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

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 . . . 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Greece | Crete | Chania

From Venice I flew to Athens and then wandered on down to the island of Crete. As most of you know, Crete was once part of the Byzantine Empire. Following the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 by Crusaders and Venetians led by Enrico Dandolo the island became part of La Serenissima, the Serene Republic of Venice. It remained part of La Serenissima until 1669 when the Ottoman Turks took over. In 1908, when the Ottoman Empire was on the ropes, indigenous Cretans decided to became part of Greece. The city of Chania on the island has an Old Town dating largely to the Venetian Era and I was of course eager to see it. (Chania, as I was informed several times during my first hour in town, is pronounced xan-Ye.
Crete, the island at the bottom of the map, is 175 miles south of Athens. Chania is at the northwest corner of the island (map courtesy of nationsonline).
Port of Chania (click on image for enlargements)
Downtown Chania
My hotel in the old Venetian quarter of town. The original building was built by Venetians in the 13th century. 
The day I arrived it was overcast and the horizon was not visible. The second morning the skies cleared and I was somewhat startled to see formidable snow-covered mountains to the south of the city. For a moment I thought I was in Anchorage, Alaska, and was staring at the Chugach Mountains. The temperature at sea level was in the high seventies and low eighties. 
Typical street in the old Venetian Quarter
Part of the formidable Venetian walls which once surrounded the city
Surfs up! Lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour.
The promenade along the harbour

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Jahongir Ashurov | Book

Wandered by the old caravanaserai fronting on  Lyab-i Haus, the main public square in Bukhara. I was looking for Jahongir Ashurov, a miniaturist from whom I had bought  Some Miniatures a few years ago (see More Miniatures by Jahongir Ashurov).
Entrance to the old caravanserai (click on photos for enlargements)
Courtyard of old caravanserai. It now hosts the workshops of various artists and craftsmen, including miniaturists, silk weavers, etc. It was very early in the morning and the courtyyard was still dusted with fresh now. Jahongir was not yet there however.
Another view of the caravanserai. I came back at noon when things had warmed up a bit and found Jahongir in his shop. 
Of note among his new works is a complete book containing a poem by Khoja Akhmet Yassavi (1093 a.d.–1166 a.d.) As you probably know, Yassavi is the earliest known Turkic poet who wrote poetry in a Turkic language, and he founded one of the first, if not the first, Sufi orders among Turkish speaking peoples. In his early life he lived in Bukhara and studied under Abu Yaqub Yusuf al-Hamadani (c.1048-1141), who was also the teacher of Ghujdawani (d.1179)

Every element of this book is made by Jahongir, including the miniatures used as illustrations, the hand-written text (which is Uzbek language written in Arabic script, the marbled end papers, and the binding. To Jahongir’s knowledge, he and his brother, who has done a similar work, are the only people in Bukhara and possibly Uzbekistan who are making books like this. Miniatures and bookmaking are not his only skills. He recently returned from a city near Moscow in Russia where he carved various stone monuments.
The book was bound by by Jahongir with silk board covers and a leather spine
Marbled endpapers handmade by Jahongir
Facing pages of illustration and text
Facing pages of illustration and text
Detail of page above
Two facing pages of text
Facing pages of illustration and text
Two facing pages of text
Facing pages of illustration and text
Facing pages of illustration and text
These are just some sample pages. The entire book is for sale for a mere $4000. I am experiencing a temporary cash flow problem or I would buy it myself. Those of you whose portfolios are bulging at the seams from the recent record-high DJIA might do well to diversity into one-of-kind books like this. You can contact Jahongir at jahongir_a@yahoo.com. But please, if you do buy the book, give it a good home. 
Jahongir Ashurov