Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Kalon Mosque

The first big mosque in Bukhara was constructed in 713 within the walls of the Citadel. In 770 a new congregational mosque with accompanying minaret was built outside the Citadel, apparently on the site of the current Kalon Mosque. From the eighth to the eleventh centuries the mosques on this site was repeatedly damaged or destroyed by earthquakes and fires and subsequently rebuilt and enlarged. In 1121-22, during the rule of the Qarakhanids, a still larger mosque and minaret was built on the same location using wood from the previous structure. The minaret soon collapsed, seriously damaged the mosque. In 1127 the mosque was rebuilt yet again, along with the accompanying 153-foot high Kalon Minaret.

In the year 1220, on the 10th, or the 16th of  February, depending on whose account we believe,  the hitherto noble city of Bukhara Fell To Chingis Khan and his army. He and his son Tolui rode their horses into the big Friday Mosque on the site of the current Kalon Mosque, where Tolui dismounted and ascended the minbar, or pulpit. According to the Persian historian Juvaini, Chingis then asked if this was the palace of the Khorezmshah: he was informed by the imams in attendance that it was not the palace of an earthly ruler but the House of God. He too then dismounted and climbed up onto the pulpit. Although it may have been the House of God, he had more earthly concerns. The Mongols’ horses were hungry and must be fed, he ordered from the pulpit. The city’s granaries were opened and the grain dispensed for horse feed. Chingis’s men dragged the cases which were used to store Qurans out of the mosque, dumped out the sacred books, and used them as feeding troughs for their horses. Their horses having been seen to, they ordered up wine and dancing girls for their own entertainment. Soon the mosque rang with the sound of Mongol songs bellowed by the celebrating inebriates. 

Juvaini, although a scribe in pay of one of Chingis’s descendants, was a Sunni Muslim himself, and he could not keep a note of disapproval out his account of these carryings-on. Hitherto dignified imams, sheiks, and sayyids, he tells us, were made to look after the Mongol horses while their owners partied. When the bacchanalia was over the Mongols rode away, trampling under the feet of their horses the leaves of the Qurans which had been scattered around the courtyard of the mosque. At this point, an imam named Jalal-al-Din Ali b. al-Hasan Zaidi, “chief and leader of the sayyids of Transoxiania . . . famous for his piety and asceticism,” turned to an imam named Rukn-ad-Din Imamzada, “one of the most excellent savants in the the world,” and lamented, “ . . . what state is this? That which I see do I see it in wakefulness or in sleep, O Lord?” Apparently all of which he had just seen seemed like a nightmare to him. His companion replied, “Be silent: it is the wind of God’s omnipotence that bloweth, and we have no power to speak.” 

The mosque was totally destroyed in the fires that followed the Mongol sack of the city. It is not clear when a mosque was first rebuilt on the site. In 1539, under the Shaybanids (r. 1500–98), whatever structure did exist was replaced by a completely new mosque with 289 vaulted bays. This is the version of the mosque which has survived down to the present. 
The Kalon Minaret, center, survived the sack of the city by the Mongols and can be seen to this day. On the right is the entrance to the current Kalon Mosque. On the left is the front of the Mir-i-Arab Madrassa
Front of the Kalon Mosque
Another view of the front of the Kalon Mosque
Entrance to the Kalon Mosque
Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque. It can reportedly hold 10,000 people. 
Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque
 Courtyard looking the other way (Enlargement for a mes)
The Courtyard
Courtyard of the Kalon Mosque
Current Minbar (pulpit) in the mosque, obviously not the one mounted by Chingis Khan and his son Tolui.
Vaulted bays on either side of the Courtyard
Vaulted bays on either side of the Courtyard (Enlargement for a mes)
Vaulted bays on either side of the Courtyard
Graybeard fingering his beads in the courtyard
Dome of the Kalon Mosque
Bukharan Skyline, with the Kalon Mosque on the right 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Mir-i-Arab Madrassa

On the other side of the square from the Kalon Minaret and Mosque is the Mir-i-Arab Madrassa, built around 1535. The Shaybanid ruler Ubaydullah Khan reportedly used his share of the money from the sale of 3,000 Persian slaves to finance its construction. The project was carried out by Sayyed Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh, a Sufi shaikh from the Yemen (some sources say from Sayram in what is now Kazakhstan—take your pick) who arrived to Bukhara around 1515 and became Ubaydullah Khan’s friend and spiritual advisor. The finished madrassa became known as Mīr-i-Arab, another version of Sayyed Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh’ name. 

