Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Samarkand: Traces of King David

Detail of Michelangelo's David
Suzanna Fatyan, one of Uzbekistan's finest tour guides, has contributed several pieces on this website about Samarkand as well as about Uzbek cuisine. 

In this article she takes us to the holy pilgrimmage cave of Hazrat Daud, not far from Samarkand.

In the Mirankul Mountains, forty kilometres from Samarkand, there is a legendary cave revered  by members of different religious faiths. The cave is actually a narrow, 30-metre corridor. The flow of pilgrims, striving to touch the handprints left by Hazrat Daud (David) on the walls of the cave, never dries up.

Uzbekistan has always been a centre of spirituality. Real, historical personalities as well as heroes of sacred writings, legends and myths marched through its territory leaving their traces. Uzbekistan was a meeting point of many religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

King David (Daud) is deeply respected by Moslem mystics. The entire world knows the story of David, the hero who slew Goliath. He became a warrior king and the ruler of the United Kingdom of Israel (circa 1043 BC - 937 BC). He has gone down in history as the direct patrilineal ancestor of the Messiah, the author of Psalms and the father of King Solomon.

King David is one of the most significant personages of the Old Testament. His charismatic personality is described in masterpieces of prose, drama, poetry and music. His noble image is portrayed in paintings and sculptures.

Mosque at the top of the mountains near Hazrat Daud
The Old Testament describes David as a complex character, a rich and full personality. He is endowed with wisdom and many talents. On the other hand, he is impulsive and able to make mistakes at his expense.

David was a shepherd when he killed Goliath with a stone from his sling. He married King Saul's daughter and became friends with Jonathan, Saul’s son. David gradually turned into an epic hero whose incalculable achievements eclipsed Saul himself.

Saul began to view David as his rival and David had to escape, hiding himself in the desert, in the mountains and in the forest. According to Arabic sources, David was sent to Asia to preach monotheism. At different stages of David’s saga, his image undergoes substantial transformation.

The distinction between the interpretation of David’s life history in the Old Testament and in the Koran is crucial: the Koran recognizes him as an absolutely righteous man. This is supported by the Islamic Encyclopedia which stressed that the Koran mentions Daud - David - as the righteous man specially favoured by Allah, and as a prophet bestowed with power, wisdom, eloquence and a beautiful voice.

David is the author of psalms (zuburs); mountains and birds are subordinate to him and glorify the greatness of Allah with him. David is the first man to work metal and make chain armour and weapons (Saba 34:10, 34:11). For this reason, Daud is considered the patron of blacksmiths in Uzbekistan.

Walking up to the cave of Hazrat Daud
The Koran has references to the combat between Daud and Jalut (Goliath). The post-Koranic accounts tell about conflicts between Daud and Talut (Saul) and confirm Talut's attempts to kill the hero.

According to many legends, the mountain refuge of David is located in the vicinity of Samarkand. It still bears the traces of his presence - his handprints. It is believed they were made when David, with the help of God, was pulling apart the rocky mountains.

The cave of Hazrat Daud attracts crowds of pilgrims from every corner of the world. In order to reach the cave, they have to climb the 1300 steps.

This is a symbolic reminder of the way each person has to travel to achieve spiritual perfection, self-knowledge and enlightment. The path to spiritual perfection is thorny, but necessary, if you wish to perceive the essence of life, the beauty of the world.

 Exit from the cave of Hazrat Daud
The closer you come to the cave of Daud, the more beautiful the scenery appears before your eyes. The more advanced your spiritual state, the better the world becomes around you. A small mosque stands near the mazar (shrine), and prayers are recited non-stop there.

Inside the cave, the soul’s communion with supreme forces takes place, solemnly and mysteriously. Pilgrims light candles, touch David’s handprints and ask him to fulfill their long-cherished desires.

The aspirations of members of different religious communities meet and unite here, suggesting that many nations draw spirituality from one common source.

If you are unable to climb the stairs, locals offer donkeys or horses for hire. Along the whole length of the stairs there are little stalls selling water, mountain herbs, skins of wild animals and religious souvenirs.

There are also small restaurants or you can bring your own picnic.

Read Suzanna's other articles.

Contact Suzanna via email: susanna202001(at)yahoo(dot)com

Related posts:
Samarkand: Exploring the Aman Kutan Valley
Samarkand: Hazrat Hyzr, Patron Saint of Travellers
Katta Langar's Masterpieces of Islamic Architecture - Near Shakhrisabz, Southern Uzbekistan

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Uzbek Suzanis: Like Flowers in the Sand - Part #2

uzbek suzani, uzbekistan embroidery, uzbek traditional textiles
Tashkent palak suzani
Peter Darjes lived and worked in Uzbekistan for six years. He is exceptionally knowledgeable about Central Asian applied arts. 

