Shirinov Amiraslan has been engaged in kelagayi production for over 30 years in Sheki. He says, to be engaged in this handicraft is very important for him; not only his parents, but also his grandparents were engaged in the manifacturing of kelagayi.Kalagayi, in Azerbaijan, is a square-shaped silk scarf with special prints on it that is considered a national dress, protecting from the hot sun and cold wind. Silk is considered to be cool in the summer and warm in winter. Until the 90s these special scarves were popular at weddings and engagemnets, however, the popularity of it later became lost. Despite this, the owner of the unique manufacturer of the production of silk in Azerbaijan, Amiraslan, tries to preserve this tradition and put the force to revive it. During the Soviet period, Shaki, Ismayilli and Ganja (the cities of Azerbaijan) were popularised by their own kalagayi, however, “Shaki, as Amiraslan says, has its own tradition.” The preparation of “kalagayi” goes through several processes; ornaments on the silk are made of paraffin, kannifor and oil. “This is done in such a way, not to let the color mix with the oil. After the scarves are colored, the oils are washed in the hot water. It is important for double-colored scarves. Kalagayi can be even four-five colored, and we produce all the natural colors ourselves.” Kelagayi weavers think that the ornaments and design of kelagayi is compared with Azerbaijani mughams (folk music): they believe that the use of seven colors is linked to the number of mughams. Complaining about the lost interest to this handicraft, the kalagayi master asks for the support of the government. “The trade is not very good. They talk about the restoration of the silworm, but they dont say the exact time of the start date. There was a silk production company in Sheki, but it stopped working. It affected everyone, including the workers.
“Lately, the interest of tourists to these silk scarves increased. During the tourism season, our sales increase. In 2014 Kalagayi was added into UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List. ”
There are two more women working in his small manufacture. As they say, they have been working here for more than 30 years. Amiraslan is trying to preserve this handicraft, however, he says he cannot get constant benefits from it.
“This is a very hard and difficult process, everything is made by hand. Additionally, there is not constant work, and to make more work, someone or teach someone you should have a constant work. Mainly, we have orders from the governemnt events.”
Amiraslan says that for the preparation of one kalagayi, it costs 20 AZN, but the sale price is 40 manat. The prices in the old city of Baku and Sheki are much higher. He says that mainly those scarves are brought from China.
“As our carpets became synthetics, so kalagayi too, has become that. The Chinese take the examples, and start to produce the same, but the lower quality product, which is not natural silk.”
The master does not know much about the meaning of the symbols on the kalagayis.
Psychologist Rena Ibrahimova researched the topic of kalagayi for some time. In her 2011 TEDx presentation, she stated that kalagayi is iconic of human life.
“The symbols on the scarf have a system and during the manufacturing of it, this system should not be destroyed. The ornaments on the scarf symbolize the universe. The edge of the scarf means the mountain, that symbolises the protection of the people. The inside ornament symbolizes the after live world, and it is obviously seen that such a world is much more colorful than this one.”Rena says that kalagayi was one of the most important head dresses and especially at weddings, the red one is most frequently used. However, at Azerbaijani weddings, the red kalagayi was not used only for brides, but for grooms too.
A Venetian traveler Marco Polo who visited Azerbaijan in 1293 wrote about Azerbaijani silk in his memoirs:
“There are many cities and fortresses, lots of silk. Nowhere else in the world have I seen such products of silk and brocade, as made here.”