The madrassa was active from its founding until the 1920s. Only Arabic language was used in the study of theological subjects. Mathematics and the sciences were not encouraged and anyone caught reading secular history, literature, or poetry was immediately shown the door. The madrassa was closed down in 1926 and not reopened until 1946, when Stalin decided to  placate the Uzbek people by throwing then a few bones of religious freedom. The madrassa is currently active and hosts a hundred or more students who pursue studies in Arabic language and theology. 
 Mir-i-Arab Madrassa
  Entrance to Mir-i-Arab Madrassa
Entrance to Mir-i-Arab Madrassa 
 Decoration of facade
 The tomb of Sayyed Mīr ʿAbd-Allāh’—Mir-i-Arab—is in a room just to the left inside the front entrance. The tomb of his patron Ubaydullah Khan is just behind it. 
 Decoration in Tomb Room. Reportedly it is the original and not restored.
Detail of decoration in Tomb Room 
MIr-i-Arab Madrassa at night 
 MIr-i-Arab Madrassa at night
MIr-i-Arab Madrassa at night. A curious optical illusion is created whereby the entranceway looks convex instead of concave.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Kalon Minaret

I already mentioned that only two structures in Bukhara survived the invasion of the city by Chingis Khan in 1220: the Ismael Samani Mausoleum and the Kalon Minaret. The later is located right in the very heart of city, in a large plaza between the Kalon Mosque, the largest mosque in Bukhara, and the Mir-Arab-Madrassah. The current structure is 153 feet high, making it visible, some say, for as far as eight miles from the city. Chingis Khan, approaching from the north, no doubt had the Kalon Minaret  in sight as he zeroed in on the city. 

A Friday Mosque has stood on the sight of the current Kalon Mosque since at least the tenth century. The first Kalon minaret was built to accompany this mosque in 919, during the time of the Samanids, but it was destroyed by “an act of God”, perhaps an earthquake, in 1068. A wooden minaret was built to replace it by the Arslan Khan of the Qarakhanids, who ruled Bukhara at the time, but this structure later collapsed, reportedly killing many people who were worshipping in the mosque at the time. Another account claims the minaret was destroyed during one of the many sieges of city in the eleventh and early twelfth century.

In 1127 Arslan Khan ordered a new minaret (some sources say it was completed in 1127), one that would withstand any acts of either God or man. A foundation of mortar fortified with camels’ milk, egg yokes, and bulls’ blood was set forty-five feet into the ground and allowed to harden for two years. Then construction began on what would be at the time the largest fresh-standing tower in the world. Arslan Khan was overjoyed by this monument which glorified his city throughout the Islamic geosphere, but the architect, a man named Usto Bako, was dissatisfied by the end result: “The flight of my fancy was greater than the minaret I built,” he lamented. Reportedly he was buried 153 feet from minaret, the same distance as its height. 

Chingis Khan was reportedly so impressed by the minaret that he ordered his troops not to destroy it. Even to this day tour guides tell the story that when Chingis first approached the minaret he bent his head backwards to take it all in until the fur hat he was wearing fell off his head. The underlying theme of this story as told by Uzbeks is that Chingis was basically a country bumpkin from the steppes of Mongolia who had never seen the sophisticated monuments of an advanced civilization before and was thus amazed that human beings could have created it. This story may of course be completely apocrophal, but for whatever reason the minaret has survived down to the present day.

The Kalon Minaret, with the Mir-Arab-Madrassah on the left and the Kalon Mosque on the right 
 The 153-foot high Kalon Mosque
The current minaret stand on an octagonal base and has twelve separate bands of distinctive brickwork. Each band is different and the patterns never repeat themselves.
 The gallery at the top has sixteen windows
Another view of Kalon Mosque

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | City Walls

The dating and location of the various city walls which have surrounded Bukhara for the last 1500 years or so is an extremely complicated subject which has flummoxed many a determined investigator. Original sources are scarce, contradictory, and confusing, but the ever-resolute W. Barthold has waded into the morass and emerged with a short synopsis, although even this hallowed Orientalist at times displays a lamentable lack of cogency. Other secondary sources, including guidebooks to the city right down to the present day, only succeed in piling on more layers of obstrufication. 

