Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Monday, September 25, 2023

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Bakharzi | Bayan Quli | 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 gave 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.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Mongolia | Arkhangai Aimag | Rainbow


Turkey | Mardin | Deyrulzafaran Monastery

Deyrulzafaran Monastery is located about three and half miles from downtown Mardin. Every travel agent in town offers a stop at the monastery on one their tours of the local sites, but there does not seem to be any public transportation. A taxi costs 25 lira ($11.77), which seemed rather exorbitant. I tried to bargain the price down to 20 lira with several different taxi drivers but to no avail. The last one got a bit huffy and unleashed a barrage of Turkish at me that didn’t seem all that friendly. So I decided to walk. If I can’t walk three and a half miles in an hour it is time to hang up my walking cane. At ten in the morning it was still fairly cool and the walk out of town went quickly. I soon arrived at the turnoff to the monastery at the village of Eskikale. From here it about a mile to the monastery through sparsely vegetated hills inhabited by flocks of sheep and the occasional horse and frolicking colt.  

Outside of the monastery were half a dozen big tour buses, dozen or more minivans with tour groups, and a sprinkling of private vehicles. Just outside of the monastery grounds is a new visitors center with an extensive gift shop and a cafe with abundant patio seating. After quaffing down two liters of water I bought a six lira ticket and entered the monastery. 

Deyrulzafaran is one of the oldest monasteries in the world. It was founded in 439 on the site of a former sun-worshippers’ temple, as was the Mor Behnam and Mort Sara Church. Unfortunately only the main courtyard and several rooms fronting on it, including a small chapel, are open to the public. 
Deyrulzafaran Monastery (click on photos for enlargements)
Deyrulzafaran Monastery
Main entrance to Deyrulzafaran Monastery
Gateway leading to the inner courtyard
The inner courtyard
The inner courtyard
Walkway fronting on the courtyard
Walkway fronting on the courtyard
Dining Hall in the monastery
Chapel in the monastery
View of the plains of Mesopotamia from the monastery
It was quite a bit warmer by the time I started walking back to Mardin. I did not have a hat, and the sun was uncomfortably hot on my head, freshly shaven just this morning. I was just about out of steam by the time I reached the main road back to Mardin. Maybe it was time for me to hang up my walking cane. Then a car stopped. Inside were three downright gorgeous women who looked to be in their twenties or early thirties. The driver asked me in a sexy French accent if I needed a ride. For a moment I thought I might have stepped into a scene in some risqué French movie. Did these women drive around country roads picking up men and ravishing them? Were these women about to ravish me? No, as it turned out.  The driver explained that she and her friends were from France but working in Istanbul. They had flown to Mardin the evening before, rented a car, and were taking in the sights. They planned to fly back to Istanbul tonight. They were now on their way to Midyat. We drove to the edge of town and they dropped me off at the cutoff to Midyat. Back in the Mardin town square I saw one of the taxi drivers who had turned down my offer of 20 lira earlier. “Manastir—yirmi besh! (monastery—twenty-five lira),” he offered, I held out my ticket stub to the monastery and made walking motions with my fingers. He snorted, clearly not believing I had walked to the monastery and was back in time for lunch. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Uzbekistan | Seven Saints of Bukhara

According to the thirteen-century Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvaini, Bukhara, the city in what is now the country of Uzbekistan, “is the cupola of Islam and is in those regions like unto the City of Peace [Baghdad] . . . Since ancient times it has in every age been the place of assembly of the great savants of every religion.”

In the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries seven remarkable men lived in Bukhara and the surrounding Bukhara Oasis. These men were known as the Khwajagan, or Masters of Wisdom. The Seven Khwajagan are: Abd al-Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (1103–1179); Arif ar-Riwakri (1136-1239); Mahmud al-Injir al-Faghnawi (d.1317);Ali ar-Ramitani (d.1315/1321); Muhammad Baba as-Sammasi (d.1354); Sayyid Amir Kulal (1287?–d.1370); Bahauddin Shah Naqshband (1318–1388?)

