Traditional art and symbolism of Kelaghayi

The kelaghayi is the national women's head covering made of pure silk.

By Heydar Aliyev Center

KelaghayiHeydar Aliyev Center

The kelaghayi is the national women's head covering made of pure silk. The edges of the kelaghayi are decorated with geometric and varied ornaments.

Folk artists were inspired by the beauty of nature surrounding them while creating these ornaments, and decorated the headscarves with roses, lilies and other flowers, as well as the blossoms of pomegranate, apple and cherry.

ButaHeydar Aliyev Center

Buta has always been the key element in decorating the kelaghayi. Experts explain the meaning of the buta differently, often considering the buta as a symbol of eternal life.

Silk women's headwearHeydar Aliyev Center

The appearance of attributes like kelaghayi in women's clothing of past centuries can be linked to the development of sericulture in Azerbaijan. Travellers from England, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries recalled in their travel notes that elegant, delicate silk women's headwear was found in the commercial areas of different cities of Azerbaijan.

The silk kelaghayis were indicative of the variety of ornaments in the different regions. Marco Polo liked silk headscarves from Barda and Shamakhi. In November 2014, the traditional art and symbolism of kelaghayi was included in UNESCO`s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity under the title “Traditional Making and Wearing of Women's Silk Headscarf and Its Symbolism”.

Colours of KelaghayiHeydar Aliyev Center

The kelaghayi is painted in dark and light colours with natural dyes derived from sumakh, hips, saffron, yellow ginger, onion peel and other herbs. Red, white, blue, and cyan were predominant, each intended for women of different ages: dark colours were meant for older and light colours for the young. After the headscarves were painted, craftsmen began to decorate.

Production of the kelaghayiHeydar Aliyev Center

In the past, kelaghayi was prepared only by men. Seals, which consisted of various elements of moulded patterns, were of major importance in the production of the kelaghayi. Moulds were made mainly of solid wood (walnut and pear) or steel boards. With their use, ornaments could be inscribed onto the fabric with the “basmanakhish” technique.

This embroidery technique is considered as analogue of the “hot batik” technique in other parts of the world. Each pattern of the kelaghayi, in addition to decorating the silk headscarf, carries particular meaning; they can be used as a means for acknowledging love, begging pardon or as a message for other purposes.

Village of BasgalHeydar Aliyev Center

At the end of the last century, recuperating handmade kelaghayi production technology began in the ancient village of Basgal. There they opened a museum of the kelaghayi. Currently, there are two centres for production of unique women's silk headscarves, reflecting the national culture in Azerbaijan: the ancient Sheki and the village of Basgal.

Symbolic meanings of coloursHeydar Aliyev Center

The colours of headscarves have symbolic meanings and are often tied to specific social occasions, such as weddings, mourning ceremonies, daily activities and celebrations. The art of Kelaghayi making is transmitted through non-formal apprenticeship only, and is primarily a family occupation.

Each family has its own stylistic features and patterns of decoration. The traditional practice of making and wearing headscarves is an expression of cultural identity and religious traditions and a symbol of social cohesion, reinforcing the role of women and strengthening the cultural unity of Azerbaijani society.

Kelaghayi in traditionsHeydar Aliyev Center

Rooted in traditions found along the Great Silk Road, the art of Kelaghayi is concentrated in two locations in the Republic of Azerbaijan: the city of Sheki and the Basgal settlement. Kelaghayi making consists of several stages: fabric weaving, dyeing and woodblock decoration.

Weavers choose thin silk threads from sericulture producers and weave fabrics on looms and then boil and dry them to make square-shaped cloths. Using vegetable substances, masters then dye the cloths various colours and decorate them with patterns using wooden stamps, covered with solutions made from rosin, paraffin and solid oil.

Film about KelaghayiHeydar Aliyev Center

Traditional art and symbolism of Kelaghayi, making and wearing women’s silk headscarves

Credits: Story

Mahabbat Mehdiyeva
The Director of Museum Department, Heydar Aliyev Center

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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