We might assume that the city was protected by walls from the attacks of nomadic raiders and bandits as far back as the early Sogdian period, starting around the beginning of the Christian Era, and that the city was surrounded by walls by the time of the Arab invasions in the eighth century. We do known that the old pre-Samanid town, dating back as far as the time of Abu Muslim in the first half of the eighth century, had both a wall around the rabad, or outer town, and an inner wall around the Shahristan, or inner town. The rabat wall had eleven gates, but no accurate information is given about its length. These double walls was rebuilt by the Qarakhanid Arslan Khan Muhammed in first half of the twelfth century, again by Qilich Tamghach Khan in 1165, and finally by the Khorezmshah at the beginning of the thirteen century. The walls repaired or restored by the Khorezmshah were the ones encountered by Chingis Khan when He Arrived At The City In 1220

Yet the available accounts of Chingis’s investment of the city mention his troops besieging only one wall. This must be assumed to the Shahristan Wall. Perhaps the Rabad Wall was only intended to keep out bandits and small raiding parties and not a large and determined army like Chingis’s. Also, manning the outer wall  might have spread the available troops dangerously thin. Thus the military commanders of the city may well have decided to cede the outer wall to Chingis and set up a defensive ring on the shorter inner wall, which was also presumably stronger and higher than the outer wall. 

In the event, however, the Shahristan Wall was easily stormed by Chingis Khan’s army and was later completely destroyed. According to local historians not a trace of it remains to the present day. We do know however, that the vast cemetery (now Kirov Park) where the Ismail Samani Mausoleum was built was outside the Shahristan Wall, and inside the Rabat Wall. The Shahristan Wall must have run somewhere, therefore, somewhere between the Ark, or inner Fortress, and the Samanid Mausoleum. 

The city walls, now partly restored, currently visible just beyond the Samanid Mausoleum in Kirov Park, were built by the Shaybanid Dynasty in the sixteenth century and probably rebuilt and repaired in the eighteenth century. How closely this Shaybanid Wall follows the old pre-Chingis Rabad Wall is uncertain. In any case, these partially restored walls may give a general idea of the appearance of the walls Chingis faced when he arrived on the outskirts of the city in 1220.
Partially restored gate in the Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Another restored gate in the Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Shaybinid Wall
Modern Bukhara: Shaybinid Wall to the left; shopping center to the right

Monday, March 12, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Chasma Ayub

Seven hundred feet northeast of Ismael Samani’s Mausoleum is the Spring of Job, he of Afflictions notoriety. According to legend, way back in Old Testament days, long before Jesus was even a gleam in Joseph’s eye (assuming you do not believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception) Job was wandering around in Mawarannahr, the land north of the Amu Darya River. As if he did not have enough problems of his own, here in the valley of the Zerafshan River, where Bukhara is now located, he encountered a terrible drought. A famine raged and people were dying of thirst. Job in his rage at these conditions thrust his walking stick into the ground and amazingly enough sweet, cool water began to pour out of the hole he had made. This water source began known as the Spring of Job, or Chasma Ayub. 

In the 12th century the Qarakhanid chieftain Arslan Khan, who then ruled Bukhara and as we shall soon see also built the famous Kalon Minaret, built a monument around the spring (which in fact appears to be a well). Apparently at least the foundation of this structure survived the Mongol assault on the city in 1220, and in 1380 or perhaps 1384 (a dated inscription over the door is unclear) Amir Timur, the immortal Tamerlane, apparently rebuilt or restored the existing structure and added a conical cupola on a high drum. This conical design is foreign to Mawarannahr, and at least one historian has speculated that it is the work of Khorezmian architects and builders who Amir Timur imported into the area after the fall of the Khorezemian capital to his troops in 1379 (Khorezm, as you know, is the ancient realm located on the lower Amu Darya, northwest of Mawarannahr). The other domes may date to as late of the sixteenth century. 