The Khwajagan remain to this day revered as the Seven Saints of Bukhara, and their mausoleum complexes continue to be visited by pilgrims and travelers from all over the world.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Mongolia | Wanders in Northern Mongolia

Excerpts from Wanders in Northern Mongolia:

Zagastai Pass is also of some geographical interest, marking as it does the Continental Divide of Inner Asia. Little Khatarch Creek, which we had followed toward the pass, flows into a river system draining westward into one of the salt lakes of the Great Lakes Depression, none of which have an outlet to the ocean. On the north side of the pass begins Zagastai Creek which flows into the river systems eventually draining into the Arctic Ocean thousands of miles to the north. To find the source of the greatest of these river systems, the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider, is of course the raison d’être of this trip.
from Part 1, The Source of the Ider

The little boy born here in 1635 on the steppe of this broad valley bottom would later be named the Bogd Gegeen at Shireet Tsagaan Nuur; he would travel to Tibet and study with the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama; he would become the most revered leader in all of Khalkh Mongolia, founding many monasteries and creating great works of art; he would spend over a decade of his life in the Chinese capital of Beijing as a guest of the great Kangxi emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and his fame as miracle worker would spread throughout China; he would eventually die in Beijing and later the magnificent monastery of Amarbayasgalant would be built in his honor and serve as the final resting place of his remains; and in 1937 those remains would be destroyed in a bonfire by Mongolian and Soviet soldiers under the orders of a communist government goaded on by Joseph Stalin.
from Part 11, In Search of Zanabazar

According to the thirteenth-century chronicle entitled The Secret History of the Mongols the people now known as Mongols first appeared at the headwaters of the Onon River just north of a mountain called Burkhan Khaldun in the latter half of the eighth century. These people, then still just one tribe among the many which inhabited what is now Mongolia, soon expanded into the valleys of the nearly Kherlen and Tuul rivers. The upper basins of these three rivers—the Onon, the Kherlen, and the Tuul—make up the so-called Three Rivers Region considered to be the traditional homeland of the Mongols. Also, the mountain known as Burkhan Khaldun, located between the headwaters of the Onon and Kherlen, figured in several episodes recounted in the Secret History and was the scene of a crucial event in the life of Chingis Khan himself. As a result he worshipped this mountain, and he gave specific instructions that it should be honored by his descendants’ descendants forever. As I would learn, modern-day Mongolians have not forgotten this injunction.
from Part 111, The Birthplace of the Mongols

Chingis Khan Rides West

Since the time of the Xiongnu two thousand years ago the nomads of the Mongolian Plateau traditionally looked south toward China for both plunder and trade. In 1215 Chingis Khan turned his attention westward and by 1219 he had decided to invade the Islamic realms of Inner Asia, unleashing a sequence of events that would result in the sack of Baghdad in 1258 by his grandson Khülegü and the fall of the 508 year-old Abbasid Caliphate. The dissolution of the Caliphate by Khülegü dealt a blow to the Islamic world from which some might argue it has never fully recovered. We are still to this day living with the consequences of the Mongol invasion.  

Chingis Khan Rides West examines the motivation behind Chingis Khan’s ride westward to attack the Islamic world and recounts the fall of the great Silk Road cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, Gurganj, and others.

Hungary | India | Shambhala | Csoma de Körös

Csoma de Körös was a full-blown eccentric who devoted his entire life to the pursuit of arcane knowledge. As the Russian theosophist and fairy godmother of the New Age movement Madame Helena Blavatsky noted, “a poor Hungarian, Csoma de Körös, not only without means, but a veritable beggar, set out on foot for Tibet, through unknown and dangerous countries, urged only by the love of learning and the eager wish to shed light on the historical origin of his nation. The result was that inexhaustible mines of literary treasures were discovered.” Among the written works unearthed were the first descriptions of the Buddhist realm of Shambhala to reach the Occident. 

Körösi Csoma Sándor, later better known as Alexander Csoma de Körös, was born in Hungary on 4 April 1784 to a family of so-called Szeklers, a semi-military caste of the Hungarian Magyars who considered themselves descendants of Attila’s Huns. For centuries they had guarded the frontiers of Transylvania against the non-Christian Turks to the south. Csoma was expected to take up management of the family estate but at an early age began exhibiting symptoms of wanderlust . . . See Eccentric Hungarian Wanderer–Scholar Csoma de Körös and the Legend of Shambhala.

