Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Uzbekistan | Qarshi | Chingis Khan | Sufi Tombs

We all know that Chingis Khan finally conquered the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand on March 19, 1220. He then dispatched his two middle sons Chagaadai and Ögödei west to Khwarezm with orders to take the city of Gurganj. His two Hounds, Jebe and Sübedei, were sicced on the Khwarezmshah, the erstwhile ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, who had fled from the Mongols across the Amu Darya into what is now Afghanistan. Jebe had earlier tracked down and brought to bay the Naiman Adventurer Khüchüleg, After spending a few weeks in the Samarkand area enjoying the fruits of his conquest, Chingis Khan himself and a contingent of troops proceeded to the Nasaf region, centered upon the city of Nasaf (current-day Qarshi) about sixty miles southwest of Samarkand. This area, watered by the 230-mile long Kashka Darya River, which begins in the outliers of the Tian Shan Mountains to the east, was celebrated for its lush pasture lands. (Cultivated in Russian colonial and Soviet times, the region was and is a big producer of cotton and wheat and has become known as the breadbasket of Uzbekistan). Here Chingis Khan and his men spent the summer resting and fattening their horses.

While relaxing in these rich grasslands Chingis Khan may have had occasion to meet with some Sufis who were living in the area. Throughout his career Chingis had always shown an interest in “holy men”, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims or Taoists, although of course he never actually professed to any of their teachings. Now at leisure near Nasaf, he met with two prominent Sufis, the brothers Khazrati Qussam Sheikh (1192-1338) and Djabbar Shoji, the grandsons of Akhmet Yassavi (1093–1166). Yassavi, born in Sayram in what is now Kazakhstan, is widely believed to have founded the first Turkic Sufi order, the Yassaviyya, and some credit him with being the first Turkic poet to write poetry in a Turkic dialect. Indeed, People Today In Bukhara are still making books using his poetry. 

Khazrati Qussam Sheikh and Djabbar Khoji, it may be assumed, were members of the Yasaviyya Sufi order. Just what these two worthies discussed with Chingis Khan, assuming this story is just not apocryphal, is unrecorded. At some point, however, Djabbar Khoji must have done something to earn Chingis’s ire. According to local legend, Chingis Khan ordered his execution. The tombs of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh and numerous of his relatives can still be seen in his large mausoleum complex just east of Qarshi. There is even a legend that Ögödei Khan, son of Chingis Khan, is buried in this mausoleum, although there is no proof of this assertion. Where Ögödei is buried, if anywhere, is somewhat of a mystery. There are three very elaborate tombs in the mausoleum not belonging to Khazrati Qussam Sheikh’s family. Even the otherwise very well informed director of the mausoleum claims not know who is entombed in them.
 The Mausoleum of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh (click on photos for enlargements)
The tomb of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh
 The tombs of Khazrati Qussam Sheikh’s relatives
 One of the three elaborate tombs in the mausoleum. Tales that Ögödei Khan, son of Chingis Khan, is buried in one of them are apparently apocryphal. No one seems to know who is buried in the tombs. 
Arabic lettering on the tombs
 Courtyard of the Mausoleum
 Graybeard who guards the Mausoleum
Graybeard
Djabbar Khoji, the brother allegedly executed by Chingis Khan, has his own mausoleum deep in the Kyzyl Kum Desert 65 miles west of Qarshi. Although quite isolated, it is an very popular pilgrim destination. The imam in charge of the complex is quick to tell  visitors, quite unbidden, that Djabbar Khoji was killed by order of the great Chingis Khan from Mongolia. 
Mausoleum of Djabbar Khoji
Tomb of Djabbar Khoji
 Tomb of Djabbar Khoji

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Italy | Venice | Ca’ Rezzonico

Wandered by the Ca’ Rezzonico on the Grand Canal. The palazzo dates back to the 1660s, although it did not achieve its present look until the 1750s. The original owner went bankrupt trying to complete it. After changing hands several times it was bought in the 1880s by Robert “Pen” Barrett Browning, son of Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with money from his American heiress wife Fannie Coddington, who was said to be enthralled by the elder Brownings, famous poets that they were, but by Pen not so much. He won her hand and dollars only after a fourteen-year courtship. Pen cut a somewhat ambiguous figure. According to one recent author, “Pen Browning was destined to spend his adult life watching people register the thought, ‘That’s what those two poetic geniuses produced?’ but his parents considered him a marvel of aesthetic discernment and religious piety.” The American author and Venetomaniac Henry James, who knew Pen and his father personally and attended poetry reading at the palazzo, weighted in with this:
[The palazzo is] altogether royal and imperial—but ‘Pen’ isn’t kingly and the train de vie remains to be seen. Gondoliers ushering in friends from pensions won’t fill it out . . . There seems but one way to be sane in this queer world—but there are so many ways of being mad. And a Palazzo-madness is almost as alarming—or as convulsive—as an earthquake—which indeed it essentially resembles.”
Pen’s famous father died here on December 12, 1889. Later Pen was accused of having an affair with a blonde Italian bombshell by the name of Minerva who he had introduced into the household as a housekeeper-cum-model (he dabbled in painting and sculpture). He also installed a menagerie of birds, snakes, and other wildlife, turning the palazzo into a zoo, both literally and figuratively. Fanny finally got fed up and fled with her dollars, but the two never divorced. Pen sold the Ca’ Rezzonico in 1206 and retired to Asolo, the famous hill town on the mainland, where he died on July 8, 1912. 

