Yurt, a Connection between Home and Cosmos, Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, it’s here.

96f5499fcb7987b2cd420b9d1d6c4899    Nearly all traditional Kazakh crafts, having emerged in time immemorial and persisted through the vicissitudes of the nation’s history, are employed in furnishing and decorating the yurt. Multicolored and intricately textured, the unique polyphony of lines and hues is expressed in complex wood carvings, embroidery, felt carpets, bladegrass mats, leather and metal wares. Together, these items are not only a feast for the eyes but also for the curious mind wondering about the meaning of their ornamental letters and symbols. Floral decorations on “tekmets” (felt carpets), abstract and cosmogonic ornaments of “baskurs” (patterned woven strips) that cincture the yurt inside, intricately carved and incrusted furniture—all of these are reflections of the Kazakhs’ views on the world and its beauty. Some ornamental symbols are recognizable echoes of the pagan worship of the sun and the sky; others reflect upon the seasonal cycle or depict the steppe’s flora and fauna.

36186_shanyrak One of the yurt’s principal symbols, both philosophically and structurally, is the circle. Its wide range of applications begins with the yurt’s dome-shaped frame. And then, there are countless rings in its structure, accentuated by the circular rhombic pattern of baskur. Circles proliferate and multiply in the tracery and golden spirals of felt Kazakh carpets, in ornamental tableware, beds, cupboards, and chests. Finally, the yurt’s crown: a circular opening onto the blue sky and into the realm of the Kazakh supreme deity, Tengri.

Shanyrak,” the yurt’s round opening up top, has always been a polysemantic symbol reflecting upon the notions of human life and the universe, continuity of generations, unity of time, and harmony of life. Handed down from generation to generation, shanrak symbolized procreation, honoring of the dead but forever dear ancestors, as well as the benevolence of heavenly bodies.

4fa1b2291d237a8a85a4bd3574db02fdWhat is it then, this yurt, commanded to us by the wisdom of generations? It was once recognized by researchers as “the most advanced type of mobile housing” (1, p. 29). The yurt used to strike the imagination of travelers and merchants, foreign ambassadors and medieval historians. Many of them, including William of Rubruck, Ármin Vámbéry, and Nikita Bichurin, have left fanciful descriptions of felt tents and marquees that astounded them with their convenience and splendor.

We can say today that the phenomenon of the yurt was both the reflection of nomadic philosophy and a way of life. The yurt can be understood as an eternal reminder of greatness and infinity of the Universe, as an appeal for the understanding and deep humility before the mysteries of nature. It can also be taken as a homely and secure dwelling full of fantastically colorful coziness. Or as an intricate collapsible structure, always obedient to its owner, erectable in minutes and on any landscape, be it ravine or valley, green ripples of hills or the endless flat of steppes.

ba31bbe17df3d69be5f7846bd26dc5a6In any of its manifestations and variations—be it “ak uy” (white ceremonial), “otau uy” (small yurt for the newlyweds), “zhol uy” (trekking yurt) or the greyed from rain shepherd’s yurt—it will forever remain for us a precious and dear symbol. It will remain the unified manifestation of the unique wisdom of our ancestors who gave birth to the phenomenon that is the yurt, the home, the Cosmos.

Translated from Russian. Original taken from here.

1. O. Rudenko Essay life of Kazakhs basins Huila and sagyz. L. 1927.