Yurta and its cosmogony

In the past Karakalpak people used two types of abode – the usual yurta kara-uy covered with dark felted cloth and a grand beautifully decorated otau-uy yurta, covered with light felted cloth and prepared for a newlywed couple. Every mud dwelling had a courtyard that was used as a spare space for yurta construction during winter. In summer, the yurta was placed near a canal in the shade of the estate’s trees. An air corridor was created inside by opening the wall coverings. Today, a yurta is only used during the hot summer season.

Yurta construction begins with the installation of a door. Different types of yurta are constructed from 6, 8, and, more rarely, 12 folding parts (kanat) and the supporting lattice (kerege). It can be installed or dismantled in a few hours.

Karakalpak yur ta design has its own characteristics. The crown spokes are straight and bend only at the lower end as they connect to the lattice, giving the roof a conic form. The yurta’s roof and lattice are fastened together with broad white ribbons. The roof is then covered with felted cloth and the walls are constructed of double-layered mat. Since ancient times a Karakalpak yurta entrance was made on the south side. In this case, the “place of honour,” located opposite the entrance, is considered the most comfortable part of the room – cool in summer and warm in winter. The roof crown (shanarak) consists of two hoops connected by pike-shaped studs. The mass of the shanarak keeps the frame of the yurta and acts as a window. In ancient times during winter it was also used as a chimney; therefore, the hearth was placed in the centre of the room. As a rule, there should be no unnecessary things in a yurta. Thus, in a Karakalpak yurta every woven ornamental runner was created for the practical fastening of a frame and cover. The runners tightened the wall lattice and crown spokes, and fixed the covering wall mat and roofing felt.

Since ancient times, people have identified the yurta model with space, dividing it into two equal parts. This expressed an idea of the equilibrium of opposing principles and their eternal interaction. It was the idea of the world order, life infinity and inviolability of the universe. Hence, the yurta was divided into two areas – male (on-jak) and female (sol-jak). On-jak was located on the left side of the entrance. It was used for keeping men’s outwear, musical instruments, riding equipment, guns, and men’s hunting and handicraft tools. This area was considered a dwelling place of spiritual patrons. The sol-jak area contained clothing bales, stands (sab-ayak) for large dishes and products, boilers, water containers, as well as women’s handicraft tools. The interior zone was associated with Mushel – an ancient 12-year zodiac calendar.

The yur ta’s sacred areas include: the entrance – bosaga (threshold), a centre – oshak (hearth), and a place of honour – tor (an area opposite the entrance). The tor was beautifully decorated. A net (bes-kur) made of red patterned ribbons (kizil-kur) was stretched above it while the tor wall was adorned with rugs and carpets. A number of cupboards (sandik) containing blankets and carpet bags (karshin) were placed near it. Tor meant the place of the house owner. When the family received an honourable guest, the place was given to them or spread toward the on-jak area.

The dome crown (shanarak) and hearth symbolised the sun and its hypostasis – fire. They were perceived as a pillar of the universe and the family’s coat of arms. Yarn amulets (ayak-bau) were hung up to the rim ring. They symbolised beams (nur) and the shaman’s whip (kamshi). The crown crosshair was oriented to the cardinal points. It was always open, closed only in bad weather. This allowed the observation of stars and the sun for telling time.