The new owners let out the palazzo to, among others, the American composer and entertainer Cole Porter, who rented it in the mid-1920s for $4000 a month, $58,500 a month in today’s money. It was here that he held his notorious bacchanalias that shocked locals and bedazzled the ex-pat community. One frequent guest at his parties was Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, a.k.a “Bricktop”(due to her red hair), a half-black-half-Irish jazz singer, dancer, and nightclub owner born in a small town in West Virginia who had washed up in Paris, where Porter met her in a nightclub and invited her to the Ca’ Rezzonico to teach his other guests the Charleston, the latest dance craze from the States.  The palazzo is now a museum and the visitants are much more sedate.
Ca’ Rezzonico (click on photos for enlargements)
Plaque commemorating Robert Browning’s death at Ca’ Rezzonico. It includes the famous line from one of his poems: Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it ‘Italy’.
Ca’ Rezzonico
The Grand Canal from the front of Ca’ Rezzonico
On the top floor of the palazzo is a gallery full of titillating paintings by Venetian artists. No museum in Venice can match it for the sheer amount of mammaries on display. This is just a sampling:

Nightmare date?
The word “louche” springs to mind
What’s going on with the asp?
Some guys have all the luck . . .
You can’t help but envy the little fella
Redheads. What can you say?
Call SVU!
Nice bellybutton!
The guy on the right is obviously a satyr, but what’s with the little cherub on the left?
Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus) emerging from her clam shell. I was especially intrigued by this painting, since I have visited Aphrodite’s birthplace on Cyprus Island.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Günjiin Süm | Temple of the Peaceful Princess

The 1657 danshig naadam held for Zanabazar at Erdene Zuu after his return from his second trip to Tibet marked the ascension of his influence among his Mongolian followers. As the Russian ethnographer A. Pozdneev points out, “The Gegen’s might in Eastern Khalkha reached its extreme limits at this time; they believed in him and came to him with the most extraordinary requests.” For instance, his nephew Galdandorj, son of the Tüsheet Khan, met with Zanabazar and implored him to cure his wife’s infertility and grant him a son. After numerous such entreaties Zanabazar finally said: 
I know that thou wouldst need a son; therefore when I set out in a miraculous manner for Tibet, I visited there the mountain of the hermits, and in a certain cave I found a lama named Arthasiddha, a reincarnation of Vajrapani. I told him that there was one prince among us who needed a son, and asked him for that; he replied to me that when he had completed his meditation he would be ready to be reborn as the son of that prince. In proof of his fairness, I demanded that he give me an acknowledgement, and I now present it to thee. This lama died today, and his soul ought to be incarnated in the womb of thy wife. 
Galdandorj’s wife did shortly thereafter become pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son who was given the name Dondovdorj. 

After Zanabazar recognized Manchu suzerainty in 1691 the Qing emperor awarded Galdandorj the title of Darkhan Chinwang (Chinese = qinwang, prince of the 1st rank). His son Dondovdorj was brought up in Beijing, in the Qing court of Kangxi, and in 1697 the emperor gave him a princess to marry. Most sources state that the princess, named Khichenguy Amarlinguy, was one of Kangxi’s own daughters, while some maintain she was the daughter of one of the first degree Qing princes. In either case, his marriage led to Dondovdorj’s further advancement in the Qing court, and in 1700, after his father’s death, he too was awarded the title of Darkhan Chinwang, in addition to becoming the new Tüsheet Khan. Dondovdorj was, however, a notorious boozer, a devil-may-care lady’s man, an all-around roisterer, and a poet to boot, and after egregious affronts to public decorum he was finally forced to relinquish both his position as Tüsheet Khan and his Qing title of Darkhan Chinwang. 