Tomb of Csoma de Körös in Darjeeling, India

Monday, July 31, 2023

India | Mongolia | Shambhala Thangka

When I first visited the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum in 1996 I saw a large thangka depicting the Kingdom of Shambhala. It  was the first such thangka I had seen outside of depictions in books. Subsequently I would see dozens if not hundreds of thankgas and wall paintings depicting Shambhala in temples and museums around the world but the one in the Zanabazar Museum remains the best example I have ever seen. The last time I was in the Zanabazar Museum the thangka was no longer on display. A museum docent said simply that it was “in storage.”

Eventually I decided I wanted  a Shambhala thangka of my own. During the late 1990s and early 2000s I visited dozens of shops and galleries featuring Buddhist art in Mongolia, China, Tibet (Lhasa and Shigatse), India, Nepal, and elsewhere but was never able to locate one. People in the shops and galleries either protested ignorance or insisted that such thankgas were no longer made. A well-known lama and artist in Ulaanbaatar was familiar with the thangka but claimed that no one in Mongolia was capable of making one. I doubted this at the time and subsequently I would meet Mongolian artists who were certainly capable of creating a Shambhala thangka. The first lama-artist I had spoken to had disparaged my interest in Shambhala and was openly antagonistic to non-Mongolians, especially Americans. I had a feeling he simply did not want me to have a Shambhala thangka. 

In the meantime, I wandered by Darjeeling, India, where I made a pilgrimage to the grave of eccentric Hungarian wanderer-scholar Csoma de Koros (1784–1842), who had been instrumental in introducing the Shambhala Mythologem to the Occident. Of course I also wanted to sample the region’s justly famous teas (I will admit I was  then partial to Chinese Puerh Tea, but I was willing to give Darjeeling black teas a try). 

Tomb of Csoma de Koros

Csoma de Koros

Tea bushes on the outskirts of Darjeeling

Black tea for sale

The receptionist at the hotel where I was staying turned out to be a emigre from Tibet. I mentioned to him  that I was interested in Buddhist art, specifically thangkas. He suggested I visit a Tibetan artist of his acquaintance. I was directed to the studio of the artist, a man in his early forties named Dawa Bhutia, in a wooded area on the outskirts of Darjeeling. He had been born in Lhasa and later moved to India. In the course of our conversation about Buddhist art I mentioned that I had looked everywhere for a Shambhala thangka but had been unable to find one. Dawa Bhutia was familiar with Shambhala thangkas but had never made one himself. I asked if me could make me one. I could tell he was intrigued by the idea. He said he would first have to do a lot of research on the subject matter before doing the actual painting. The whole process would, he said, take to eight to ten months. We agreed on a price—half up front and the other half upon completion of the thangka—and subsequently kept in touch via email. I was back in Mongolia when I got word ten months later that the thangka was completed. It soon arrived via FedEx. After the usual hassles with getting it through customs—the officials did not know how to evaluate it and I pleaded total ignorance—I finally was able to display the thangka on the wall of my apartment. 

The complete thangka on display in my apartment (click on photos for enlargements)

The painted portion of the thangka

Buddha at upper left hand corner of thangka

Buddha at upper left hand corner of thangka

Kalachakra deity at upper right hand corner of thangka. Shown here in sexual union with his consort Vishvamata. The Kalachakra deity has four heads with three eyes in each head, and twenty-four arms. 

The Kingdom of Shambhala, with eight cities surrounding  the capital of Kalapa 

One of the eight cities of Shambhala

Residents of Shambhala

Kalapa, the capital of Shambhala, with the palace of the King of Shambhala in the middle

The King of Shambhala in his palace

The King of Shambhala

Below the Kingdom of Shambhala is depicted the Shambhala War with the La-Los, or Barbarians, described in some Mongolian sources as Muslims, although this remains a highly contentious issue.  Tibetan tradition asserts that the warrior on the blue horse is Rudra Chakra, the 25th Kalki King of Shambhala.  According to the Shambhala Mythologem, in 2424 Rudra Chakrin will initiate a war against the enemies of the Dharma and after their defeat usher in a new Golden Age when peace and prosperity will reign on the earth. Some Mongolian sources claim, however, that the figure on the blue horse is General Hanuman, the final incarnation of the Bogd Gegeens of Mongolia. In any case, General Hanuman is one of the leaders of the Shambhala Army. 