Peter's collection is remarkable and in this two-part series he shares his  expertise in suzanis. In his first article, Peter provided an overview of Uzbek suzanis. This piece focuses on suzani design.

The identity of modern-day Uzbeks was formed in the crucible of the Silk Road, which absorbed and merged different ethnicities and cultures into one harmonious whole. The Uzbeks emerged from a historical process and – unlike the Turkmen or the Kyrgyz - can be regarded as a group bonded by its ethnic origin.

With the link to the Silk Road, suzani designs and techniques benefited from the exchange of ideas between the East and the West, being inspired by a wide rage of influences, from Chinese floral motifs to Islamic geometric abstractions.

With few exceptions, suzanis of the 19th century and beyond reflect the style of a well-preserved tradition, their floral design motifs reflecting the colourful gardens of Central Asian houses or - as some people interpreted them - symbols of a Muslim paradise garden.

Some design motives still represent nomadic art. This applies in particular to the embroideries of the Lakais, a semi-nomadic group that originally lived along the border region of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. A prominent motif is the nuska gul (ram’s horns), which is a widespread symbol in many carpets of the Central Asian steppe tribes.

uzbek suzani, uzbekistan embroidery, uzbek traditional textiles
Lakai panel
Centuries ago, the Lakais had isolated themselves from the main body of the Uzbek tribes and had retained the steppe tradition of the mounted warrior-herdsmen, long after the other nomadic tribes had abandoned their nomadic lifestyle.

It is believed that the patterns and symbols of Lakai reflect the designs of Mongolian hordes, from which the Lakais - quite unlike the other Uzbek groups - originate.

In the 1920s, after losing their independence, the Lakais migrated from the Uzbek-Tajik border region to Afghanistan, where they settled north of the Hindu Kush. This explains why quite a few old and well-preserved Lakai suzanis still can be found in the Kabul market.

A different type of suzani is made in Tashkent. The most famous is the palak type, which may have a variable number of decorated circles. The entire surface of the palak is covered with solid, embroidered symbols and dark red circles.

Palak (or falak in Arabic) means the sky, fate or the rotation of the sky. Falak is also a female name meaning sky or star. The warm red color symbolizes sun or fire worship indicative of the design’s pre-Islamic origins. The symbols surrounding the moons are enigmatic. Whether they describe reptiles or any other creature is left to the observer’s imagination.

uzbek suzani, uzbekistan embroidery, uzbek traditional textiles
Khodjand suzani
The  design  of  the  Khodjand suzani is a fusion of East Turkestan (now Sinjiang in China) and Tashkent influences. When looking at the suzani from afar, one seems to recognize the design of the famous Khotan pomegranate carpet. However, the small circles may well be derived from the moon design of the Tashkent palak suzani.
Bukharan embroidery is among the most spectacular of Uzbek suzanis. Typical Bukharan design consists of flowers on thin branches evenly distributed over the surface of cloth, or round rosettes with long stems. Various shades of blue combine with light yellow and green and a bold red as the dominant color.

The large, central rectangular field is worked with a bold medallion repeated in each of the four corners of the embroidery. Two narrow border bands - the inner one framing the center medallion and the outer enclosing the entire suzani - show a meandering band, which may be derived from Chinese artwork. It may be noted that the vibrant circular motives are also characteristic of Lakai embroideries.

While the beginning of the 20th century marked a deterioration in the quality of the embroideries, the art all but disappeared during the era of the former Soviet Union.

During the 1960s, an orchestrated attempt was made by the Soviet regime to revive traditional Central Asian handicrafts, notably carpets and suzanis. The quality of work, however, remained poor.

Since the early years of this century, the making of suzani embroideries has come back on a broad scale and with great creativity.

uzbek suzani, uzbekistan embroidery, uzbek traditional textiles
Bukhara suzani - hanging in Bukhara's Museum of Applied Arts

Not only have traditional designs been recreated, often inspired by modern ideas, but suzanis have also entered the fashion and art d├ęcor scene. It was perhaps inevitable that this process also introduced industrialized methods of making suzanis on a large scale – albeit not yet in Uzbekistan.

Related posts:
Uzbek Suzanis: Like Flowers in the Sand - Part #1
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Suzanis as Upholstery: the Brilliance of Bokja Design
Sacrament of Magic Yarn - Madina Kasimbaeva's Exhibition, Tashkent