Please login to vote.
Monday, 23 March 2009

Tajik Spirituality: Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley - Page 2

Written by Ai Watanabe
  • Print
  • Email
  • AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Rate this item
(0 votes)

I left for Zarafshan from Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, at about noon. Not the best idea to leave then -- I ended up traveling through the hottest part of the day and arrived after dark in Penjikent, a northern city along the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. Despite the heat, the drive was spectacular. I felt consumed by the beauty of the deep, crystalline blue of the rivers that sliced through the dusty mountains and snow-capped peaks. The sparse trees were showing hints of autumn, with the aspen leaves tinged yellow. Almost every rooftop of the mud-brick village along the road was dotted with rust-colored apricots drying for the coming cold season.

Pilgrimage and Shrines

Tajik Spirituality, Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley, travel Zarafshan, travel Tajikistan, Dushanbe, Penjikent, Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border, Village Sarazm, Tajik saints, pilgrimages, shrines, Bibi Mushkil Kusho, Bibi Seshanbe, Auliya Baba Shahid, womens rituals, mystic islam, Ai WatanabeIt was late afternoon when Sabohat, Salokhiddin’s wife, Mehri, her sister-in-law, and I set off to visit the local sacred sites, which were in the adjacent rice fields on the Uzbekistan side of the border. Down the hill from the crops was a little patch of vegetation, the center of which displayed one gnarled and twisted old tree. Threads and fabric scraps of all colors were tied to the branches, twigs and bark. On the hillside close by an old man was performing his afternoon prayers. When the three of us came through, he also said a prayer for us.

Tajik Spirituality, Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley, travel Zarafshan, travel Tajikistan, Dushanbe, Penjikent, Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border, Village Sarazm, Tajik saints, pilgrimages, shrines, Bibi Mushkil Kusho, Bibi Seshanbe, Auliya Baba Shahid, womens rituals, mystic islam, Ai WatanabeSabohat tied threads from her headscarf to join the others on the tree as a symbolic gesture of her prayers. She then recited the first and one hundred and twelfth verses of the Qur’an before praying to the saint of the site, who is known by the common designation, ‘Grandfather Saint.’ They explained to me that the locals came to visit these sites to ask for protection, health or success. Because these places were associated with great saints, prayers made here were said to have extra strength, and they believed God would be more likely to hear them. According to them, there were a lot of stories about these saints but only the Mullah (the local religious scholar), who was also the knowledgeable biology teacher of the village, knew them all.

Tajik Spirituality, Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley, travel Zarafshan, travel Tajikistan, Dushanbe, Penjikent, Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border, Village Sarazm, Tajik saints, pilgrimages, shrines, Bibi Mushkil Kusho, Bibi Seshanbe, Auliya Baba Shahid, womens rituals, mystic islam, Ai WatanabeNext we visited a shack in a field close by. It was surrounded by smooth black rocks, which were also sacred. This was the site of Auliya Baba Shahid, another saint who had been a very holy man in his time and was still revered, but his stories had been forgotten. Further along the way was a small stone, about a foot in size with a button and a couple of coins around it. Sabohat explained that this was the site of another saint, who was revered because he was a martyr for his religion. Again, no one really knew anything about him except for the Mullah. My escorts only knew that the saint had died there -- this explained the button from his clothes and his remaining coins on display by the rock.

The Mullah: The Religious Spheres of Differing Sexes

Later in the day I had an interesting conversation with a local Mullah. He was a small wiry man of seventy-six years, with sharp eyes, a well-kept turban, long walking stick and long velvet coat. He had heard that I was interested in visiting shrines and had to come to talk with me about the local sacred sites. Also, he wanted to ask what I thought about that ‘lunatic President Bush?’ I was surprised by how globally savvy this Mullah, who lived in a tiny village with no electricity, was about international politics, thanks to satellite television available in the nearby city.

However, when I asked him about the shrines in the area, he had no idea about them or even where they were. Whereas the women frequently visited the sites and assumed the Mullah to have knowledge about the saints associated with them, the Mullah conversely referred me to talk to the women who went to them. He explained that women and men had different ways of believing -- women believed in the shrines while the men didn’t, but the men were religious in other ways.

The Mullah’s perspective points to an interesting aspect of the preservation of rituals, such as the rituals of Sufism, or mystic Islam, through women’s lineages. While throughout history, attention was often given to the male sphere of religious life and women’s roles were marginalized, it also follows that when periods of persecution and hardship arose, the male sphere suffered more dramatically. Thus the continuity of many traditions could depend significantly on women’s roles. When male religious leaders that were more public were either killed or imprisoned, (by the Soviets for example) women operating in the more private, female sphere were able to continue their practices.

(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

Search Content by Map

Search

All Rights Reserved ©Copyright 2006-2019 inTravel Magazine®
Published by Christina's Arena, Inc.