Rudra Chakrin, or perhaps General Hamuman

The Shambhala Army engaging the barbarians

Detail from above depictions. Not sure who this man is. 

Another officer in the Shambhala Army

Officers in the Shambhala Army leading war elephants and horse-drawn wagons carrying archers into battle

Soldiers in the Shambhala Army

Vanquished foes of Shambhala

Denisons of the realms outside of Shambhala

Detail of Denisons of the realms outside of Shambhala

An Asura?

I subsequently donated this thangka to the Lam Rim Temple, just outside of Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, where it can now be seen. 

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that as of 2023 Shambhala thankgas, including some supposedly made by Tibetan artists now living in Hong Kong, are available on eBay and other outlets on the internet.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

France | Paris | George Roerich In Love

George Roerich was born on August 16, 1902, in the village of Okulovka, located in the Russian province of Novgorod, where his father and mother were taking part in an archaeological expedition. Like his father, he was artistically inclined and began to draw at an early age. When he was six years old, in 1908, a show featuring works by the children of members of the World of Art Association, to which his father belonged, displayed his youthful efforts. “A significant number of drawings are related to military clashes, knightly tournaments, and warlike angels and saints”, we are told. ”According to his mother, “such an interest was not accidental . . . At the genetic level, Yuri Roerich preserved tribal memory; the ancestors laid the warrior magnetism in him.” As we have seen, his mother was the grandniece of General Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army that defeated Napoleon in 1812. Yet another relative on his mother’s side claimed to be descended from Batu Khan, grandson of Chingis Khan and founder of the Golden Horde, and it was later claimed that he was an reincarnation of the fourteenth-century warlord Tamerlane. After the Russian Revolution, however, when the Roerichs were living in Finland, George’s interests took a more scholarly bent, and he began to study Eastern literature and languages. It was in these fields that he would excel. 
When the Roerichs moved to England in 1919 George enrolled in the Indo-Iranian Department of School of Oriental Languages at the University of London, where he   studied under famed linguist Edward Denison Ross, who could read in forty-nine languages and speak in thirty, including Tibetan. The first languages George studied were Persian and Sanskrit. He also organized the anti-Bolshevik group known as the Russian Youth Circle. Like his father, his views on Bolshevism would change by the time he arrived in Mongolia. It was in London, of course, that his mother first encountered Master Morya, who would put the Roerichs on the path to Inner Asia and Shambhala. To further prepare for this epic journey in the spring of 1920 George applied to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his application he stated that wanted to “‘continue and complete” his education in Eastern languages and philosophy. 
The Roerichs arrived in New York on October 3, 1920. On October 21 George began classes at Harvard, where he studied under acclaimed scholar Charles R. Lanman, founder of the “Harvard Oriental Series”, which featured English translations of Indian classics.  George took courses in Sanskrit, Pali, Greek, and Chinese and was soon recognized as a prodigy. He was able to get a degree in two years. He now set his sights on studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. 
In August of 1920, apparently just after the Roerich family’s stay on Monhegan Island, George proceeded to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. He took up residence with the Chklaver family, headed by Gavriil Grigorievich Chklaver, who had been a successful businessman and banker back in Russia before the revolution. Nicholas and Elena had crossed paths with him several times and he was now happy to assist George. Gavriil Grigorievich’s own son George was also a student at the Sorbonne, and the two Georges became thick friends. In addition to his linguistic studies, which by now included the Tibetan and Mongolian languages, George took courses in military science, studying under the Russian ex-general N. N. Golovin, and jurisprudence. As we have seen, George had been obsessed by martial themes as a young boy.  But why we might ask was the scholar of languages interested once again in military science and also in jurisprudence? His biographer explains:
As an alleged descendent of the Scandinavian Vikings, Yuri [George] claimed that he sensed a militant spirit in his veins, and the fact was further confirmed by the Master [Morya] who revealed that he had been Tamerlane in one of his former lives and prophesied that he would again lead the Mongolian hordes in the future apocalyptic Shambhala War. So Yuri apparently wanted to prepare himself for the battles he would wage for the sake of the Messiah. As for jurisprudence, he might need it as a participant in the Roerichs’ mission or “spiritual embassy” to the ruler of Tibet.
Meanwhile George continued his language studies with the influential French Indologist Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935); Jacques Bacot (1871–1965), the leading Tibetologist in France at the time; Paul Jules Antoine Meillet (1866–1936) a pioneering French linguist; and renowned Sinologist Paul Eugène Pelliot (1878–1945). In the winter of 1923 he was elected to the prestigious Linguistic Society and the magazine “French Pages” began publishing his weekly column entitled “Literary and Political Views”. George’s career in Paris appeared to be a roaring success. Meanwhile back in New York his parents were putting in motion plans for their long awaited Khora around Inner Asia, in which George was to play a leading role. Then a monkey wrench was thrown into the whole works. George had fallen in love.  
Curiously enough—in light of later events—it was Nicholas Roerich who had instructed his son to look up the Manziarly family when he arrived in Paris. Stefan de Manziarly was of French-Italian descent but a citizen of Russia. Headquartered in Kharkov, in what is now Ukraine, he had made a fortune mining coal in the Donetsk Basin and was among the business elite in pre-Revolutionary Russia. The family had emigrated from Russia just before World War I and ended up in Paris. We hear little more about Stefan—he transmigrated in 1920—but his wife Irma made quite a splash. She was in communication with some of the leading intellectuals of the period, including the Russian philosopher, theologian, and Christian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948), and was herself a formidable scholar who translated classical Indian texts, including the Upanishads, a part of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, from Sanskrit into Russian. Irma was also a hard-core Theosophist who was active in the French section of the Theosophical Society and  who led a group which met to study Madame Blavatsky’s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine. She befriended Annie Besant, who had been named president of the Theosophical Society in 1907, and had made several trip to Adyar, the headquarters of the society in India. She soon became a patron of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986), whom Annie Besant had grandiosely declared was the World Teacher, the  Eastern successor to the Nazarene Messiah. 
Amid all this activity she also found time to have four children: three daughters—Marcelle, Iolanthe, Marseille—and a son, Alexander. The children were introduced into the Theosophical milieu and they along with their mother were soon taking vacations in Italy, France, and Switzerland with the World Teacher Krishnamurti. It was all very heady stuff for the young girls. Of the daughters, Marcelle, or Mara, as she known to her family and friends, was perhaps the most accomplished. Born on October 13, 1899, she would twenty-two when George turned up on the Manziarly’s doorstep on September 30, 1922. George, born on August 16, 1902, would have been just over twenty. Sina Lichtmann, however, repeated the Roerich line that, “She [Mara] is four or five years older than Yury, and the two of them [Mara and her mother] have completely beguiled the boy.” The claim that Mara was four or five years older than George is also made by various biographers. Despite her youth, Mara had already composed musical works that had been played to acclaim in France and Holland. Upon hearing her music, George declared that it expressed an ”occult something.” 
Also, both Mara and her mother were, like the Roerichs themselves, devotees of Master Morya, the Himalayan Mahatma. George noted in his diary:
6 November 1922. I am eagerly waiting for messages from M.M. [Master Morya] Here something miraculous is happening to us. We [George and Mara] write automatically, see visions, etc. Before the writing we often see how the atmosphere is getting filled with blue stars and spheres.
It was beginning to sound like love. Then came the kicker. Master Morya, speaking as Allal Ming, declared that in an earlier life, when George had been incarnated as Tamerlane, an earlier incarnation of Mara had been his wife. This inspired Mara to start work on a large orchestral poem to be called “Tamerlane”. Soon it was clear that George had gone head-over-heels for Mara. He had found his soulmate, or as he himself put it, somewhat infelicitously, “my own Ego dressed in [a] skirt.” In a letter to his parents he gushed: “I am so madly happy!!! . . . Not a trace is left of the Harvardian Roerich.” This was apparently George’s first foray onto the battlefield in the war between the sexes and it could be excused if he got a little carried away. In another letter he enthused:
