About Uzbekistan

The Shrines of Bukharian Sufism. Bahauddin and Chor Bakr
18 December 2017

Bukhara is a city of rich history with a heritage that still influences the world. For a good reason it was called an Athens of the Orient and thousands of tourists visit this fabled city every year. Traditional tours to Bukhara unless specifically organized for the Muslim relics tourists quite often miss to include into the programs some major Sufi shrines, while Bukhara was known to be one of the main centres of this Muslim doctrine and gave the world many great Sufi teachers.

Located on the Silk Road, the city has long been a center of trade, scholarship, culture, and religion. During the golden age of the Samanids, Bukhara became a major intellectual center of the Islamic world, second only to Baghdad.

Cultural traces of Bukhara are more visible in Muslim countries, where this city was once called the Dome of Islam in the East. Turkic-Persian Bukhara in the Middle ages was one of the world centers of Sufism - the mystical sect of Islam, to some extent similar to monasticism and divided into tariqahs - religious orders of Sufism differing from each other. In their various mystical practices, similar to meditation, or to shamanic dances (like the famous "whirling dervishes"), Sufism often reinterpreted local pre-Islamic traditions, and found a fertile ground in the semi-pagan Central Asia: it is due to Sufism that Central Asia is associated with this cult of graves, mausoleums and necropolises, that is generally strictly forbidden by "pure Islam." There were many small schools and tariqahs, mentors and saints in Bukhara of 11-15 centuries that succeded each other, and the result of that process is Naqshbandi - the largest even in our time Sunni spiritual order of Sufism, which sacred sites and the classics of local architecture in Bukhara neighborhoods we will cover in this post: Kulal and Bahauddin east of the city and the giant necropolis of Chor Bakr - to the west.

Of course, you can take an individual tour and the guides that our travel agency can arrange you will show you these places, but our aim was to make a guide for those who would prefer to explore those sites on his own and provide the detailed information on how best to do it. Basically, all these places can be reached by local minibuses, but taxis are very cheap in Bukhara and if there are couple of you it is much better option than using public transport, besides you will save a lot of time by having transport at your disposal.

If you are in Bukhara you would probably know about the "seven pirs" - the most important holy places in the vicinity of Bukhara, where the followers of the Sufi brotherhoods that originated here come for the Little Hajj: Bukhara itself, Bahauddin, Kulal, Vabkent, Gijduvan, Romitan and Shafirkan. Some Muslim saints are buried there with entire complexes of mausoleums, mosques, madrassas and khanqahs that form a complex system of mentors and students, on the "top" of which is Bahauddin himself - one of the most honored saints of Central Asia, the founder of the Sufi brotherhood of Naqshbandi, whose adherents are now in the entire Islamic world. And the wide road that you take after turning left from the airport was repaired on the money of Arab sheiks who often come here. It leads to the village of Kasri-Orifon, known to all Uzbeks simply as Bahauddin.

But we will visit it on the way back, our first point is the village of Sukhor (better known to Muslims as Kulyal), located a little further, 15 km from Bukhara:

In Central Asia, the mazars of the great saints often form double systems with the mazars of their mentors, such as Yassawi and Arystan-baba in Southern Kazakhstan. Same goes to Said Amir Kulyal, who was the teacher of Bahauddin and is buried here. Large mazars and khanakas in the local architecture occupy roughly the same niche as monasteries in the Christian world. Behind the gate from the photo above the long alley leads to the "two-humped" mausoleum of 14th century, though seriously renovated in our time. The left dome belongs to the mosque, the right one to the grave, alongside which is the characteristic pole with the flag that can be noticed at all Seven Pirs:

The left dome belongs to the mosque, the right one to the grave of Amir Kulal

The son of an Arab who moved to Bukhara, Amir Kulyal (his real name is Shams ud-Dīn Amir Kulal) lived in the 14th century.  His father Saif ud-Dīn Hamza was head of the Kulal tribe and a renowned scholar. As head of the tribe, Saif ud-Dīn Hamza was titled Amir-i-Kulal (Leader of Kulal tribe). Shams ud-Dīn Kulal was elected as tribe's head after his father's death. Although all the heads of Kulal were titled Amir-i-Kulal, it was Shams ud-Dīn whose name has become synonymous with the title-name. Today, he is mostly remembered as Amir Kulal, rather than his birth name.

Kulal is also translated as a potter, and in the ordinary life that was his main occupation. Still, potters in Bukhara consider him as their patron. He was also a wrestler, and it was in the wrestling competitions in his youth where he was spotted by Sheikh Mohammed Samusi from Romitan, and soon became the best of his pupils. Samousi was also the first teacher of Bahauddin himself, but before his death put him under Kulal’s care. The old master of martial arts and spiritual practices, who took in training a boy with a special gift sounds like a plot of some legend form China or Japan, but as you can see same happens in Islamic world as well. Amir Kulal turned out to be a great teacher, and there are about fifteen saints among his disciples.

