Thursday, February 27, 2014

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Bakharzi | Bayan Quli | Sorqaqtani

Update: I just got an email from Well-Known Mongolian Artist Soyolma informing me that there is now a best-selling book in Mongolia (in Mongolian language) about the life of Sorqaqtani.

Wandered out to the Fathabad district, about two miles east of the old historical core of Bukhara, to visit the mausoleum of Saif ed-Din al-Bakharzi. The mausoleum complex is now in a nicely laid out park surrounded by four-lane highways and Soviet-era apartments blocks. Bakharzi was born in Khorasan (now northeastern Iran) and studied religion in Nishapur and Herat before moving to Gurganj (now Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan). Gurganj was the capital of Khwarezm, the land on either side of the lower Amu Darya River, including the broad delta estuary of the river on the southern edge of the Aral Sea. By the beginning of the thirteenth century Khwarezm had become the core province of the Khwarezmian Empire, which under the leadership of Muhammad Khwarezmshah (r. 1200-1220) included a huge swatch of Asia from the Caspian Sea to the Indus River. Bakharzi had early on shown an inclination toward mysticism, and he may have been attracted to Gurganj by the presence of Nadjm ed-Din Kubra, who would eventually be recognized as one of the thirteen century’s great mystics. In any case, he became a disciple of Kubra, apparently while still a teenager. 

Nadjm ed-Din Kubra was born in Gurganj in 1145, the son of fabric merchants who studied religion on the side. As a child he experienced what he called the “loosening of the bonds of the intellect,” apparently mystical experiences during which he was temporary removed from the strictures of consensual reality. Reining in these impulses, he devoted himself to the conventional study of hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), seeking out teachers in Nishapur in Khorasan, Hamadan and Isfahan in Iraq-i Ajam (northwest Iran), Mecca, and finally Alexandria in Egypt. From Alexandria he drifted on down to Cairo, where he fell under the sway of a Sufi teacher by the name of Ruzhedan. Under Ruzhedan’s supervision Kubra did several forty-day retreats and engaged in other Sufi practices. Ruzhedan was so impressed by Kubra’s progress along the Sufi path that he came him one of his daughters in marriage. Kubra went on to study with a succession of Sufi teachers in Cairo and in Dezful, in Iraq-i Ajam. While in Dezful one of his teachers, Esmail il-Qaṣri, declared that Kubra was qualified to become a teacher himself. He returned to Cairo to get the blessing of Ruzhedan and then made the long journey back to Khwarezm, arriving in Gurganj in 1184. In Gurganj Kubra eventually gathered around him a group of some sixty students, including an inner circle of twelve particularly gifted devotees. Because of his teaching abilities, his followers gave him the nickname Shayk-e walitaras, the “saint manufacturing saint.” Bakharzi was apparently one of Kubra’s sixty students—whether he was in the inner circle or not is unclear—and it was later said that he was one the saints who Kubra “manufactured.” 

In 1219 Chingis Khan invaded the land of the Khwarezmshahs. Otrar, Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, and other cities in Mawarannahr (Transoxiania) quickly fell to the Mongols. In the fall of 1220 Chingis ordered his two sons Chagaadai and Ögödei to invade Khwarezm and take the capital of Gurganj. Word of the holy man in Gurganj had Chingis Khan himself. According to one near contemporary account, Chingis Khan:
had heard of the Shaykh of Shaykhs and the Polestar of Saints [Kubra], and knew somewhat of his character [and] he sent him a message that he intended to sack Khwarazm [Gurganj] and massacre its inhabitant, and that one who was the greatest man of his age should come out from it and join him, now that the moment had arrived for the incidence of the catastrophe. “That I should come forth from amongst them,” replied the Shayk, “would be an action remote from the way of virtue and magnanimity.” 
The historian Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jamī (1414 –1492) tells what happened next:
When the Tartar heathen [Mongols] reached Khwarazm, the Shaykh (Kubra] assembled his disciples, whose number exceeded sixty . . . The Shaykh summoned certain of his disciples . . . and said, “Arise quickly and depart to your own countries, for a fire is kindled from the East which consumes nearly to the West. This is a grievous mischief, the like of which hath never heretofore happened to this people (the Muslims)”. Some of his disciples said, “How would it be if your Holiness were to pray, that perhaps this [catastrophe] may be averted from the lands of Islam?' “Nay,” replied the Shaykh, “this is a thing irrevocably predetermined which prayer cannot avert.” Then his disciples besought him, saying, “The beasts are ready prepared for the journey: if your Holiness also would join us and depart into Khunlsan, it would not be amiss.” “Nay,” replied the Shaykh; “’here shall I die a martyr, for it is not permitted to me to go forth.“ So his disciples departed into Khurasan . . . When the heathen entered the city, the Shaykh called such of his disciples as remained, and said, “Arise in God's Name and let us fight in God's Cause.” Then he entered his house, put on his Khirga (dervish robe), girded up his loins, filled the upper part of his Khirga, which was open in front, with stones on both sides, took a spear in his hand, and came forth. And when he came face to face with the heathen, he continued to cast stones at them till he had no stones left. The heathen fired volleys of arrows at him, and an arrow pierced his breast. He. plucked it out and cast it away, therewith passed away his spirit. They say that at the moment of his martyrdom he had grasped the pigtail of one of the heathen, which after his death could not be removed from his hand, until at last they were obliged to cut it off.
Later a mausoleum in his name was built on the outskirts of Gurganj. It can still be seen there today, but whether or not his body is actually in it remains a matter of conjecture. 

