‘O thou, Perfect Master’, of Damulla Iskandar Bidaki (c. 1895–1989), by Stéphane A. Dudoignon
Transcription from the undated autographic manuscript entitled ‘Draft of the Diwan of Poems by Damulla Iskandar Bidaki Qarategini’ (Matn-i musawwada-i Dīwān-i ašʿār-i Dāmullā Iskandar Bīdaki Qarātigīnī), private collection, Tajikistan, ff. 59–60; ghazal printed in Ġazaliyāt-i Dāmullā Iskandar, Dushanbe: Tipografiia ministerstva obrazovaniia, 2000.
Latin Transcription from the author’s Arabic-script version:
Alā ay pīr-i kāmil, āstānat pāsbān bāšam
Ba awlād-i ṣiġār-i tū hamīša ḫādimān bāšam.
Hamčū parwāna ba gird-i qadd-i tū par mīzanam,
Čū Majnūn dar ṭawāf-i marqaddat layl ū nahār bāšam.
Biraftī az jahān nām u nišānat sikka-i ʿālam,
Hama dar giriya wu mātam yakī az mātamān bāšam.
Bikardī ʿilm-i qāl u ḥālrā taḥṣīl zi Šāyaḫsī,
Walī Allah šudī bī šakk, yakī az ṣādiqān bāšam.
Dar īn šahr-i Buḫārā az payy-i ʿilm u ʿamal gaštī,
Šudī jāme‘i ḥāl u qāl, ki jānamrā fidā bāšam.
Karāmāt-i šarīfatrā či šams wa al-żuḥà dīdam
Ba ʿālam āškārā man yakī az šāhidān bāšam.
Ba ʿilm-i ḥāl u qāl gaštī tū wāriṯ-i Rasūl Allah,
Giriftī tū zi Salmān ʿilm-i ḥālat čākarān bāšam.
Ba tablīġ-i šarīʿat wāriṯ-i payġambarān bāšī,
Bayān kardī aḥādiṯrā [sic] yakī az sāmiʿān bāšam.
Nawištī čand kitāb īnjā, hama mażmūn-i gītīrā,
Muzayyan bā ḥadīṯhā yakī man az šāhidān bāšam.
Ba har jā muntašir gaštand, man-i ḫasta čunān bāšam,
Jamālatrā bidīdam, šukr Allah ṣuḥbatat kardam,
Agarčandī qafā-yi čākarān-i kārawān bāšam.
Alā ay pir-i kāmil, jān fidāyat sū-yi Iskandar,
Naẓar kun dar ṣaf-i maḥšar, ki man az ʿāṣiyān bāšam.
Ô parfait guide, puissé-je garder ton seuil
Et rester au service de ta descendance.
Sur tes reins je garde, phalène, fixé l’œil
Et, nuit et jour, Majnun autour de toi je danse.
Puissé-je être de ceux que maintient dans le deuil,
Ô l’unique, d’ici-bas ta complète absence.
De Shayakhsi, sagesse et science tu recueilles,
Ami de Dieu dont je veux joindre la guidance.
À Boukhara tu n’as cherché que hauts savoirs,
En parole, en extase, puits de connaissance.
Tes prodiges, de jour, de nuit j’ai pu les voir,
Et prêt je suis à en attester l’évidence.
Du Prophète tu as la vision, l’écritoire,
De Salman l’oraison : à toi mon allégeance !
À la charia tu as gagné un territoire :
De ton exégèse, ouvre-moi l’audience !
Tu as écrit des livres aux profondes arcannes,
Adornés de Hadith, dont je sais l’excellence,
Et propagés partout pour le bien des profanes :
De ton commerce ainsi j’ai pu avoir la chance
Bien que simple arrière-garde de ta caravane.
Ô parfait guide, épargne-moi ton oubliance,
Au Jour dernier, viens me tirer de déchéance !
O thou, Perfect Master, may I guard thy threshold
And remain in the office of thy descendants.
On thy loins I keep, moth, fixed mine eye
And, night and day, as Majnun around thou I dance.
May I be one of those who are kept in mourning,
O the unique, by thy mere absence from hither below.