I would like to tell you about Mara. She is a remarkable person in many ways. She is different from her sisters, being very profound, mystical and sensitive. A close friend of Krishnamurti, and what’s most important she is devoted to our cause and the Service. She is an excellent musician, and I am so happy that I will have music in my life. Today her “Trio” was played in concert and it had great success. On December 11 a Russian choir will chant her “Songs without words”. I have already heard them and they are wonderful. Soon her ballet will be staged; it is called “Nataraja”, a God who manifests himself through the world dance.
On November 17, 1922, six weeks after they had met, George proposed to Mara and she accepted. Mara’s mother Irma was all in. She had earlier opined that Nicholas was ““a prophet and saint”” and that Elena was ‘saint’s wife.’” Now her daughter was gaining entry into this illustrious family. The marriage was scheduled for January 19, 1923. Now all George had to do was inform his parents. “‘Today, on the 17th, I declared my feelings to Mara and it turned out that we both deeply love and feel for each other. In a word, I decided to marry and go to India as a married man,’”  he wrote to his parents. Furthermore, he declared that if permission to marry was not granted he would “go and sacrifice myself in some crazy expedition into Africa or Indo-China.”
Back in New York Nicholas and Elena were shell-shocked. Nicholas had sent George to the Manziarlys with the best intentions, thinking that Irma would help him set up a branch of Corona Mundi, his art association, in Paris, and provide them with access to the World Teacher Krishnamurti, whom they hoped to meet with when they arrived in India. Nicholas also envisioned opening a “Lodge of Morya” in Paris with the help of the Manziarlys. He had not foreseen George getting swept off his feet by Irma’s daughter. Elena had a conniption fit. If only he had hooked up with some inconsequential French tart of the kind young men are prone to the matter could have easily been dismissed and George set back on the straight and narrow. But Mara Manziarly was no fly-by-night floozy. She was a formidable competitor for George’s affections.
Suddenly the whole khora around Inner Asia was called into question. Master Morya had declared that the four Roerichs—Svetoslav was included in early plans—were to lead the Western Buddhist Mission. There was no place for a fifth wheel, assuming that Mara would ever agree to such a multi-year journey into the wilds of Inner Asia. Yet how could George leave a new bride behind? There was an added complication. When the Roerichs eventually arrived in India they hope, to meet with with Besant, then head of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, and the newly anointed World Teacher Krishnamurti. To seek the favor of the Theosophists in India Nicolas offered to dedicate a painting, “The Messenger”, to Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society. The problem was, in his various meetings with the Manziarly family Krishnamurti had come to the conclusion that Mara was destined for a spiritual life that included celibacy (whether he himself remained celibate is a matter for some dispute).  For Mara to enter into married life with George would be viewed by him as a betrayal. At the time it was still crucial to the Roerichs’ plans to remain in the good graces of Krishnamurti, but a married George and Mara would hardly be welcomed in Adyar by the new Messiah. George, however, showed no signs of acquiescing to his parents’ objections. Instead he announced that not getting married to Mara would result in “‘spiritual death.’” On December the Roerichs, with heavy hearts, sent George a wire saying that they accepted his decision to marry. 
Then Nicholas and Elena got some breathing room. It turned out that the still-wet-behind-the-ears George could not be married in France unless his parents were present or had provided written permission notarized by the French consul in New York.  Bureaucratic complications ensued— Nicholas and Elena may have dragged their feet—and various documents flew back and forth to no avail.  Meanwhile, Madame Chklaver, who was still hosting George in Paris, wrote to Elena claiming that the Manziarlys were an “immoral family” and that Irma and her daughter were scheming to entrap the obviously unworldly and naive George into marriage. What’s more, George was cutting his classes at the Sorbonne and he and Mara were frittering their time away at parks and other leisure spots. 
Master Morya seemed to concur with Madame Chklaver. Sina Lichtmann noted in her diary:
