Podcast in English
Text size
Bulgarian National Radio © 2023 All Rights Reserved

Bulgarian embroideries and their symbols

Photo: National History Museum
Pretty, motley and quite complex, Bulgarian embroidery is one of the highest achievements of traditional culture. Like other Bulgarian crafts, it harbours symbols and meanings, established far back in time.

Most Bulgarian homes have kept to the present day one or two hand-embroidered tablecloths, small mementos from the near past. If we have a good look at them, we will discover stylized figures reminiscent of animate and inanimate nature. The embroidered pictures were a kind of lucky charm, believed to bring good health and inviolability. They revealed the Bulgarian folk beliefs about the world's origin and state of affairs. One of the most common ornaments represented the Tree of Life. Known as the World Tree or the Cosmic Tree, it stands for a three-level vertical representation of our world. The crown symbolizes the Upper World, or the Heavens, the trunk embodies the Earth and the roots stand for the Underworld, the home of demonic forces. The Young Sun or what Bulgarians called The Young Deity was believed to climb down the Tree's branches at a certain time every year to illuminate human life and mark a new beginning. This motif appeared on cardigans and shirts in the entire country.

Interestingly, the Sun motifs, representing an ancient cult of the Sun, have become part and parcel of contemporary Bulgarian life. Present-day Bulgarians encounter unknowingly countless depictions of the Sun, left as an invisible legacy in our lands. So for example, one of the symbols of the Sun is a cross or what Proto-Bulgarians called elbetitsa, a double cross reminiscent of the circle of life. The double cross is perhaps the most popular Bulgarian motif on embroideries and ritual bread decorations. It could be seen on carpets, wraps, tablecloths, pillow covers, women's shirts and low-cut sleeveless dresses as well as men's sleeves and saddlebags. According to experts, the double cross of Bulgarians can be associated with the Dharmachakra, a symbol in Buddhism representing the wheel of life and the path to Enlightenment. Bulgarian folk wisdom has it that the double cross represents the four cardinal points and the ordinal directions united in a single centre. The wheel of life is believed to rotate around the centre, that is around what is invariable and intransient on earth and in heaven.

Once upon a time Bulgarian embroideries revealed the social status and ethnic origin of a person. Festive clothes, especially those of young children and maids, were always hand-embroidered. It comes as an interesting fact that embroideries would be woven on certain areas of the clothes considered to cover vulnerable body parts. So for example, a beautiful young woman would wear embroidered patterns on her skirt, next to the heart and on the sleeves. To illustrate this point, this is how the lyrics of a Bulgarian folk song go:

On her skirts, it's tiny stars,
On her breasts- the bright Sun,
On her legs- the clear Moon,
Around her neck, it's the Earth and Heaven,
Earth and Heaven, woods and water.

English version: Vyara Popova
По публикацията работи: Albena Bezovska
Listen to the daily news from Bulgaria presented in "Bulgaria Today" podcast, available in Spotify.

More from category

Gold, silver and silk - a Bulgarian woman revives the old techniques in making the Kyustendil national costume

Madlen Bozhilova Amin is the winner of the 2021 UNESCO's Living Human Treasure prize for a project related to the making of the old-time folk costume from the region of Kyustendil called "saya" . Some time ago, the Bulgarian woman returned from abroad to..

published on 12/7/23 2:14 PM

Kardzhali is hosting folklore dance festival of amateur clubs

For the 8th time, Kardzhali is hosting the Folklore Festival of amateur folk dance clubs "Perpera".   The forum will gather today on the stage of the theater in Kardzhali more than 420 amateur dancers from all over the country. They will perform..

published on 11/11/23 7:05 AM

Bulgarian folk costumes from the Rhodopes inspire young European designers

Bulgarian national folk costumes from the Rhodope region inspired young European designers, finalists in the Open Space Foundation's Echo Academies project , BTA reported, citing Alma Communication. In the recently concluded first stage of the..

published on 11/4/23 12:35 PM