From Shayakhsi, wisdom, knowledge thou hast gathered,
O friend of God whose guidance I would to join.
In Bukhara thou sought only high knowledge,
In words and ecstasy a true well of learning.
Thy prodigies, by day, by night I hast seen them,
And am content to testify to them.
Of the Prophet thou hast the vision, the inkwell,
Of Salman the oration: to thee mine allegiance!
To the Sharia thou won territories:
From thy exegesis I do lack to win the audience.
Thou hast written several books with arcana,
All adorned with Hadith — I testify of this —,
Propagated everywhere for the profit of the laymen:
Of thy conversation I had the chance,
Though a mere rear guard of thy caravan.
O Perfect Guide, spare me thy oblivion,
And towards the last Day, pull me out of decay!
The verse collection Orison of the Dawn was edited in 2005 by the Islamologist Sayyid Ahmad Qalandar (b. 1947), a prominent specialist of Tajik Persian gnosis of the Soviet period (see Augmented Document 5). The edition relied on an Arabic-script autographic manuscript by Damulla Iskandar Gharmi, or Bidaki (c. 1895–1989), now preserved in a private collection. A Soviet-time Naqshbandi master and poet active in the Wakhsh River valley, in the central part of the Tajik SSR, Damulla Iskandar became locally venerated in the late 1990s, already, as a Muslim holy man of Qarategin, the upper valley of the Wakhsh. The main madrasa of the areas’ head town, Gharm (now Rasht), opened in the late 1990s, was named after him. A disciple of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim Dawlat Ilaki (see https://redgold.hypotheses.org/194), Damulla Iskandar had continued his master’s work of verse writing, in the classical genre par excellence of the Persian ghazal especially, which had continued to evolve among Tajik Sufi circles until the very end of the Soviet period.
The personal embodiment, by Iskandar, of the continuity of Islamic learning among the Qarategini lineages of the Naqshbandiyya partly explains his popularity in the region quite soon after his death in 1989. The period, indeed, was favourable, after the fall of the Iron Curtain in December of the same year. This event, moreover, took place against the backdrop of the gradual re-colonisation of the Tajik highlands, which had been deserted by their population since the massive resettlements of the 1940s–1950s towards the lower Wakhsh River’s cotton-growing lowlands. This conjunction of facts and the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 explain in part the quick popularisation, among the Qarateginis, of local Sufi Paths (ṭuruq) that had remained confidential, to say the least, in the Soviet period. The Naqshbandiyya Dahbidiyya Mujaddidiyya, especially, was to be soon identified with the Wakhsh valley as a whole, with Qarategin in particular — in implicit opposition to neighbouring uplands such as the Ramit and Zerafshan Valleys, north of the capital Dushanbe, both of which were, partly, chosen territories of the Qadiriyya.
Celebrated in a period of many upheavals as a reassuring personification of cultural continuity, Damulla Iskandar’s work expresses subtle change, if we put it in perspective with the verses of his master Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim Dawlat. Thematic continuities indeed can be identified between the two, beginning with the centrality of the quest for a guide. This theme, in fact, is axial in Persian ghazal since the twelfth-century CE gnostic poets Sana’i and ‘Attar, two explicit literary models of Iskandar’s. It has remained central in the Naqshbandiyya since the Central Asian reorganisations of this Sufi order in the late fourteenth, early sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries, successively — especially in its Mujaddidi reformist branches when confronted with periods of hardships, as during Soviet times. The quest for a master or his absence was, for this very reason, a major theme also of the ghazals of Iskandar’s own guide ‘Abd al-Rahim. The poet of Bidak borrows from him the arch-classic figure, in Persian spiritual erotica, of the moth (parwāna) dancing, here ‘in a circular procession’ (ṭawāf), around the figure of the master.