Looking from outside the pir is rather modest and mostly modern – half an hour would be sufficient to inspect it. Behind the mausoleum is an ancient cemetery, where the relatives of Amir Kulal are buried:

And closer to another exit is a new-built mosque with a toy minaret:

And a pretty beautiful aivan - it's really great that Uzbeks do not forget their crafts:

Paying tribute to the teacher, let’s proceed to Bahauddin. The Kasri-Oriphon village was once called Kasri-Hinduvan, and the second in translation meant the Castle of the Indians, and the first was the Castle of the Enlightened, and as it is not hard to guess that the name changed after the birthplace, life, and the burial of Saint Bahauddin. His biography is told in detail here, although in other places it is said that as such Bahauddin's biography does not exist, since he forbade recording his affairs. Nakshbandi, like Kulal, is the nickname for the craft he was engaged in - the Minter, and so the Tariqah Nakbshandi can be translated as the Order of the Minters. Strongly different from other tariqahs, Tariqah Nakshbandi absorbed the ancient Arab-Persian traditions and the "Turkic people's Islam" of Ahmet Yassawi (from which the lesser known brotherhood of Yassawi originates). Naqshbandi is among the "12 mother tariqahs" and now by the number of followers (primarily in Central Asia, India and Turkey) takes the second place after the Qadiri Order. In general, the mazar of Bahauddin is a shrine of the global scale. Below are the newly renovated (2003) south gate facing the road:

Outside the gates, the alley between the high walls of the khan's necropolis leads to a huge dome of khanaka, which is visible for several kilometers. The Naqshbandi Sheikhs of the Jujbary clan (we will mention them later) were the spiritual guides of the Shaybanids since Ubaidullah, who in 1533 transferred the capital from Samarkand to Bukhara and apparently at the same time started the construction of the khanaka and other buildings of the Bahauddin mazar, finished under the other Abdulatif Khan in 1544:

The center of the mazar is a small enclosed courtyard, where you get from the alley through the inconspicuous narrow door. The gray dahma (gravestone) under Pir’s pole is the grave of Bahauddin Naqshbandi, who died in 1384. The dahma is riveted by marble blocks and enclosed above an openwork of marble lattice. The tomb of Shaykh Baha-ud-Din is located on the top platform, with the marble gravestone and stele. A small khauz (basin) is at the north, and riveted by the marble as well.

As already mentioned, he spent his entire life in Bukhara and the surrounding area, leaving the city only three times - once to Herat and twice to Mecca. But the local Sufis at that time were so busy that they did not need to leave the oasis - in its vicinity there were enough sages and saints, and in fact Bahauddin simply collected their experience. Some even do not consider his as the founder of Nakbshandi order – they believe that he only perfected the already existing order of Hajeganiy (to which Samusi of Romitan belonged), which in turn was perfected by Abdulkhalik Gijduvan from the ancient Persian order of Bistamia.

Bahauddin's motto was "Hands to work, heart to God," and one of the distinctive features of his tariqah was the rejection of beggary: every member of Nakshbandi order must know at least two crafts and be able to feed not only himself but others as well. The main spiritual practice was a "quiet dhikr", that is, something similar to meditation performed in a certain position and with a certain rhythm of breaths, breath holding and exhalation. The exchange of experience between the teacher and the student was prescribed through a very deep spiritual intimacy. Among the most important principles were the "stoppage of time" (a person should count every second and treasure all that he has: "youth - to old age, health - to illness, wealth - to poverty, freedom - to slavery, and life - to death ") and "seclusion among people" (to live a kind of ordinary life, to engage in worldly affairs, but to devote the heart to spiritual quest). In general, like many religious teachings, Naqshbandi teaches what one should do in everyday life and what even the most hardened atheist would find hard to argue with.

In the courtyard at the grave among the aivans there is a tiny house and a gazebo:

Pay attention to the amazing ceiling. Looks like the columns and cornices here are replica (2003), but the carved gilded ceilings themselves are made too finely and subtly and apparently were preserved from the 1540s:

Even if they are replicas as well – that is the best modern replica at least in the post-Soviet countries. A true feast for the eyes:

The courtyard of the grave adjoins the corner with the khanaka (1544) - a Sufi dormitory with cells around the hall for common spiritual practices (in this case - quiet dhikr meditations). A few more small buildings were built in front of it in the 18th and 19th centuries - two mosques on either side of the entrance (both on the left), small minaret and madrassas (on the right):

The local khanaka is considered the largest either in Central Asia, or in the world. Unusual two-story aivan on the picture above is blocked by a minaret that is very unusual:

