Showing posts with label Uzbekistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Uzbekistan. Show all posts

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

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

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Uzbekistan | Samarkand | Khazret Khizr

Although there were several more sights of interest in Tashkent I decided I better focus on places connected with the Mongol invasion of Transoxiana in 1219-20 and thus hurried on to Samarkand. Almost everyone has heard of Samarkand, in large part because it pops up so often in literature. Milton, Keats, the Persian poet Hafiz, Oscar Wilde, and who knows how many others took a crack at it. 

Oscar Wilde:

The almond groves of Samarkand, Bokhara, where red lilies blow
And Oxus, by whose yellow sand
The grave white-turbaned merchants go. 

Then there is the novel Samarkand, by Amin Maalouf, one of my favorite authors, which I recommend most highly. But of course the most famous work about Samarkand is that old chestnut of early twentieth century Romantic  Orientalism, Hassan: the Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand, or more simply, The Golden Road to Samarkand, by James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915):

 Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells,
 When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
 And softly through the silence beat the bells
 Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

 We travel not for trafficking alone;
 By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
 For lust of knowing what should not be known

Although Samarkand is fairly dripping with historical sites—the Registan, the tomb of Amir Temür (Tamurlane), the tomb of his favorite wife, the Mongolian princess Sarai Mulk, etc., all of which I will get to eventually, I thought that I had better head first for the mosque and tomb of Khazret Khizr, known as the Eternal Wanderer and Patron Saint of Travelers (some folks might be interested to know that Khizr is also the Patron Saint of Marijuana)
Mosque of Khazret Khizr
Located in a low hill overlooking Sarai Mulk’s tomb the Khazret Khizr complex is certainly not the most imposing edifice in Samarkand, but it does boast of some extremely intriguing associations. Its namesake, Khizr (also Khidr, Khidar, Khizr, Khizar, Hızır, etc), is an enigmatic figure in Islam (he is also identified with Elijah from the Christian Bible):
There are differences amongst the scholars regarding whether Khidr is still alive, or has died.  There also exists questions regarding whether Khidr was a Prophet or a saint. Many scholars are of the opinion that he is still alive, while others, such as Hafidhh Ibn Taymiyyah and his followers are of the opinion that he has died.
If he is still alive he must be several thousand years old, since he was famous for gallivanting around with Moses, the Ten Commandments Guy from the Old Testament. 

In any case, he is particularly venerated by Sufis:
In Sufi tradition, al-Khiḍr has come to be known as one of those who receive illumination direct from God without human mediation. He is the hidden initiator of those who walk the mystical path, like some of those from the Uwaisi tariqa. Uwaisis are those who enter the mystical path without being initiated by a living master. Instead they begin their mystical journey either by following the guiding light of the teachings of the earlier masters or by being initiated by the mysterious prophet-saint al-Khiḍr.
The courtyard of the complex

The ceiling of the porch in front of the mosque is reminiscent of those found in Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist temples.
Behind the mosque is what purports to be the grave of Khidr. Of course those who believe that he was only a legendary figure who never actually lived or that he was/is a living entity who has never died but now lives in Occultation in this or some other dimension, appearing in our mundane three dimensional world only when his services are required, will not accept that this is actually his tomb. In any case, the tomb has become an object of veneration. He belongs to the category of saints whose bodies  grow or increase in length after their deaths thanks to the devotion shown them by the faithful. The prophet Daniel, he of Lion’s Den fame, who as we shall see is also reputed to be buried in Samarkand, is another such figure whose body supposedly keeps growing.)