Overall, Iskandar’s poetry, all written at the end of his life, during the last decade of the Soviet era, is more conspicuous by its uniformity, formal and thematic. It is less strewn, too, with Arabicisms than his predecessor’s, and more accessible to a general readership endowed with elements of classical Persian culture but deprived of a madrasa background. (This relative simplicity explains, partly, the popularity enjoyed posthumously by Iskandar’s poems in the years that followed his death.) Exceptional, from this viewpoint, in Damulla Iskandar’s work, is the present ghazal. By it, the poet from Bidak pays homage to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim — and, so doing, proposes his definition of Soviet Muslim sainthood. Peppered with Arabicisms and Qur’anic references (notably to Sura 93, al-Żuhà), as used to be the poems of his guide, the ghazal is a claim to Central Asian Sunni Persian confessional and spiritual ancestry, through allusions to the madrasas of Bukhara, in which ‘Abd al-Rahim and Iskandar had been educated, and to the city’s sanctuary of Shayakhsi, that both seem to have attended). More generally, the author refers, too, to a Persian transmission line of Islam, through a short allusion to Salman al-Farsi, the first non-Arab Companion of Muhammad.
The homage paid to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim is a way, too, for its author to remember the role of the Qarategin Upper Valley and its migrant populations in the preservation of this heritage through the twentieth century. Among the attributes of a Muslim spiritual master of the Soviet period, it mentions, first, a dual competence in both religious and gnostic knowledge, in the ‘sciences of discourse and ecstasy’ (ʿilm-i qāl wa ḥāl). A leitmotif of late Soviet and present-day Central Asian Muslim hagiography, this dual competence brings the modern saint close to the Prophet’s model. Of Muhammad, doesn’t he have ‘the vision, the inkwell’? As far as Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim is concerned, it highlights, at the same time, the quality of his teaching of the Hadith (central in Mujaddidi tradition) and the performance, ‘by day and night’, of wonders (karāmāt) accomplished by divine favour, personally witnessed by his pupil. This one, faithful servant (ḫādim) of his master’s descent, is the link in a transmission made difficult in the Tajik SSR by the repressions of the 1980s, which make him feel even more pathetically his guide’s absence and his spiritual incompleteness.
Sources and references
Dāmullā Iskandar, Ġazaliyāt [Ghazals], Dushanbe: Tipografiia Ministerstva obrazovaniia, 2000 (in Arabic script); Domullo Iskandari Gharmī, Duoi subhgoh: osori manzum [The Oration of the Dawn: Works in Verse], ed. Sayyid Ahmad Qalandar, Dushanbe: Paiomi Ošno, 2005 (in Cyrillic); Dāmullā Iskandar Qarātigīnī, Rahguḏar-i kū-yi ʿirfān [Small Guide to the Cordillera of High Knowledge], ed. Šādī Raḥīmzāda, Tehran: s.n. 1389/2010 (in Arabic script); Badalipur, Mirzohusain, ‘Haiot va ejodiioti Shaikh Abdurahimi Davlat’ [The Life and Works of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim Dawlat], in M. Badalipur & Q. Darvozi, ed., Kashf-ul-asror: gulchini az ghazaliiot az devoni Shaikh Abdurahimi Davlat [The ‘Unveiling of Secrets’: Anthology of Ghazals from the Diwan of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim Dawlat] (Dushanbe: Humo, 2000), pp. 21–27, Stéphane A. Dudoignon, interview with Ishan Sharaf al-Din b. Damulla Iskandar Bidaki, Bidak, 28 September 2005; by the same author, ‘Holy Virgin Lands: Demographic Engineering, Heritage Management and the Sanctification of Territories in ex-Soviet Central Asia, since WWII’, in E. Tasar, A. J. Frank, J. Eden, ed., From the Khan’s Oven: Studies in the History of Central Asian Religions in Honor of Devin DeWeese, Leiden: Brill (HdO), 2021, pp. 358–408
 Šāyaḫsī, surname of Pāyanda Muḥammad Ahsī–Fayżābādī (m. 1601), alias Shah-Ahsi or Shayakhsi in the local memory: Naqshbandi shaykh who built a Friday mosque in Bukhara (on the present-day Samarqand Avenue, reopened to religious practice in 1992) and whose Sufi lodge (ḫānqāh), constructed in 1596, and tomb were situated in the neighbourhood of Fayżābād.
© Stéphane A. Dudoignon for the transcriptions, translations and comments.