Ovliya - "sacred" places in Turkmenistan

Ovliya – “sacred” places in Turkmenistan

Ovliya (from Turkmen, Arabic auliya’ – “saints”) is the most common name for “sacred” places in Turkmenistan. There are at least 700 “sacred” places in the country, from twenty to thirty or more in each of its etraps (districts). This includes shrines of all kinds and sizes – from semi-abandoned “sacred” places in old rural cemeteries, known only in one village, to large mausoleums that are both historical and architectural monuments and are known not only throughout Turkmenistan, but also beyond its borders. Most “sacred” places are shrines in cemeteries.

This is the Gonambashi (Turkmen “main tomb”, “head of the tomb”), the first tomb on the cemetery. In such cases, the personal name or honorary nickname of the Gonambashi usually became the name of the entire cemetery. Therefore, in everyday life, “sacred” places of this kind and cemeteries near them are designated by the same term. Although “cemetery” in Turkmen is mazarlyk, mazarchylyk, mazarystan, gonamchylyk. When creating a new cemetery, they tried to ensure that the first burial was the tomb of some authoritative person, usually from the local spiritual elite – ishan, akhun, mullah, kazy. This was not always possible, so the gonambashi could become a somewhat later burial. The revered deceased became a kind of guarantor of a better fate for other buried people in the afterlife, since he could “put in a good word” with the heavenly forces.

The third group of “sacred” places is represented by shekhidlik – often unnamed burials of people who died as martyrs (Arabic shahid – “died for faith”). In Turkmen, the meaning of the term shahid has expanded significantly; people who died of thirst and hunger in the sands or mountains, innocently killed during military clashes or by the hands of criminals are also called shahids.

The fourth group of “sacred” places consists of shrines associated with the names of “saints” (usually men) who are buried elsewhere. Among the shrines of the first group, three categories can be distinguished: the burials of outstanding medieval religious figures, usually Sufis (11th-17th centuries); the tombs of the spiritual elite of the new time (18th-20th centuries); The first category includes such “sacred” places as Khodja Yusup (Yusuf)-baba (Khodja Yusuf al-Khamadani), Astana-baba, Saragt-baba (Abu-l-Fadl as-Sarakhshi), Meane-baba (Abu Sa’id al-Maykhani), Shih Alov (Abu ‘Ali ad-Dakkak), Ak-imam, Seyit Nedzhepi, Sheikh Ovezberdy, Mashad-ata, Najmaddin Kubra, Ismamut-ata and a number of others.

Among them are also shrines associated with the burials of the founders of the “saintly” groups (ovlyad, Arabic aulad – “children”, “descendants”) among the Turkmen – Magtym Meazzem, Dana-ata, Gyzli-ata, Pakyr-shikh, etc. Many of the above-mentioned shrines have mosques on their territory. “Sacred” places, similar in popularity to those listed above, in Turkmenistan are mainly concentrated in the zones of ancient civilization – oases along the rivers Amu Darya, Murgab, Tejen, Sumbar, as well as in the foothill strip of the Kopetdag. Pilgrimage (ziyarats, Arabic ziyara; ziyaratchi – pilgrim) to them is made by believers from the most remote regions of Turkmenistan.

The shrines of the second category are much more numerous. These are usually the burials of “saints” – people who are currently living or who lived relatively recently in the local clan subdivisions. As an example, such “sacred” places as Gayypguly-ata (18th century), Ak-ishan (19th century), Kurbanmurad-ishan (19th century), Kara-akhun-ishan (first quarter of the 20th century), and many others can be mentioned. Pilgrimage to the shrine is made by residents of nearby villages (primarily fellow tribesmen of the “saint”) or several settlements, and to more famous ones (for example, to Kurbanmurad-ishan) – from several districts. Most of the shrines of this category, unlike the previous one, did not have tomb-mausoleums over the graves until the second half of the 1980s.The third category includes the real burials of secular figures.

There are few such shrines, the most famous of which is the mausoleum of the Seljuk ruler of Khorasan/Sandjar (12th century) in Old Merv/Merve. The “sacred” places of the second group (keramatly yerler) are undoubtedly the most ancient. Their “Islamization” manifested itself, for example, in the fact that over the “sacred” healing springs, there appeared tombs of “saints”, their names are associated with nature or famous personalities – Nov-ata (Geoktepe district), Archman-ata (Bakharden district), Gyz-bibi and Yyly suv (Garrygala district), Gainar-baba (Kerki district), etc. The same “tombs” are at the volcanic outlet of healing mud near Chekishler (Esenguly district) and at the mud resort Molla-Kara near Nebit-Dag.