January 4, 1923 We visited the Roerichs and had a séance. E.I. [Elena] is alarmed by the events. The night before they had a very sad séance at which it was Said [by Master Morya, hence the capitalization]: “The son’s reputation, needful to Me, is perishing.” After the séance we had a talk about the current serious times and E.I. mentioned that they’re having significant difficulties with Yury [George], who is the target of Madame Manziarly’s matrimonial ambitions for her daughter. She is four or five years older [sic] than Yury, and the two of them have completely beguiled the boy.
Elena wrote to George informing him that according to his horoscope January was a bad time to get married. She also relayed numerous messages from Master Morya, including: ““Udraya [George] should take care to avoid hasty decisions,’” and “Udraya, learn to act your age.’” Master Morya had earlier told George that in previous lives he and Mara had been married and thus their love was preordained, but now the Mahatma had apparently changed his mind as far as marriage was concerned. Elena’s constant harping finally wore George down, and finally it was decided that since the Roerichs were planning on coming to France in the spring of 1923 while on their way to India the whole matter of marriage could be postponed until then. 
In the meantime, Irma Manziarly, who by now was viewed by the Roerichs as nothing less than the Wife of Potiphar herself, had turned up in New York City. It seemed that the Roerichs had earlier, when they were still trying to enlist the Manziarlys in their various schemes, invited Iolanthe Manziarly, Mara’s sister, to New York to teach a class in eurythmics at the Master Institute.  Iolanthe (Io  to her friends) had met with Elena earlier. On November 16, the day before George proposed marriage in Paris, Sina Lichtmann met with Elena, who told her about a disturbing dream she had had a few days before: 
She awoke at about 3:00 a.m., saw a blinding light; her head was filled with images of crazily spinning circles, and she felt a huge weight that was rolled all over her body. She said that she had a terrible feeling of fear for her body. She felt totally exhausted afterward.
The very next day Iolanthe Manziarly paid Elena a visit. Iolanthe intimated that all was not well in the Manziarly household. According to Sina:
She [Iolanthe] painted her mother in a completely different light than what E.I. [Elena] had imagined: as a woman who had abandoned her children and had lived only for the sake of others, while at the same time causing her children to suffer terribly. That story made a great impression on E.I. She told me that she understood: she too should not become so absorbed into herself and her own world that she forgets her children, and that she was quite close to that.
Irma Manziarly arrived in New York City in late January. According to Sina, Elena “was dreading the upcoming visit by Mme. Manziarly . . . and how hard it will be to have a conversation with her after all the trouble she caused with Yury in Paris.” The first meetings between the two matriarchs did not go well. According to Sina, Irma “had made quite a poor impression. It was difficult for E.I. to be around her; she suffered from headaches and other ailments for two days after her visit. Only one thing has made E.I. accept her: her loyalty to the Master [Morya] and submission to His will.”
Shortly after her first meeting with Irma Manziarly Elena wrote to George:
Are you ready to cross out all achievements and lose the access to the Teacher? Right now I see a star lighten up in front of me. This is the sign of communication with the Teacher. This is the sign of harmony. Yurik, my very own, find the strength to resist this early marriage—don’t kill yourself . . . Mara is only the fact of current time, but she can change your karma. Your karma is brilliant, it leads to us. You should go with us and be our heir.
On January 29 Sina reported:
Spent the evening at the Roerichs’. E.I. is going through a very difficult time; she has to see Madame Manziarly frequently, whom she apparently quite dislikes. She threatened E.I. [Elena] with the death of her son if she separates him from her daughter. E.I. recalled a recent dream in which she kept a small, gray snake on her hand under the glove, thinking that it would not bite her. And on her hand there was a small cut, and suddenly she felt the snake bite her directly into that cut. She had already realized that this snake was Manziarly. Of course, now she will be trying to harm the Roerichs at every opportunity. 
But that wasn’t all. Master Morya now declared that unlike the Roerichs, all of whom claimed to be reincarnations of illustrious figures dating back at least to the time of the now sunken continent of Atlantis, Irma Manziarly in a past life had been a “Frau Necht, a vegetable seller in the nineteenth century, most insignificant.” 
In late March Irma Manziarly further infuriated Elena by having a notice of the upcoming nuptials of George and Mara published in the London Theosophical magazine Herald of the Star. On March 20 Sina reported:
Incidentally, N.K. said that now the vision (or a dream, I don’t remember) of E.I. in which she was hiding a little snake in her glove, which suddenly bit her in the scratch on her hand, has become clear. That snake is Madame Manziarly, who bit them again in the already existing wound by announcing Yury’s engagement to her daughter in a theosophical magazine and not in a newspaper so that this news would spread in theosophical circles.
Krishnamurti was now aware that his disciple Mara was planning to marry George Roerich. It is not quite clear what his reaction was. Perhaps he had his mind on loftier matters. In any case, it was going to be awkward if the Roerichs met up with Krishnamurti in India.
The Roerichs—Nicholas, Elena, and Svetoslav—arrived at Cherbourg, France on May 14, 1923, and George, sans Mara, was there to greet them. The whole family was in Paris a few days later. Nicholas, Elena, and Svetoslav checked in at the Hôtel Lord Byron on rue Lord Byron while George remained with the Chklavers. Nicholas had a raft of activities involving the Great Plan lined up, but first and foremost the George and Mara matter had be resolved. Master Morya began bombarding Elena with messages which she relayed to George. On May 20 the Mahatma pronounced: “Urusvati [Elena] is right. Manziarly should be told about friendship only.” This enigmatic message may have meant that while the Master would countenance friendship between the two love birds marriage was out of the question. The next day Morya weighted in again: “We don’t see marriage . . . Udraya has disobeyed the Order, stirred up the waves of old karma . . . a good lesson for Tamerlane [George].” Since Sina Lichtmann, Elena’s mouthpiece, was not present we learn very little more of what actually transpired between George and his parents. 
We do know that on May 25 Louis and Nettie Horch arrived in Paris for an extended stay. Apparently they and the Roerichs had planned beforehand to make a grand tour of the continent. A few days later the Roerichs, including George, and the Horchs set out to see the sights in France and then proceeded on to Italy and Switzerland. Mara was not invited. George’s parents may have wanted to separate the two so they could talk some sense into him without her around. Meanwhile Mara showered George with letters. By August she had apparently realized that the marriage was not going to happen, at least anytime soon.  “I can’t imagine my path without you,” she wrote George. “In a few years, maybe in Russia, we shall live together.” 
Not much more is known about the relationship between George and Mara, except for the fact that by the time the Roerichs returned to Paris the marriage was definitely off. It may have been a sore subject, the less said about the better. Popular semi-hagiographical biographies of the Roerichs make no mention whatsoever of the Manziarlys, George’s infatuation with Mara, or their proposed marriage. It’s as if the whole episode never occurred. One thing is for sure. When the Roerich family departed from France for India on November 16, 1923, George was with them and Mara remained behind. Not long afterwards Irma and her daughters, including Mara, themselves departed for India. They proceeded to Adyar, where they hoped to met up with Krishnamurti. Adyar had been on the itinerary of the Roerichs but then they changed their minds and the two families did not cross paths. 
Mara probably never saw George again after their last meeting in Paris. While in India she threw herself into her work, composing music for piano and orchestra. She finally completed the symphonic poem “Tamerlane”, which George had inspired her to write, but by then it had become, in the words of George’s biographer, “a hymn to unfulfilled love.” She eventually returned to Paris, where she lived until the outbreak of World War II, when she decamped to the United States. She ended up the Theosophical enclave in Ojai, California, where Krishnamurti would also take refuge. Famous American composer Aaron Copland (1900–1990) dedicated a song  to her entitled "Heart, We Will Forget Him", apparently a reference to George Roerich. Krishnamurti, who decades before had marked Mara as his disciple, transmigrated at Ojai on February 17, 1986. Mara transmigrated at Ojai on May 11, 1989, just a few months shy of her ninetieth birthday.
Mara never married and the available short biographies of her life make no mention of any relationships after George. George apparently entered into some sort of long-term conjugal relationship with Lyudmila Bogdanova, the Russian woman the Roerichs had hired in Ulaanbaatar as a cook and who, along with her sister Iraida, went on to serve the Roerich family for thirty-some years. This may have qualified as a common-law marriage. In any case, George never had any children. George and Mara had sacrificed their love for the sake of the Masters and the Great Plan. Perhaps Master Morya will unite them again in another lifetime. 
George Roerich