Reduced in rank to a second-degree prince, Dondovdorj returned to Mongolia, presumably with his Manchu wife. He eventually distinguished himself on the battlefield and apparently fought against the resurgent Zungarian Mongols who under the leadership of Galdan Bolshigt’s nephew Tsevan Ravdan had Invaded Tibet in 1716. 

The Qing emperor Kangxi died in 1722. Zanabazar was in Mongolia at the time of Kangxi’s death. He immediately decided to return to Beijing and pay his respects to Kangxi’s remains, even though he was in his late eighties at the time. Accompanying him was Dondovdorj. The new Qing emperor, Kangxi’s son Yongzheng, forgave Dondovdorj’s previous transgressions and he was again elevated to the title of Darkhan Chinwang. As an additional perk he was given yet another Manchu princess in marriage. 

Not long after his arrival in Beijing Zanabazar fell ill. Sensing that his end might be nearing, his attendants asked him where and under what circumstances he would be reborn. According to tradition, Zanabazar replied, “The second wang [Dondovdorj] should bring into his home a maiden belonging according to birth to the year of the monkey or chicken.” This was interpreted to mean that Dondovdorj was to find a Mongolian girl born in either the year of the monkey or the chicken and that the second Bogd Gegeen would be born to her. Apprised of this prophesy, the emperor Yongzheng gave Dondovdorj permission to immediately return home and seek a new wife. Back in Mongolia Dondovdorj straight away found a nineteen-year old woman named Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu who had been born in the year of the monkey, and just a month or so after his marriage to his second Manchu princess he took her as his third wife. 

Zanabazar himself died in 1723 at the Yellow Temple in Beijing. In 1724, “at daybreak on the first day of the middle of the spring moon in the Wood Dragon year,” a son was born to Tsagaan-Dara-Bayartu. In 1728 the boy took his first monastic vows and was given the name Luvsandanbidonme. In 1729 he was declared the Second Bogd Gegeen, the seventeenth incarnation of Javzandamba. 

Dondovdorj’s second Manchu wife faded into the background and nothing more seems to be known of her. To this day, however, numerous folktales exist about the first one, Khichenguy Amarlinguy, who moved to Mongolia to live with her husband and eventually had seven sons by him. “The Peaceful Princess,” as she was called, came to love her adopted country and its people. She considered herself a Mongolian and according to legend she said that when she died she wished to be buried in Mongolia: “It is unnecessary to take my corpse back to China for burial. I became a Mongol person because of being the wife of a Mongol. It is thus necessary to bury me in Mongolia.” 

Yongzheng’s successor, Qianlong, apparently heard about the princess’s wish and after she died in 1739 or 1740 he ordered that a temple be built to hold her remains. Günjiin Süm, as the temple was called, consisted of five parts: a stele tower, the Bogd Entrance, a guard house, the central temple, and the grave of the princess. The complex was heavily damaged in the 1930s, however, and of the guardhouse and the Bogd Entrance now only remnants remain. The stele tower just in front of the entrance to the temple compound has been restored, however, and inside is a stone turtle with a stele mounted on its back bearing an inscription in Chinese and Manchurian, dedicating the temple to “The Peaceful Princess” (in some renderings the “The Quiet Princess”).
The Temple (click on photos for enlargement)
The temple itself was gutted but the shell remains and has been restored to a certain extent. The eight-foot-high brick wall around the temple encompassing a square about 200 feet long on each side is still in fairly good shape on three sides.
North side of the walled compound
The princess’s grave, behind the temple, was reportedly looted in the early thirties not, according to local informants, by communist iconoclasts, but by common thieves looking for gold, silver, and other valuables believed to have been buried with her.
The Peaceful Princess’s Looted Tomb
Researchers examining the site in 1949 found remains of the princess’s sandalwood coffin and what were apparently the ashes of her body, which had been burned by the looters. Next to the coffin was a body of a heavy-set man preserved sitting upright in the lotus position. His identity is unknown. The ashes of the princess have since been scattered to the four winds.

Location: N48°11.009 – E107°33.379, 35.6 miles northeast of Ulaanbaatar as the crow flies and sixty-four miles by road via the tourist center of Terelj; at the upper end of Khökh Chuluutyn Gol, a small tributary of the Dund Bayangiin Gol, which flows into the Tuul River near Terelj. Accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicle, as several small streams north of Terelj must be crossed. In summer it might be necessary to walk the last mile or so because of the swampy road, but in winter, when the ground is frozen, it is possible to drive the whole way, assuming there is not too much snow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Tibet | Takten Damcho Ling | Taranatha

I posted previously on The Great Stupa of Jonang and Dölpopa. A couple of miles down the side valley in which the stupa is located, fronting on the main valley of the Tsangpo River, is the monastery of Takten Damcho Ling, founded by the famous historian and Kalachakra practitioner Taranatha, the previous incarnation of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. 
The lower section of the Takten Damcho Ling complex, with the Tsangpo River in the distance
Another view of the lower part of the complex. 

