by Farzan Navab
the East and in Persia in particular, rugs were once the only
decorative item in the room. In Persia up until the late 18th
century, furniture as we know it in the West, did not exist. The
rug was the entire attire of a room. Everything happened and to
this day, (notwithstanding the presence of Western furniture ),
continues to happen on the rug. Praying five times a day, eating,
sleeping, holding ceremonies and naturally making love was done
on the rug. In this way the "rug underfoot" meant a
great deal more than what we might consider it to be in our daily
lives. Besides functioning as a floor covering, Persian rugs represent
the finest example of artistic expression. The fineness of the
weave, the range of magnificent colors and the intricacy of patterns
reflect the cultural appreciation of a hand made rug. So much
so that the rug often becomes the only valuable possession one
would choose to have. Not unlike jewelry, gold and silver, at
times of need, people exchange their rugs and carpets for hard
currency. It is rather common for a Persian to remark that "--
so and so sold everything he/she had even the rug under his/her
"I know how to pull my
Kilim out of the water!"
Another common saying refers to one's survival power by one's
ability to "pull the Gelim (Kilim) out of the water".
The flat woven Gelim (Turkish pronunciation Kilim) is commonly
used in many Iranian homes. Water can cause irreparable harm to
any rug or kilim, so if someone can pull his or her Kilim out
of the water, meaning from harm's way, it symbolically means that
one is able to survive hardships.
fell from the sky onto the rug!"
has a particular meaning in the Persian culture. Religious promise
of "the other world", meaning paradise, is often tamed
by the appreciation of one's existence on earth. Poets and thinkers
like Omar Khayyam have been known to advocate a certain type of
materialism that forgoes the promise of paradise for more tangible
"Some for the Glories of
and some Sigh for the Prophet's
Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let
the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant
so it is that "Farsh" which is used in Persian for the
rug, not only means that which is used as a floor covering, but
the earth itself. In this way when we say someone fell from Arsh
(the sky) on to the Farsh (the rug) it means that he or she lost
everything. Or that one's high idealism can result in one's fall.
magic carpet ride.
It seems that the first literary reference to rugs and carpets
that touched the English language in a broad way, may have come
from Sir Richard Francis Burton"s translation of the Arabian
Nights also known as "One Thousand And One Night." The
idea of "Magic Carpet" comes from one of many stories
in that well known book: the story of Aladdin's Lamp. It may be
that we can trace the source of common association of a rug with
an exotic "eastern" object back to such an imaginative
Accordingly, a "magic carpet" would transport
persons who were on it instantaneously or quickly to their destination.
The magic carpet of Tangu, (a misnomer) also called Prince Housain's
carpet was a seemingly worthless carpet from Tangu in Persia that
acted as a magic carpet. It was featured in Aladdin and Arabian
Also present in the Arabian nights is a reference
to King Solomon's carpet. That carpet was reportedly made of green
silk, and Solomon's throne was placed on it when he traveled.
It was large enough for his coterie to stand upon, with people
on his right and spirits to his left. The wind followed Solomon's
commands and ensured that the carpet and its contents would go
to the proper destination. The carpet was shielded from the sun
by a canopy of birds.
it under the rug!"
There are also English proverbs that use the rug as a metaphor.
The use may not be limited to Oriental rugs per se. It is hard
to imagine however a rag rug or a braided one, being referred
to in a proverb. It seems more natural to think of a hand made
"Oriental" rug or its machine made copy to embody such
In English, we say that someone "tried to sweep
it under the rug", meaning that he or she tried to hide something.
We may also say that such a person "pulled the rug from under
us" meaning such a person did us a disservice. In both cases,
the rug as metaphor possesses a very physical component. As a
physical item it can be used to hide something or one can literally
pull a rug from under someone’s feet as in many Hollywood slapstick
comedies. Such physical attributions however can still be traced
back to the "Magic Carpet" metaphor. Whether used to
hide something or to provide a ground for stability, such attributes
remain in some ways magical.
yes, the carpet-bagger too!
The 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica gives the following
definition for Carpet Bagger:
political slang term for a person who stands as a candidate for
election in a locality in which he is a stranger. It is
particularly used of such a candidate sent down by the central
party organization. The term was first used in the western
states of America for speculative bankers who were said to have
started business with no other property than what they could
carry in a carpet-bag, and absconded when they failed. The expression
became of general use in American politics in the reconstruction
period after the Civil War, as a term of contempt for the northern
political adventurers in the South who, by the help of the Negro
vote, gained control of the administration."
oriental rug is a part of world culture. It is worth remarking
that today more than ever we need to talk about what connects
cultures than what separates them. An oriental rug can be regarded
as a catalyst. It connects many cultures and as such it is the
ultimate metaphor for diversity and coexistence in our world.