‘The Four-Dome Sepulchre’, poem by Sayyara and Thuraya Bahadurova, by Stéphane Dudoignon
Figures 1 and 2: Front cover and poem on p. 26 from the verse collection ‘The Brilliance of Stars’ (Durakhshi akhtaron, Khujand: Nashriioti Rahim Jalil, 2002) by Sayyara and Thuraya Bahadurova
All rights reserved.
این مزاری را که می بینی، پر از نقش و نگار،
یک ستون ایستاده بهر چار گمبز تکیه دار
خلق هم در حیرت آمد، گفت زور و اقتدار،
سر به افلاک این چنار ایستاده چون کوه پایدار
می تواند از بر آن آب صاف و بی غبار،
مردمان بهر زیارت می رسند از هر کنار
تا نمایند آرزوهای دل خویش آشکار،
خاک را مالند بر چشم و بگیرند زار زار
راز خود را باز می گویند بر خاک مزار،
جای تاریخی بود، درگاه ما
خلق را خوانم به سوی خویش عزیزان ، مرحبا
Latin Transcription from the Cyrillic:
In mazorero, ki mebinī, pur az naqšu nigor,
Iak sutun istoda bahri čor gumbaz takiador.
Xalq ham dar hairat omad, guft zūru iqtidor,
Sar ba aflok in čanor istoda čun kūh poidor.
Metavonad az bari on obi sofu beġubor,
Mardumon bahri ziiorat merasand az har kanor.
To namoiand orzuhoi dili xeš oškor,
Xokro moland bar čašmu birigand zor-zor.
Rozi xudro boz megūiand bar xoki mazor,
Joi ta‘rixī buvad, dargohi mo, zodgohi mo.
Xalqro xonam ba sūi xeš, azizon, Mahrabo!
Vois-le, ce mausolée tout couvert de décors
Tel un pilier aux quatre dômes couverts d’or.
Le peuple stupéfait s’écrie : « Quelle splendeur ! »
Dressé contre les cieux, ce beau platane arbore
Une silhouette de pics, sources d’eaux pures.
Les pèlerins d’ailleurs y accourent encore
Y dire leurs désirs, trouver le réconfort.
Se frottant de la terre du lieu les paupières
Ils lui livrent tous leurs secrets, tous leurs remords.
Née en ce lieu d’histoire, un palais qui n’est plus,
Je vous appelle à m’y rejoindre, Amis, salut !
Look at this sepulchre, all full of ornaments,
Solitary column with four gold-covered domes.
The people, stunned, cries out: ‘What a splendour!’
Set up against the heavens, a beautiful plane tree!
A silhouette of peaks, sources of pure waters!
Pilgrims from here and there still flock at its threshold,
To express their desires, to find reassurance.
Rubbing their eyelids with the earth of the place,
They confide to it their secrets, their remorse.
Born in this place of history, a palace that is no more,
I call you to join me there, Friends, hey!
‘The Four-Dome Sepulchre’ is a short poem from a collection of verses published in 2002 at the Rahim Jalil Publishing House of Khujand, in the north of Tajikistan, by two non-professional writers. The sisters Thuraya ans Sayyara Bahadurova are the descendants, through their father In‘am-Allah, and the tomb keepers of Sayyid Nizam al-Din Khwaja, alias Ishan Awliya-Jan. This Muslim man of God of Istrawshan (erstwhile Ura-Teppa, Rus. Ura-Tyube), is celebrated since the nineteenth century as a local saint. A foothill city of 65,000 inhabitants situated north of the Turkestan Mountain Range, Ura-Teppa is widely seen today as an open-air museum. It celebrated officially its 2000th anniversary in 2002, when the Bahadurova sisters published their book at a publishing house of the Ministry of Culture of Tajikistan. Maintained by the Tajikistani state, the nineteenth-century grave of Ishan Awliya-Jan — a funeral room preceded by a wooden aywān with two columns, and covered now by four zinc domes — is located at short distance of the ladies’ residence, in the neighbourhood of the sixteenth-century Madrasa of ‘Abd al-Latif, also called Gok Gunbad. Making an extremely modest living in the family house when the present author visited them, five years after their verse collection was printed, Thuraya was practicing the ‘profession’ (kasb) par excellence, of the healing (tabābat) by Divine grace of the local people and of pilgrims coming ‘from here and there’. Her young sister Sayyara was dedicating herself to poetry writing.
