message to not get too attached to either because one will always give way to the other and vice versa.
Umai looks something like a paisley design, and represents a winged female spirit—a guardian angel—that protects babies and children. It is a symbol of nurturing, protection and care.
A border of designs that are attached to one another: life is a never-ending experience of generation and regeneration. These continuous designs without a break are often seen in borders around the Tush Kyiz or in “tracks” that run through the Tush Kyiz patterns. The Kyrgyz were nomadic people and nomads kept moving.
Semitai: the son of Manas is represented as an offshoot of a large vine that is shaped like an “S.” Manas is the great epic story of the Kyrgyz people, said to be the longest national epic in the world. The meaning of the Semitai symbol is a wish for fertility and life everlasting through succeeding generations of descendents.
Flowers: life, fertility, and beauty. Some flowers have special meaning for Kyrgyz people: Tulips are the national flower of Kyrgyzstan
+ The + design is sometimes called “the letter of happiness.” There are many variations of this design, especially in the Kyrgyz cross. It is also the sign of one of the 40 Kyrgyz tribes.
Birds: a wish for happiness in love, if it’s a dove, bluebird, or songbird.
Eagle: Strive for excellence. Work hard to fulfill your dreams. Fly high, Soar. Reach your goals. The eagle means stimulation, motivation, especially to freedom, and appears often as a stylized tree of life symbol that alternates with the mandala on tush kyiz. The Kyrgyz captured and trained eglets to hunt for them.
Red: Red is a potent color for the nomadic Kyrgyz. Red textiles can represent passion, power, status, and human emotion itself. Red was a difficult color to achieve before the invention of synthetic dyes, so red cloth became a prestige commodity. Red can denote prestige, but it also celebrates love and beauty, provides protection against evil, promotes good fortune, and is a good color to mark such life cycle passages as marriage, birth, and death. Every Yurt had a “red corner” where a tush kyiz was hung and that celebrated each family’s allegiance to Kyrgyz culture.
Kyrgyz designs - Every number means something:
1 One circle: the small circle (usually white) is sometimes a symbol for eternity (the circle has no beginning or end). Or the earth, the sun, fertility. The circle is also a specific tribal symbol and can mean that the family belongs to that tribe.
2 lines together: means “your power is doubled.” Two squiggly lines together is also the symbol of one of the tribes of Kyrgyzstan.
3 is a holy number, one of the most important numbers, and is the number of elements most often seen in designs.
4 Four corners of the Earth: The crossroad is a sacred symbol, meaning God is wherever the nomad would travel. Four is represented in a cross of equal sides, often combined with another cross to create eight symbolic elements with one emblem at the center, representing the God that is within, and goes with the nomad to the four corners of the earth.
5 Five represents the Kyrgyz nation, which changed its name five times. The fifth and last time was to Kyrgyzstan, which means land of 40 tribes. The five-sided star is a Kyrgyz symbol representing the Kyrgyz nation. The Soviet star is also frequently seen.
6 A doubling of the holy number 3
7 is a lucky number and represents Kyrgyz sovereignty (from the Manas legend). 7 represents the seven generations of fathers. Every Kyrgyz should know the names of paternal ancestors going back at least seven generations.
8 represents the 8 gods, or spirits, of the world. The eight-sided cross is the symbol of God, and always has a single large center design, symbolizing the God-spirit within you. On its side, 8 is an infinity sign (as in math) and in tush kyiz, represents never-ending life.
9 This number means Creation. 9 is the “God number,” representing the eight gods of the world and the ninth god, the god who resides within you and who rules over your world.