Archive for the ‘Modern Narratives’ Category

Leyli and Majnun in the modern world

January 2, 2006

Max Allen in Toronto sends us another version of this ambiguous representation of the Leyli and Majnun story. If the mujahideen figure is identifiable, who might it be? My copy was sold to me as a “portrait” of Osama bin Laden, but I was always very sceptical of this attribution. There’s further discussion of this in our other posts considering Leyli – the images appear when you click on the post titles.


When you compare the two, while some elements are missing from the image below, many are reproduced quite carefully, such as the profile of the male figure, which is surely distinctive enough to be reccognisable?


Rostam and Akvan

September 9, 2005

Nasser Palangi (an Iranian artist living in Canberra) has an extensive collection of early lithographs, and has sent us some images to fill out our earlier posts which help locate the iconography of this rug, from the Peter Bellas collection in Brisbane, Plate 1 in The Rugs of War catalogue.

Compare with these 19th century lithographic illustrations to find the origins of this reconfigured story – now located in a field of elements signifying the contemporary conflict.

Other posts and examples are here; click on the post titles to open the images.


September 9, 2005

Nasser Palangi, (an Iranian artist living in Canberra), has also given me a translation of the text on the image of the Leyli and Majnun rug. The updated posts are here; click on post titles to see the images.

The Battle of Rostam and Ashkabus

June 26, 2005


This is the second antique Azerbaijan “war rug”, sent by Vugar Dadashov. He tells me this one was made in Tebriz, in the beginning of 20th century, and is now in a Moscow collection.

Other posts and examples are here; click on the post titles to open the images.

Rostam and the White Div Akvan

June 8, 2005


Thanks to further correspondence from Vugar Dadashov here’s a snapshot of early 20th century precursor from the Baku Carpet Museum in Azerbaijan. It is titled “Rostam is killing Div”, and was made in Tebriz (Southern Azerbijan). So here’s the origins of this scene which we find in war rugs (a passage from the Shahnameh (the Book of Kings), where Rostam defeats the evil White Div) to the depiction of such imagery in carpets. See this post below…

Another related rug has now been posted here.

This narrative comes in many variations

June 5, 2005

rug17b 1.jpg

Graham Gower sends us a contemporary interpretation of this scene, referring to a work from his collection.

rug17 1.jpg

His informant is an Afghan who runs a local shop dealing in rugs and items from Asia, who tells us that the writing shown on the attached image translates generally as “A dead man. This Afghan soldier killed a boy called Yoseph aged 9 years old about 15 years ago.”

We now know (thanks to correspondence from Vugar Dadashov) that the origin of this scene is a passage from the Shahnameh (the Book of Kings), where Rostam defeats the evil White Div. A Google search finds us the attached image of a miniature painted in the 16th century, depicting the same scene.


We have discussed another contemporary translation of this imagery, again updated to become a “war rug”, and related to the invasion and subsequent defeat of the Soviets. It’s an interesting trail, which in my interpretation is revealing how ancient allegories are being translated into the present circumstances, which is in itself an insight into how the many “war rug” variations to tradition may be revealed to carry locally specific meanings.

Additional precedents sent to us by Vugar are in the pipeline…

Updated to add: other posts relevant to this discussion can be found in the search results for “Rostam” and in the Modern Narratives category; click on the post titles to open the images.

“Lost” alas!

January 21, 2005

Here’s an image posted by a dealer who has lost the original. It’s a variation on the common image of Najibullah as a Soviet puppet, in the same style (from the same workshop?) as the previous image. I have never seen one at this scale before, or with so much extra detail. A loss indeed…


Jihad against the Soviets

January 21, 2005

Here are the details of the text on the image below – the translation (in italics) is by Hossein Valamanesh.

(return to the full image here)


This is a combination of a number of words but the main word in the middle could be Jihad but with an extra line in the middle I do not know what that is – could be decorative.

Sabur Fahiz contributes a further translation: either side of the flaming hand are to be read the names of the Socialist factions: “Parcham”, and “Khalkh”. But as well, he suggests that the flaming hand of the Soviets is also a reference to another faction: “Shollah” or “the flame” which was also the name of another faction, rendered extinct in the internecine warfare within the Socialist bloc.

– An earlier example of this carpet can be seen at Plate 35 in Frembgen and Mohm.


On the right the word is people – on the left, flag.

– What’s striking about this image is the device of layering or transparency – the shower of (what is it? another hammer and sickle?), the geometrical symbol, and the text overlaid in a kind of matrix above the Jihad tag. The image of the hand descending from the space of the Soviet Union, with hammer and sickle above, is usually holding/manipulating the figure of Najibullah, but there are other examples of the hand raining down over the map of Afghanistan.


This is a difficult one – on the left the first word says price of or price, and continuing that it is not clear. It could be the word mistake or hard work.


On the left, land or land of. On the right, Afghanistan.


I think it may be imitating a Russian or English word.

In the full image of the carpet, surrounding Afghanistan clockwise from the top are the names of surrounding countries – Turkomanstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and on the left Iran.

Najibullah’s Soviet Puppet Masters

December 14, 2004

Jihad Carpet 121x183.jpg

This is a rug bought in Quetta in 1996. It bears a strong resemblance to the representations of Najibullah as a puppet of the Soviets, but in most cases the delineation of the hammer and sickle and the hand are less well defined as in this instance. The bomb/bullets border is common to many rugs of this era, and suggests the origin of a range of images from the same workshop. Has anyone got closer to the origins of this style?

Jasleen discusses the Leyli and Majnun dilemma

June 28, 2004


Today I was visited by Jasleen Dhamija, the noted Indian textiles expert who wrote for us in The Rugs of War. We were discussing the ambiguities at the core of an image such as this.

While we accept Hossein Valamanesh’ translation:

The image on the right is of Leyli who is sitting on a pedestal / seat and the one on the left is Majnun. I think he has been depicted in this carpet as an emaciated man not unlike emaciated Buddha images (I have seen this image in a number of paintings; here’s a sculptural example) and I think the weavers have thrown in a couple of tanks and guns for good measure perhaps to raise the possibility of a sale. It is a fascinating carpet.

Jasleen declared:

but that does not look like the many Majnun figures I have seen! Surely he is both a folk hero and a military figure, loaded with guns and grenades, looking threateningly at the figure of Leyli seated on a throne!

I cannot help but agree, and refer to growing evidence of the integration of folk tales and religious symbols with symbols of the militarised present, one narrative ambiguously masking the other. And as one online account describes the story: “And so the two young lovers were forbidden to see each other anymore. This affected Gais so deeply that he went insane. People started calling him “Majnun” (madman).”

And so is it possible that this militaristic representation of the figure of Gais may also be a reference to him as a “majnun”, in relation to the current circumstances, and the experience of the destruction of references to a Buddhist heritage?

My previous questions about these images remain.

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Please note that later posts on the topic can be found here; click on titles for the full posts.