Elongated tomb of Khidr
The current mosque is a relatively new construction, dating to only 1823. A mosque in one form or another has stood on this site at least back to the eighth century, however. This original mosque, said by some sources to be the very first mosque built in Samarkand after the Islamization of the area, was in turn built on a site of what one source describes as a heathen temple of idol worshippers. This is often a code name for Buddhists. This brings to mind Xuanzang (602?–664 AD), the peripatetic Chinese pilgrim and inveterate gadabout who starting in 1629 made a monumental seventeen year journey from Xian in China to India and back, passing through Transoxiana in the early 630s. The first place of note he visited was Shash, or Chach, a place usually associated with modern Tashkent, the current capital of Uzbekistan. Called Che-Shi by Xuanzang, the area was more a collection of oasis towns than a city itself, perhaps some but not all of them within the current boundaries of Tashkent. He has little to say about Che-Shi, other than that the land was very fertile and and that is was under the dominion of the Western Turks. 
Statue of Xuanzang at Jiayuguan in Gansu Province, at the very end of the Great Wall
Like me, he turned up next in Samarkand, which he calls Sa-Mo-Kien, and was clearly impressed: 
It is completely surrounded by rugged land and very populous. The precious manufacture of many foreign countries is stored here. The soil is rich and productive, and yields abundant harvests. The forest trees afford a thick vegetation, and flowers and fruits are plentiful . . . The inhabitants are skilful [sic] in the arts and trades beyond those of other countries. The climate is agreeable and temperate. The people are brave and energetic . . . They are copied by all surrounding peoples in point of politeness and propriety . . . 
Xuanzang’s disciple and biographer, Shaman Hwui Li, adds that “The king and people do not believe in the law of  Buddha, but their religion consists of sacrificing to fire” (Zoroastrians). He also mentions two Buddhist temples in the city but adds that no monks dwell in them and that they appeared to have been abandoned long before. Apparently two of Xuanzang’s young disciples tried to enter one of them and were chased away by “barbarians” with “burning fire” (apparently Zoroastrians). 

Xuanzang was granted an audience with the king of Samarkand, a vassal of the Western Turks, and was at first treated disdainfully. After a night’s rest Xuanzang had another meeting with the king and this time,
discoursed . . . on the destiny of men and Devas; he lauded the meritorious qualities of Buddha; he set forth, by way of exhortation, the character of religious merit. The king was rejoiced, and requested permission to take the moral precepts as a disciple, and from that time showed him the highest  respect.


This of course according to his faithful disciple Shaman Hwui Li, who never tired of heaping his Master with laurels. In any case, the king did not seem to take the precepts of Buddhism entirely to heart, since when he heard that two of his subjects had chased away Xuanzang’s disciples with burning brands when they tried to enter the old Buddhist temples he ordered that their hands be cut off. The Master of the Law—Xuanzang—intervened and begged the king not to mutilate the two culprits. Instead the king ordered that they be given a sound thrashing and then expelled them from the city. 

Although it is possible that the “heathen” temple which first occupied the site of the mosque was Zoroastrian, it is intriguing to speculate that it was one of the Buddhist temples described by Xuanzang. The mosque built on this site, or a subsequent version of it, was destroyed by Chingis Khan in 1220. Later mosques also occupied the site, the latest version built, as noted, in 1823. Even this last version, however, is said by local historians to be built on the stone foundation of the mosque which was destroyed by Chingis in 1220. Thus I appear to have found a remnant of old Samarkand which existed before the Mongol invasion of the area. 
Another view of the Khazret Khizr Mosque

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Jewish Quarter

Just south of Trade Dome #1 is Bukhara’s Jewish Quarter. There had been a big Jewish community in Bukhara for centuries and during the nineteenth century it seemed to have flourished, considering the luxurious mansions which many Jewish traders built at the time. After the fall of the Soviet Union many members of the Bukhara Jewish community emigrated to Israel, the U.S.A. and other countries. A few stayed behind and some have renovated the mansions of their families into Guesthouses. Others sold their properties to individuals in Bukhara who have either turned them into guesthouses or use them as private residences. Some were sold to gadabouts and adventuresses seeking second homes in Bukhara. While in Bukhara I visited one of these second homes which is now under renovation. 
Street in the Jewish Quarter (click on photos for enlargements)
 Entrance to mansion in the Jewish Quarter
 The extensive quarters of the mansion are built around a courtyard. This is the main part of the compound, including the big dining room on the first floor. 
 Some of the other buildings surrounding the courtyard
 The Dining Room, always a prominent feature in the homes of the Jewish merchants of Bukhara
 Entrance to the Dining Room 
Decoration in Dining Room
 Decoration in Dining Room
 Decoration in Dining Room
 Decoration in Dining Room
 Decoration in Dining Room
 Decoration in Dining Room
 Decoration in Dining Room
Mausoleum of a Sufi holy man in the Jewish Quarter
This photo of Jewish boys and their teacher was taken in 1910 by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in Samarkand, but presumably the Jewish people of Bukhara looked much the same at the time.

See Illuminating Jewish Life in a Muslim Empire for an intriguing story about the Jewish community a thousand years ago in Afghanistan, just to the south of Uzbekistan.