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Heavenly Frogs

Updated on September 2, 2015


Heavenly Frogs in the Art of Central Asian(Bukharian) Jewelers

Professional jeweler was a fairly popular choice among Bukharian Jews – there is even such a surname as Zargar, which, in translation from Bukharian and Tajik languages, means “jeweler.” Not all of the adornments that were made by Bukharian jewelers were intended for women of Bukhara, and not all of them reflected their aesthetics, symbolism and semantics; however, jewelry custom made by Bukharian Jews had a unique style that separated their work from the works of other ethnic groups working in Bukhara.

In the Central Asia, the moon motif is primarily used in bridal ensembles. Looking closely at the diadem from Bukhara, the stylized images of three frogs jump to attention (the number Three, significant in many mythological systems represents the ideal model of any dynamic process suggesting the birth, development and decay, visible particularly in the vertical structure of the universe.)

A frog is closely linked to water, particularly to rain. Frogs are considered “lunar animals,” connected with the female symbol of Yin in Chinese philosophy. In Japan, a symbol of the frog is associated with good luck. According to the Indian mythology, the world is balanced on a giant frog. It is also a symbol of fertility, or Mother Earth. In Mesopotamia, frogs were primarily a symbol of fertility. In Egypt, a goddess with the head of a frog assisted at birth, represented a long life and immortality, and was considered a symbol of prosperity and abundance. A frog was also a symbol of resurrection.

In the Bukharian diadem, a massive frog in the center and two on the sides are combined with bird images (pheasant and snake are interchangeable with frogs). In Iranian mythology, birds were identified with the supreme wisdom, fire and sun. In indo-Iranian mythology birds, particularly waterfowl, accompanied the mother goddess, and were related to the water element. In terms of ritual, an image of two birds symbolized fertility, prosperity, and wealth, and a pair of ducks in the folklore of many nations if a sign of conjugal love.

The bottom pendant of the diadem is a stylized image of a “lunar animal.”

A picture of a tree with birds on its branches was a well-known a symbol of fertility, happiness and well-being.  One of the Avesta hymns mentions the sacred tree, in which the seeds of all plants worldwide are collected. Birds sitting on a tree strip the branches, others collect dead seeds and bring them to heaven, from where they fall down to the ground with the rain and grow into new plants. A tree with birds on its branches has been depicted on the ceremonial headgear of the nobility of Eurasian steppes from the 5th century BC to the 5th century AD. The nature of the images on the ceremonial vestment and crown of a Bactrian woman (Tillya-Tepe, VI tomb) portray her to be not just a noble woman, but a ruling queen, goddess of fertility, a role symbolized by the tree of life on her crown. The plot starring the tree of life with the forthcoming animals was especially popular in the early  1st millennium AD – during the era of settlement of the Northern Iranian tribes -- had some impact on the Scythian fine art.

A tree with birds on its branches was placed on the ceremonial headdress of Scythian kings and especially queens, was linked to the goddess of fertility and expressed the idea of renaissance. Mythology researchers found that tree images in the fine arts are used to drive the contents of the cosmogonical myth (a myth of creation), according to which the three areas of the universe (tree roots, an underground world, tree trunk, earth surface, world of people and animals, and tree top, heaven, the world of gods) are placed in the center of the world. Occasionally, the four sides of the world are marked by four trees growing on four sides of the universal tree that grows on top of the world. In Chinese natural philosophy, which has had an impact on teaching in Central Asia, a tree is one of the five original elements -- wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These elements themselves were formed out of chaos in the process of interaction between two poles – Yin and Yang (Chinese).

In many Indian provinces, even contemporary wedding ensembles an image of a crescent or half-moon.  Here, the moon represents fertility, purity, and virginity. Half-moon shaped earrings were usually among the first birthday gifts fathers bestowed on their daughters, as a sign of future fertility.

It is no coincidence that such decorations were all made of silver, the precious metal that has always been linked with the moon.

The shape of an adornment, its color, and decoration is a certain type of a language.  Learning it, we are introduced to the rituals, beliefs and culture, as well as the changes that occur over the years.

We know that the first ornaments were made of stone, animal bones and wood.

Once processing of metals has improved, the jewelry created from gold or silver gained popularity. The abundance of earrings, temple pendants, and crescent-shaped hoop necklaces points to the special bond of humans with the celestial bodies. Close communication of the ancient peoples with nature, the affiliation between different peoples, their beliefs and customs are all reflected in the jewelry designs and ornaments. Thus, a circle is an ancient Chinese symbol of heaven, infinity, while the sun and the moon symbolize the East and West.

Sun and moon worshipping played an important role in the ancient religion. We know of some stone buildings built in the Bronze Age, which scientists believe to be sun temples. There are also temples dedicated to the Moon. In Mesopotamia, a fresco depicting the moon god dates back to 2017 – 1750 BC. The sacred books of Avesta describe the special properties of celestial bodies; these books date back to the first half of the first millennium BC.  In pagan religions, the sun and the moon were viewed as divine protectors of marriage – the moon of the groom, the sun of the bride. In the minds of the ancient people, the relationships between human beings were transport to the forces of nature, heaven and earth.

The shape of a cross, which later became an emblem of Christianity, in ancient times symbolized the sun. The combination of a cross with a crescent meant a conjugal bond: as heavenly bodies follow each other in the sky, thus lovers are inseparable on Earth. It was believed that the moon and sun are able to punish all evil.

   Echoes of ancient ideas related to the worship of the heavenly bodies, and faith in their cleansing powers, have survived to this day.


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