Both had been touched (in her childhood for Thuraya, in her youth for Sayyara) by a ‘disease’ that deprived both of the use of their arms, condemning them to a domestic life of ‘reading and praying’ (kitobxonivu xudojūī) according to a rare interview given by the former, in 2005, to a women’s magazine of the country’s capital Dushanbe. According to her narrative, when Thuraya’s illness became publicly known, around 2000, she begun to receive visits from the sick. Suffering herself from endemic headache, until recent relief at the hands of a healer (fālbīn), she started to treat them for various types of pain and ailments, among which infertility, while protecting girls from the evil eye or reconciling broken families — ‘taking in hands the hearts of the needy, psychologically and physically’. Receiving up to fifteen persons a day according to the notebook where she carefully records the names of her visitors, male and female, and the reason for their visit, Thuraya is reputed for obtaining the recovery (shifā’) of her patients by the recitation of orisons but also, according to her testimony, for predicting with precision the last hour of those for whom her gift is of no help.
While the elder sister has been embodying for the local people the classical figure of a healer of holy ancestry, the younger has emerged, for the vox populi and for local authorities, as another incarnation of lineage-based (intisabi) Islam, often opposed in the local debates of the 2000s to the ‘professional’ or ‘career-orientated’ (iktisabi) religion of international preachers and missionaries. Even in the reassuring naivety of its inspiration, in the amateurism of its form, the verse collection The Brilliance of the Stars, of which Sayyara is the main author, reflects the ideal of vernacular tradition that the Tajik authorities opposed, at the beginning of this century, to ‘imported’ ideas. The collection combines, in modern rhymes, different thematic registers. One is that of lyric and sapiential poetry as it has been cultivated in the literary circles of Istrawshan itself by such a poet as Jawharī (1860–1945), locally popular in both Soviet and present-day Tajikistan. Another, centred on the cult of family values and the figure of the mother, seems to have been inherited from female poetic practice in the Union of Writers of the Tajik SSR, by such a figure as Gulrukhsār (b. 1945) especially, the female poet laureate of the late Soviet and early independence periods.
While Jawharī was glorifying, in his early Soviet verses, collectivisation and its consequences, the co-signatories of The Brilliance of the Stars promote more retrospective views and an apology for the past of the local, regional cum national ‘country’ (diyār), through a combination of claims for ancestry. For ethic and poetic ancestry, first, through the evocation of the fifteenth-century Sufi guide and gnostic poet Khwaja Kamal Khujandi. For cultural and political ascendance, too, for instance through the memory of the Soviet national leader and historian Bābājān Ghafūrov (1908–77), the native of a suburban village of Khujand. ‘The Four-Dome Sepulchre’ itself has been composed in a modern form but with a mono-rhyme reminiscent of the arch-classical genre of the ghazal, located at the interface between the profane and the sacred. The evocation of the tomb as a pilgrimage place (mazār) distinguished by its antique splendour, attended by visitors coming ‘from here and there’ has become a leitmotiv of modern-day Persian-language Central Asian Muslim hagiography, as it develops in local lore and other genres influenced, too, by Soviet literary models. Describing the propitiatory ritual of the pilgrims rubbing their eyelids with the earth of the graveyard, Sayyara and Thuraya reaffirm their status as masters of the place, where both were born in the lineage of the buried saint. Now ‘a place of history’, the tomb of their great ancestor connects them, through a subtle system of legitimations, to the local community, to a wider network of pious and needy visitors and to the Friends (‘azizān) of the Sufi tradition, let alone the protective Tajik state and its local services of the preservation of historical monuments.
Sources and references
Bahodurova, Suraio, ‘Baxti duxtaronro megušoiam va bezoriiothoro tabobat mekunam’ [I protect girls against the evil eye and care for the childless women], interview with Husniia Hafizova, Oila [Dushanbe] 300 (2005), p. 13; Stéphane Dudoignon, unpublished interview with Sayyara and Thuraya Bahodurova, Istrawshan, 1st October 2007