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Monday, 23 March 2009

Tajik Spirituality: Saints and Ritual in the Zarafshan Valley - Page 4

Written by Ai Watanabe
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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.

While the soot makeup ritual was making its rounds, one of the participants had come in with a small pile of cotton, which the rest divided into four balls and then stretched out into little disk-like saucers. Another woman came around to give out handfuls of raisins and everyone began picking the stems off of the raisins and putting them in the middle of the cotton disks. After all the stems were off, someone collected the raisins again in the bowl. They then folded up the cotton with the stems in it, and bunched it up. According to Islamic custom, they would throw it into running water which would wash everyone’s ailments away.

When we finished eating our tarhaula, the bowls that had been sitting on the cowskin were passed around the group. Everyone put their fingers in the bowls and tasted the sugar, salt, flour, etc. three times, wiped some of it on the top of their headscarves, then passed it to the right. We drank and ate from the bowls of milk, yogurt and osh (a Tajik rice dish), and then passed around pieces of a special type of flatbread.

The raisins were redistributed and as Sabohat recited another prayer (she had been reading the whole time), everyone had handfuls of raisins that they were pouring from one hand into the other, over and over again. The woman beside me explained that while we hold the raisins we should make a niyat (intention), and that the raisins would have rewards for these wishes. The raisins are gathered into a bowl again and later redistributed to us for our families.

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Meanwhile, Sabohat was reading in Uzbek and then switched to Arabic to read the one hundred and twelfth verse of the Qur’an three times. She then sang a prayer to which the ladies responded with ‘La Illaha Ila Allah’ (there is no God but God), initiating a call and response song. Then Sabohat continued to read until one of the old ladies made several prayers and everyone made a collective prayer to commemorate the end of the evening. Sabohat finished her reading, then wrapped up the books and made up her eyes with the burnt matchstick.

As the meeting ended, one woman brought in a burning herb and everyone breathed in its smoke for health and protection. All the participants took handfuls of raisins and made little piles of the sweets, fruit and bread to take with them -- It would help everyone to get their prayers and wishes answered.

We said our farewells and set off under the glimmering, starry sky back to our homes. Everyone was cheerful, toting small packets of blessed sweets to loved ones at home.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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