Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Uzbekistan | Samarkand | Sarai Mulk’s Mausoleum

Although concerned mostly with the remnants of the city which survived the sack of Samarkand by Chingis Khan in 1220 I would be remiss if I did not wander by other Mongol-related sites in the city. Perhaps the most famous of these is the mausoleum and tomb of Sarai Mulk, also known by the title Bibi Khanum, the Mongolian wife of Amir Timur (Tamurlane). Whether Amir Timur (1336–1405), was related to the Chingisids by blood is a matter of some dispute. He was a member of the Turco-Mongol Barlas tribe and thus may have been part Mongolian, but it seems unlikely that he was actually a member of the royal line of Chingis. In any case he never dared to take the title of Great Khan, which according to the unwritten laws of the steppe could only be held by a Chingisid, a lineal descendant of Chingis Khan, but instead took the title of “Amir”—military commander. In order to further legitimize his rule he married the Mongolian princess Sarai Mulk, the daughter of Khazan, the last ruler of the Chagatai Khanate founded by Chagatai, Chingis’s second son, and thus a legitimate Chingisid. Sarai Mulk was a legendary beauty, to say nothing of willful and domineering, and she eventually became the favorite wife of Amir Timur. 

At some point she ordered the construction of a madrassa, an Islamic school, and a mausoleum for herself and immediate family. Little else is known about her life. There is a legend that the architect who was building what became known as the Bibi Khanum Mosque, near her Mausoleum, fell madly in love with her and was constantly seeking her favors. Trying to dissuade him, she pointed out forty dried gourds used as water containers which were lined up against a wall. “See those gourds?” she said, “they are all filled with water and are all the same. Women are like the gourds. They are all the same. It matters not which one you use to slake your desires. Choose any of my servant girls you want and spent the night with her. That should be enough to satisfy your needs.” The architect replied, “Thirty-nine of the gourds are filled with water and one is filled with wine. You are the one filled with wine and I must drink from your gourd.” She still refused him entry to her Jade Gate, but finally she did let allow him to kiss her on the cheek. Amir Timur was in India at the time leading a military campaign. When he returned to Samarkand he somehow found out about this kiss (the legend states the kiss was so passionate that it left a mark on her cheek) and in a fit of jealousy he threw Sarai Mulk off the top of a minaret. She was then buried in her Mausoleum. This is the legend anyhow. As far as I know, history does not record any other version of Sarai Mulk’s death. 
Sarai Mulk’s Mausoleum. Her Madrassa, which was directly in front of the Mausoleum, no longer exists. 
Inside the Mausoleum. Sarai Mulk and her relatives are entombed in the basement crypt.
The Caskets of Sarai Mulk (left), and her Mother and Sister

The Casket of Sarai Mulk
Caskets of two of Sarai Mulk’s servants, perhaps the very ones which the architect unwisely spurned.
Another view of Sarai Mulk’s Mausoleum