Apart from its unusual domed cupola and other domes the starkly austere fortress-like building is devoid of any exterior ornamentation. Inside the Spring (or well) of Job still provides water which is said to imbued with beneficial qualities. Many people come here on pilgrimages both to drink the water straight from the well and to fill bottles to take home. Some women apparently believe that drinking the water will help them conceive children. Even in the short time I was present three woman who came in separately drank the water and then sat down on the nearby benches to engage in fervent prayer. Presumably these prayers will work in coordination with the active participation of their spouses. In any case, the water does seem quite sweet, especially compared with the notoriously lousy Bukhara city water, and only slightly mineralized. I am a connoisseur of drinking water and while the Spring of Job may not provide the tastiest water in the world it is certainly passable, and an extra fillip of interest is added by its association with Job. 

Just behind well, in a separate room, is a tomb. Some tour guides and local touts insist that this is the tomb of Job himself. You may wonder how an Old Testament character ended up buried in Bukhara, but remember, Daniel, he of Lion’s Den fame, is said to be buried in Samarkand. Written histories and guidebooks, however, maintain a discrete silent about who may be buried here. But if the Afflicted One is not buried here then we must wonder who is?
 Front of Chasma Ayub
 Back of Chasma Ayub, showing the unusual conical dome on a high drum
 Water spigots offering water from the Spring of Job. The tomb can be seen behind. 
 The Spring of Job (apparently a well) itself
The tomb behind the well. Does Job rest here after his Sojourn in this Vale of Tears?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Uzbekistan | Tashkent | Bukhara

Woke up this morning in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. I am not quite sure how I got here. I seem to recall a hurried trip to the airport in Ulaanbaatar; a three hour flight to Seoul, an overnight in a luxurious hotel near the airport, courtesy of Korean Airlines, since I was flying with KAL to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, the next day; a seven hour and twenty minute flight from Seoul to Tashkent; a night in the Grand Wazoo Hotel in Tashkent; a quick trip in the pre-dawn darkness to the domestic airport in Tashkent, a fifty minute flight to Bukhara; and taxi ride to Komil’s Guesthouse in the southern part of the Old City, where I soon found myself in the ornately decorated dining room having breakfast.
Welcoming sign at Komil’s
 Entrance to Komil’s Guesthouse
  Interior of guesthouse. The building was once the private residence of a prosperous Bukharan trader.
 Dining Room in the guesthouse
Wall furnishings in the dining room
Wall furnishings in the dining room

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mongolia | Incarnations of Javsandamba 16 – 25

Earlier I posted about the statues of  the first  First Sixteen Incarnations of Javzandamba on display in the Larivan Temple at Erdene Zuu, in Kharkhorin, Övörkhangai Aimag. The sixteenth incarnation was of course Taranatha, who was born in Tibet and died in Mongolia. 
16. Жонан Дарната
Jonan Darnata (Taranatha) statue at Erdene Zuu
Tibetan thangka of Taranatha
This spectacular late nineteenth century thangka of Yamantaka (it measures over seven feet in length) was just recently unearthed in the archives of the Bogd Khaan Winter Palace Museum, a vast repository of materials many of which have never been put on public display before or even catalogued. The first twenty-four incarnations of Javzandamba are depicted at the top of the thangka. 
Taranatha on the Yamantaka thangka above
The next nine incarnations (17 through 25) served as the Bogd Gegeens of Mongolia. The first was of course Zanabazar
17. 1 Богд Занабазар (1635-1723)
Zanabazar  (Enlargement)
Statue of Zanabazar in the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum 
18. II Богд Лувсандамбийдонмэ (1624-1557)
19. lll Богд Ишдамбийням (1758-1773)
20. IV Богд Лувсантүвдэнванчуг (1775-1813)
21.  V Богд Лувсанчүлтэм Жигмэддамбийжанцан (1815-1841)
Luvsanchültem Jigmeddambiijantsan 
22.  Vl Богд Лувсанбалдандамбийжанцан (1643-1648)
23. VII Богд Агваанчойживанчүгпринлайжамц (1849-1868)
24.  VIIl Богд Агваанлувсанчойжинямданзанванчүг (1869-1924)
Eighth Bogd Gegeen Agvaanluvsanchoijinyamdanzanvanchüg 
25. IX Богд Жамбалнамдолчойжижанцан (1932 – )
The Ninth Bogd Gegeen lives in Ulaanbaatar but reportedly is in very bad health. Speculation has already begun on where the 10th Bogd Gegeen will be born.