Bakharzi was one of the students of Kubra who escaped from Gurganj before the Mongols sacked the city. He settled in the outskirts of Bukhara, which itself had been sacked by the Mongols a year earlier and quickly attracted students of his own. They became the Bukhara core of the Sufi sect known as the Kubrawiya—followers of the teachings of Kubra. Eventually a complex of dwellings, meeting places, and schools for members of the Kubrawiya grew up the Fathabad district. Word of the illustrious Sufi teacher in Bukhara eventually spread far and wide. Berke Khan, the son of Jochi, Chingis Khan’s oldest son, and the Khan of the Golden Horde from 1257 to 1266, heard of Bakharzi and travelled to Bukhara to met him. The record is unclear, but Bakharzi may have been instrumental in the conversion to Islam of Berke Khan, the first important Mongol to do so.

Word of Bakharzi also reached Sorqaqtani, arguably the most influential woman in the Mongol Empire in the mid-thirteenth century. Sorqaqtani was daughter of Jakha Gambhu, the younger of brother Tooril (a.k.a. Tughrul, Wang Khan, Ong Khan, etc), ruler of the Keraits, a powerful tribe in Mongolia around the time of Chingis’s Khan’s rise to power. Tooril was the blood brother of Chingis Khan’s father Yesükhei and later Chingis’s own patron and ally. Tooril’s headquarters were in the Tuul River valley, near the site of current-day Ulaanbaatar. Later Marco Polo would retail the story that Tooril was the legendary Prester John, the Christian king who would come to the aid of European Crusaders in the Mideast by attacked Muslims from the rear, as it were. Tooril in all likelihood had never heard of the Crusaders and its doubtful if he had any interest in politics outside of the Mongolian Plateau. HIs name may have became connected with the Prester John legend because many of the Keraits, and possible Tooril himself, were Nestorian Christians. This branch of Christianity, declared heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 a.d., migrated eastward to escape persecution and eventually become known as the Church of the East. Following the great trade routes east, Nestorian Christianity reached Xian, the main eastern terminus of Silk Road, no later than the 780s. It eventually spread northward across the Gobi Desert and onto the Mongolian Plateau, where it found adherents among the Keraits and other tribes. It was not clear if Jakha Gambhu was a Nestorian Christian, but his daughter Sorqaqtani most definitely was. 

Around 1203 Tooril, afraid of Chingis Khan’s rising power among the tribes of the Mongolian Plateau, plotted to have him assassinated. The plot failed, and in retaliation Chingis Khan annihilated the Kerait nation. Jakha Gambhu attempted, however, to stay on Chingis’s good side, and to cement their relationship he offered up three of his daughters as peace offerings. The oldest of them was married to Chingis himself (he later gave her away to one of his favorite generals); the middle daughter was married to Jochi, Chingis’s oldest son; and the youngest, Sorqaqtani, was wed to Tolui, Chingis’s youngest son, while she was still a teenager. 