At Bogaz dashy (Ashkhabad district), a stone of unusual shape that, according to beliefs, contributes to childbirth, there is no “tomb” of the “saint”, but Namaz dashy (“Prayer Stone”), associated with the name of the popular in Islam caliph Ali, and Duldul dashy (“Duldul Stone”), to which Ali allegedly tied his winged horse, appeared. Among the revered caves, first of all, it is necessary to name Kov-ata (Bakharden district), in which there is a lake with thermal water. There is no “tomb” of the “saint” at this shrine. The cult of vegetation is manifested in the worship of individual trees: the sacred archa (juniper) over the “sacred” place Shevlan, at the shrines Akderekjan (“White Poplar”) and Alty dagdan (“Six Dagdans”; dagdan – a Caucasian frame, a stone tree) in the Garrygala district, Dagdan ovliya (“Dagdan Shrine”) in the Kizylarvat district, etc.

The shrines of the third group (shekhidlik) – where people who died not by their own death are buried. Burials of this kind can be individual and collective. For example, the “main tomb” (gonambashi) of one of the cemeteries where the deceased residents of the large Priatrek village Sharlouk (Kizylatrek district) are buried is the burial of a young Turkmen girl, forcibly married to an unloved man and running away from her tyrant husband. She was caught up by a pursuit at the future shrine and died. The event dates back to the mid-19th century.

The “sacred” place at the cemetery of the Sharlouk village is one of the few examples where a woman acts as a gonambashi-shekhid. The collective gonambashi-shekhid is located in a large ancient cemetery of Shikhlary (Shikhi) 16 km north of Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi). According to legend, it contains the head of the local group of ovlyad-sheikhs Durdymamed and 26 of his fellow tribesmen who died in the spring of 1669 in a clash with the Cossack volnitsa of Stepan Razin, returning from Persia to Astrakhan.

Among the “holy” places of the fourth group, two categories can be distinguished. The first includes shrines associated with the names of “saints” who have never been in Turkmenistan and are buried in other regions: Shevlan (Garrygaly district) – with the Sufi ash-Shibli, buried in Baghdad; Bilal-baba (Daynaus and Ilyanlinsk districts, as well as the Fergana Valley, Kyrgyzstan) – with one of the companions (ansar) of the Prophet Muhammad, his muezzin, buried in Arabia; Zengi-baba (the village of Staraya Murcha, Baharden district) – with a well-known Central Asian Sufi of the 13th century, who lived and died on the territory of modern Uzbekistan; they also include the tombs of Muhammad Khanapia / Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya (Bayram-Ali, Serakhs and Geoktepe districts, as well as the village of Dehaybalyand in the Samarkand region of Uzbekistan) – the son of the caliph Ali and Haula from the Arab tribe of Hanifa (died in 700 and buried in Arabia).

The second category includes “holy” places associated with the names of individuals buried elsewhere but on the territory of Turkmenistan. It is believed that shrines of this kind arose where the “saint” shed blood, was wounded or killed, or stopped for the night or rest. An example can be the “holy” place of Dana-ata in the cemetery of the eponymous village of Dana (Kazandzhik district), although this famous Sufi is buried in a mausoleum in one of the gorges of the Great Balkan. On the Krasnovodsk Spit, there is the cemetery of Kara-baba, and this ancestor of one of the small subdivisions of the group of ovlad-shikh on the Atrek is buried there.

Pilgrims address their prayers to the “saints” for the bestowal of health, offspring, primarily a son-heir, well-being in the home, a good harvest. There are “specialized” shrines. Women especially venerate the aforementioned “holy” place of Bogaz data and the medieval mausoleum of “saint” Parau-bibi (Kizylarvat district). In the territory of the former collective farm “Bolshevik” of the Geoktepe district, in the 70s, the Oglan Ovliya. (Boys’ Shrine), Giz Ovliya. (Girls’ Shrine), and Dish Ovliya. (Tooth Shrine) actively functioned – small artificial mounds-“tombs”, surrounded by a low adobe fence. At the first shrine, they asked for health and a baby boy, at the second – girls, and at the third – relief from toothache.

The elements of the pilgrimage ritual to the “holy” places are mainly identical: people bring gifts to the “saint” (usually taken by caretakers), pray, leave votive items (tie rags, hang toy bows and cloth cradles, sometimes with a “baby” stick), sacrifice animals and arrange a collective feast, women with sick children pass under the “chile agach”, sometimes sleep at the “saint’s” tomb during the day, bathe in the “holy” spring, etc. Some shrines also have their own special elements of the ritual. For example, in the medieval mausoleum-mosque Mashad-ata in the Kizylarvat district, a pilgrim is offered to take a sin test – to stick his head into the upper part of the mihrab niche: if the bricks of the masonry protruding at the level of the neck do not crush his neck, then the teste is without any serious sins. At the “holy” place Astana-baba in the Kerki district, pilgrims can look into the well, and if they see the reflection of a star in it, then their request to the “saint” will be fulfilled.

Literature: “Keramatly ýerler hakynda hekaýat” / The truth about “holy” places. Ashgabat, 1986, 5-94 (Turkmen language); Demidov. Legends, 62-128.

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