The minaret and the women's mosque (from the entrance to the right) were built in the 1710s by the mother of the last Ashtarkhandi Khan Abulfase, under which Kokand separated from Bukhara and the Bukhara itself was subjugated by the Persian Nadir Shah, whose regent Rakhimbi founded the last Manghud Dynasty of Bukhara. But the spirit of Ashtarkhanid "golden autumn" is still felt in the ceilings of the women's mosque:

The men's mosque was built in the beginning of the 19th century by the vizier of the cruel Emir Nasrullah, the last emir before the conquest of Bukhara by Russia. Here the interiors are frankly dull - Central Asia was already in deep decline:

Modest madrasah, of the same period, its courtyard is occupied now by a museum

Behind the madrassah is a vast house, on the other side some modern construction - judging by the avian facing a wide field, this is a namazogh-mosque:

The dry mulberry - according to legend this is the sprouted stick of Bahauddin, and the pilgrims try to go around it three times or crawl under the protruding root:

View in the opposite direction to the giant khanaka. It is in principle noticeably smaller than the Yassawi mausoleum in Turkestan, which also contained a mausoleum, a khanaka, a mosque, and even a khan's palace with a necropolis, while here is just the khanaka in its pure form. Most impressive is the dome with external arches, reminding of a pack tied with ropes:

The rear door of the khanaka.

And in the backyard there is a necropolis of khans and emirs of Bukhara. It is not quite clearly who rests here as the information is contradictory - some sources write that most of the rulers starting from Ubaydulla Khan, other sources that only Sheibanids rulers. In any case, there are not only khans resting here, but also their numerous relatives:

The graves are placed on special podiums, which are called here "dahma" - originally this word meant Zoroastrian "towers of silence". Between the Dahmas are streets and alleyways:

The space of the necropolis and the western gate. 

... In the evening of the same day I travelled to Chor-Bakr in the village of Sumitan on the western outskirts of Bukhara, on the other side of the city. The popular local route is from Bahauddin to Chor Bakr through the summer emir's palace of Sitorai Mohi-Khosa. Chor Bakr, translated as Four Brothers, is not included into the "seven pirs". This is the family necropolis of Djuibari - the most influential dynasty of the Bukhara nobility since the time of the Samanids and until the end of the emirate. Among the Djuibaris (the name of the tribe originates from the name of kishlak that was standing here long time ago) were prominent political figures and Sufi saints, except only khans. They claimed to be the ancestors of the Arab Abu Bakr Said, the descendant of the Prophet, who moved to Mavveranahr during the Caliphate, and in the thousand-year history of Djuibari his name was repeated many times. It can be assumed that the "four brothers" are the Four Bakrs of different generations. Familial necropolis over the thousands of years grew in size into a small town, with quarters-cemeteries of family branches, mausoleum houses, and cemeteries of different generations. The gate is modest - but once there was a double irrigation ditch with tree alley all the way from Bukhara so that even in the very heat of the summer day one could come here in the shade of the trees and the coolness of running water:

The central square of the City of Four Brothers with a mandatory hauz. The greatest political influence they achieved under the same Shaybanids, as already mentioned at the gate of the Baha'uddin’s mazar: the mentor of several khans and the sheikh of Naqshbandi was Muhammad-Islam Jujbary, thanks to whom this order under the Shaibanids was in special esteem, and maybe the capital was moved to Bukhara not without their influence. After the death of the father his son became the tutor of Abdullahan II, who built the center of the Djuibari necropolis in 1584-94: the mosque on the left, the khanaka on the right, with the madrasah in the middle again with the miniature minaret:

In the mosque there is a huge, almost gothic hall:

And on both sides is the main street of the City of the Dead. On the left:

And on the right, where the main part of the graves:

The portal of the mausoleum at the end of the street, judging by the general splendor can be dated back to the times of Ashtarhanids:

And the mausoleums themselves are mostly not purely mausoleums (although they have inner rooms and cellars where the bones lie), but simply the portals to the cemeteries-yards

Where peacocks roam, perhaps the descendants of the birds of the Djuibari garden, which once joined the necropolis. Their colorful tails look amazing against the background of painted aivans:

You can go to the roofs of the mausoleums:

Where there are other graves:

On the left edge is the grave of the "original" Abu Bakr:

the cemetery resembles a city block:

A strange tombstone with the "birds" that are considered at least in Khorezm to be a Zoroastrian symbol:

The Alley goes in the other direction:

There, behind the khanaka - in fact, the grave of the first Abu Bakr:

Here it is, the most beautiful tombstones of the Necropolis of the Four Brothers:

Here, in the City of the Dead, as you could notice from the photos above there also people alive. These are caretakers:

And pilgrims:

Courtesy to varandej

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