Tolui and Sorqaqtani went on to have four sons: Möngke, Khubilai, Khülegü and Ariq Böke, Tolui died relatively young, at the age of 40, in 1232. According to the Persian historian Ata Malik Juvaini, he became a victim of his own successes: “the world his thrall and the heavens subservient to his wishes, he became excessively addicted to the circulating of cups of wine from morn till eve, and a malady over took him such that two or three days did not pass before he died.” Juvaini was the hired pen of Khülegü, Tolui’s son, so it seems unlikely he would so relate such an unflattering story if there was not some truth to it. Chingis’s third son, Ögödei, offered to marry the newly widowed Sorqaqtani, but she refused. She also turned down an offer to marry his son, Güyûk, explaining that she needed all of her energies to raise and educate her sons. Thus began two decades of maneuvering which eventually made at least three of her sons rulers of immense khanates. According to Juvaini, 
. . . in the management and education of all her sons, in the administration of affairs of state, in the maintenance of dignity and prestige and in the execution of business, Beki [Sorqaqtani], by the nicety of her judgement and discrimination, constructed such a basis and for the strengthening of these edifices laid such a foundation that no turban-wearer [men, in general] would have been capable of the like or could have dealt with these matters with the like brilliance. 
Even the spurned Ögödei listened to her counsel and bowed to her wisdom in matters of state: 
In any business which [Ögödei] undertook, whether with regard to the weal of the Empire or the disposal of the army, he used first to consult and confer with her and would suffer no change or alteration of whatever she recommended. The ambassadors . . . too held her in great honour and respect; and the dependents and subjects of her Court in nearest and farthest East and West were distinguished from those of all the other princes by the dignity and protection they enjoyed, and because of her zealous concern for each of them individually their lives were contented and carefree.
Ögödei’s eldest son Güyük had been named Great Khan of the Mongols in 1246. He transmigrated in 1248, and for three years his widow Oghul Qaimish ruled as regent. Sorqaqtani had been busy behind the scenes, however. According to Juvaini, after her husband Tolui had died,
. . . she had won favor on all sides by the bestowing of gifts and presents upon her family and kindred and dispensing largesse to troops and strangers and so rendered all subject to her will and planted love and affection in everyone's heart and soul, so that when the death of Güyük Khan occurred most men were agreed and of one mind as to the entrusting of the keys of the Khanate to her son Möngke Khan. For the report of her wisdom and prudence and the fame of her counsel and sagacity had spread to all parts, and none would gainsay her word. Furthermore, in the management of her household and in the ceremonial of her court she laid for kinsmen and stranger such a foundation as the khans of the world had not been capable of.
 Sorqaqtani’s politicking succeeded, and she lived to see her first son Möngke Khan named Great Khan in 1251. Her second son Khülegü would overthrew the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in 1256 and found the Ilkhanate in what is now Iran, Iraq, and parts of Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey. Her third son Khubilai ruled as Great Khan of the Mongols from 1260 to 1294 and founded of the Yuan Dynasty in China. For a brief time in the early 1260s Ariq Böke, her fourth son, claimed the title of Great Khan, but he was eventually overthrown by his brother Khubilai. Such was Sorqaqtani’s legacy to world history. 

Although she remained a Nestorian Christian to the end of her life, Sorqaqtani, like many of the Mongolian ruling class, was remarkably ecumenical when it came to religious matters. According to Juvaini: 
 . . . her hand was ever open in munificence and benefaction, and although she was a follower and devotee of the religion of Jesus she would bestow alms and presents upon imams and shaikhs and strove also to revive the sacred observances of the faith of Mohammed (may God bless him and give him peace!). And the token and proof of this statement is that she gave 1000 silver balish that a college (madrasa) might be built in Bukhara, of which pious foundation the Shaik-al-Islam Saif-ad-Din of Bakharz should be administrator and superintendent; and she commanded that villages should be bought, an endowment made and teachers and students accommodated [in the college]. And always she would send alms to all parts to be distributed among the poor and needy of the Moslems; and so she continued until . . . the year 649 [February-March, 1252], when the Destroyer of Delights sounded the note of departure.
Bakharzi became the mudabbir (principal) of the madras and mutavalli (administrator) of the endowment set up by Sorqaqtani, and under his leadership the Sufi complex continued to grow until he transmigrated in 1261. HIs son Abu al-Muzaffar Ahmad succeeded him as leader of the Kubrawiya in Bukhara. Around this time the region was thrown into upheaval by the internecine wars between various feuding Mongol factions and as a result very little is known about the fate of the Kubrawiya in Bukhara for the next forty or so years. 