Taranatha (1575–1634) was, at least within the Jonang tradition, thought be an incarnation of Kunga Drölchok, who like Dölpopa had been born in what is now Nepal. Also like Dôlpopa,  Kunga Drölchok was first a follower of the Sakya sect. He eventually received the Jonang transmission of the Kalachakra Tantra and other Jonang teachings. Later he was asked to head the Jonang sect. After he died, Taranatha become leader of the Jonangpa. In the words of Cyrus Stearns, author of The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen:
In the history of the Jonang tradition, Taranatha is second in importance to Dölpopa himself. He is responsible for the short-lived Jonang renaissance in Tsang and Central Tibet during the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries, and the widespread revitalization of the shentong theory in particular. 
He was one of the last great translators of Sanskrit tantric texts into Tibetan and was an incredibly prolific writer himself. His History of Buddhism in India and The Origin of Tara Tantra are still in print today. 

Takten Damcho Ling was established by Taranatha in 1615 with funds provided by the Tsang ruler Desi Puntsok Nyamgyal (the monastery is also known as Puntsok Ling). When it was finally completed in 1628 it was the largest Jonang monastery in Tibet, boasting of a large college, sixteen temples, and a printing press. Some 10,000 monks were said to live in the monastery and the surrounding area. According to monks there today many of the temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Currently eight of the temples are in use. The monastery also has a small guesthouse where I stayed when I visited. There are no other tourist facilities in the area.
Lower part of Takten Damcho Ling looking up toward the upper ruins
Ruins of upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Italy | Venice | Palazzo Mocenigo

Wandered by the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo, just behind the Church of San Stae on the Grand Canal. The museum also hosts the Study Centre of the History of Textiles, Costumes and Perfume. The museum and study center is housed in the former palazzo of the Mocenigos, one of the most prominent families in Venice for a period of several hundred years. Seven Mocenigos became doges: Tommaso (1414–23), Pietro (1474–76), Giovanni (1478–85), Alvise I (1570–77, Alvise II (1700-1709), Alvise III (1722-32), and Alvise IV (1763). There were two branches of family, one located here at San Stae and another further on down the Grand Canal at San Samuele. A member of the San Samuele branch, Giovanni Mocenigo, was notorious for denouncing irrepressibly hard-core pantheist and unapologetic Hermetic occultist Giordano Bruno to the Catholic Inquisition, which resulted in Bruno being burned at the stake in Paris on Ash Wednesday, February 17th, 1600.
Church of San Stae
Entrance to Palazzo Mocenigo
Costume Exhibit (click on photos for enlargements)
Costume Exhibit
Costume Exhibit

Costume Exhibit
Costume Exhibit
Book of perfume recipes plus raw ingredients for making Perfume. I was of course in Seventh Heaven here. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Turkey | Mesopotamia | Mardin

Wandered out to Mardin, in southeast Turkey, 673 miles east-southeast of Istanbul, on the very border between Anatolia and Mesopotamia. The Syrian border is about 14 miles to the south, but there are few visible signs of the war in Syria in this part of Turkey. Mardin is famously located on the side of a 3700-foot high hill overlooking the great plain of Mesopotamia. The southern edge of the town is at about 3000 feet, but at the Syrian border the elevation has already dropped to 1600 feet, almost 2000 feet lower than the town. 
 The hillside city of Mardin (click on photos for enlargements).
 The great plain of Mesopotamia viewed from Mardin—home of Suberians, Hurrians, Elamites, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Romans, and Byzantines—and that’s just up the fourteenth century!—and beloved by current day Neo-Mesopotamians.
 The town of Mardin
 Most of the lanes running up and down the town are staircases. 
 The narrow streets of Mardin. 
The 170-foot high minaret of the Great Mosque (Ulu Camii), built by order of Qutb ad-din Ilghazi in the 12th century. As you probably know, Qutb ad-din Ilghazi was the ruler of the Artuqid Turks, who in the 12th century established an emirate more-or-less independent of the Saljuq Sultanate of Rum. The mosque originally had two minarets, but one was reportedly destroyed by Amir Timur (Tamurlane). 
Courtyard of the Great Mosque
Mardin is the jumping-off point for the region known as Tur Abdin, “Mountain of the Servants of God” or “Mountains of the Hermits”, which rumor has it may contain a Portal to Shambhala. More on Tur Abdin to follow . . .