In the designs of Persian carpets and Oriental rugs, animals, birds, and insects are often displayed. They can be highly stylized, or extremely realistic like the wild animals on the hunting designs of some Persian rugs. Bat, bee, beetle, butterfly, crab, camel, deer, dog, dove, dragon, duck, lion, elephant, magpie, parrot, peacock, phoenix, rooster, scorpion, sparrow, squirrel, stork, tarantula, tiger, and tortoise are the animals most frequently found in the pattern of Oriental or Persian carpets. As you might have expected, most of these creatures have a symbolic value above and beyond their mere decorative presence and meaning.
The scorpion and the tarantula denote viciousness and poison, and also represent defense. They are often found in the borders of Caucasian rugs such as Kazak and Shirvan. Perhaps their continued presence beneath the feet teaches children to be fearless and therefore diminishes the risk of them being stung by attempting to run away from a live example. The camel denotes wealth and happiness. This is a logical symbol since this animal is both an invaluable means of transportation for desert nomads and a great source of food as well. The crab seems to have no symbolic significance, although it is, of course, one of the great astrological signs. Three universal power symbols are the dragon, the elephant, and the lion. The elephant is a symbol of royalty in India. The dragon symbolizes evil in Persia and death in India, whereas it represents a commanding power in China. The lion is an almost universal image for strength, authority, and in some countries such as India, royalty. Where fighting animals are displayed on Oriental and Persian carpets, the eternal struggle between good and evil is perhaps intended to be underlined. Among Chinese symbols, the bat represents happiness, the bee immortality, and the beetle denotes creation. The butterfly, often shown on the border of Chinese rugs, represents pride while the crow is a sign of ill luck both for the Chinese and the Indians. The dove universally indicates peace and companionship, and the duck is always a symbol of a faithful and happy marriage. The tortoise, perhaps because of its own slowness and extremely long life-span, naturally represents longevity and immortality as does the deer.
The parrot represents the courier of life whereas the rooster often symbolizes the devil and is found on some rugs as a charm against evil. The magpie, although seldom displayed on rugs, represents fortune and good luck. The squirrel is sacred to Hindus, signifying the God’s protection. Symbols of flowers and fruits, such as palm and willow, are also seen on carpets, often indicating deep religious meaning and heavenly immortality through death.
The presence of animals and birds in the designs of rugs is not only for decoration purposes, but also helps in determination of their origin, although it takes a long time and years of experience to pinpoint the exact place of birth for hand-knotted rugs. A serious interest in Persian and Oriental rugs, without a doubt, should have its own rewards if the student looks at, examines, and reads about as many rugs as he possibly can. The task becomes so much easier with technological advances which make all types of information so readily available.