Abu al-Muzaffar Ahmad died in 1312 or 1313 and was replaced by Barkhazi’s grandson Abu al- Mafakhir Shaykh Yahya. Under his leadership the Kubrawiya again flourished. He had over the years managed to became quite wealthy, and he used his money to purchase eleven agricultural villages. A portion of the income from these villages he placed in an endowment which was to provide for the upkeep of the Kubrawiya complex, including a mausoleum for the remains of his grandfather Barkharzi. Three copies for the deed of endowment, signed on August 1, 1326, can still be found in Uzbeg archives. Presumably Sorqaqtani’s endowment was also still contributing to the upkeep of the complex. 

Seven years later, in 1333, legendary Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (1304–1368-69), who spent almost thirty years traveling around the Islamic world, arrived in Bukhara. At the time, according to Ibn Battuta, the city was still feeling the effects of the Mongol irruption: “This city had once been the capital of the cities lying across the Jaihun River [Amu Darya], but the cursed Tatar Tinghiz [Chingis Khan] . . . destroyed it so that all of its mosques, madrassahs and market-places lay in ruins, with a few exceptions.” Ibn Battuta was wrong to blame Chingis Khan himself for the desolation he saw. Chingis had sacked the city 113 years earlier, and according to most sources, including Juvaini, Bukhara had rebounded in the aftermath. The desolation which Ibn Battuta claims to have seen was the result of the vicious infighting between the various contestants for control of the Chagaadai Khanate. 

The one exception to the gloomy picture of Bukhara painted by Ibn Battuta was the Kubrawiya complex. According to Ibn Battuta:
We alighted in a suburb (rabat) of Bukhara known as Fathabad, where there is the tomb (qahr) of the learned, devout, ascetic shavkh Sayf al-Din Bakharzi, one of the great saints . . . This lodge is connected with the shaykh; it is immense, and has vast endowments from which travellers are fed. Its superior, Yahya al-Bakharzi, is one of his descendants. He entertained me in his home, and invited the prominent men of the city [Bukhara] for the occasion. The Koran-readers recited with beautiful modulations, the preacher delivered a sermon, and they sang melodiously in Turki and Persian . . . We passed there a wonderful night.
In 1358 the mausoleum of the Mongol ruler Bayan Quli was added to the complex. He had reigned as the nominal khan of the Chagaadai Khanate, to which Bukhara belonged, from 1348 to 1258, when he was assassinated by a rival. It is not clear if he himself belonged to the Kubrawiya sect, but he apparently was inspired by the spiritual legacy of Barkhazi and wanted to be entombed near Barkhazi’s own mausoleum. The mausoleum of Bayan Quli still stands, heavily restored, next to the mausoleum of Barkhazi.

The original mausoleum of Barkhazi seen by Ibn Battuta was later replaced with the mausoleum which now stands on the site. Historical data on the current mausoleum is lacking. The caretaker of the mausoleum and various ephemeral sources—tourist guides to the city, brochures, etc.—indicate only that it was built in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The generally accepted date for the end of Chagaadayid rule in the region and the beginning of the reign of Amir Timur—Tamerlane—is 1370. Thus it is not clear if the mausoleum was built during  the Chagaadayid or Timurid eras. If it was built in Timurid times then the mausoleum of Bayan Quli, built in 1358, may be the only remaining Chagaadayid—Mongol—monument in the city of Bukhara. It is indicative of those turbulent times that the mausoleum contains the body of a Mongol killed by another Mongol.
The Mausoleum of Bakharzi, dating to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The mausoleum of Bayan Quli can be seen in the background to the right (click on photos for enlargements).
The tomb of Bakharzi. According to the caretaker the skull of Bakharzi was removed from the tomb, in 1940 he believes, and taken to Moscow for study. It was later returned and is now in the tomb with the rest of the body.
The Mausoleum of the Mongol khan Bayan Quli. This may be the only Mongol-era monument remaining in Bukhara.


  1. I was just about to get worried about you. Did you hear about this find:

    Not that I care too much for the Mongols invading and sacking Baghdad (even destroying the House of Wisdom's library). What did Mesopotamians ever do to those Mongols?

    BUT, the metal work, though made for those beastly Mongolians, is of Mesopotamian origin, at least.

    Hope your Kindle is keeping you sufficiently warm.

    -a mes

  2. I am still in Bukhara. The internet connection was a bit dicey at my previous guesthouse, so I did not blog anything. Just moved to a new place; connections are a little better here. Will check out the website. My Kindle is by my side night and day . . . A wonderful companion. Never complains. Sleeps when not needed . . .

  3. A wise woman once said that a life without complaints would be very boring.

    -a mes

  4. Yes, but I have reached the age when boring is good.