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The Holy Places

Azizler Baba Cemetery, Imam Ishan, Bektemir Ishan, Rustem Baba and Mazlumkhan Sulu mausoleums,  Shamun Nabi and Jumart Kassab Knobs in Khodjeyli district are regarded as sacred places.

Rustem Baba

Rustem Baba is a square construction with the size 5x5 meters. It stands on the edge of western slope of Krantau hill. The walls show the four cardinal points. The entrance is in the southern wall. The plan and the construction of the mausoleum are typical to medieval architectural buildings in Khoresm and it belongs to the 12th and 13th centuries. Another proof is folktales that were recorded by Kh. Esbergenov, an ethnographer. According to them Rustem Baba was a contemporary of Khakim Ata (Suleyman Bakirganiy).

Most visitors of the place are infertile women. The ritual here is accomplished as follows: pilgrims climb up the hill  after asking the cemetery keepers for permission. Then they walk round the tomb touching it with hands after which they, accompanied by a maksym, slip down of the hill three or four times depending on how many times the healer or maksym  prescribed them to do.

Another memorial construction erected on Krantau Hill belonged to Imam Ishan, one of the outstanding historical personalities of the second half of 18th century and first half of the 19th century.

His mausoleum stood on the Amudarya bank on Krantau Hillock. It was ruined as a result of high waters. Imam Ishan’s  remnants were buried in a different place in the 1960s. In accordance with the legend Jayhandartalyk together with his people came to Amudarya shore from Bukhara and joined Karakalpaks who had already settled here. One of his generations (offspring) was Imam Ishan. The legend says that he came from Kipchak tribe, Kangly clan.

About 400 years have passed from the time when his ancestors got settled in this territory. Formerly this was not only the place for pilgrimage but also the place for studying Muslim rights. Subsequently a huge complex around the mausoleum and Medressah  was formed which included the graveyard as well. Presently both of them are the places for pilgrimage and they belong to one of Karakalpaki clans by name “un turt uru”. Even now people keep on burying the dead here from un turt uru – Kangly, Ayteke, Keneges, Uyghur and so on. Their kinsmen come here to reminisce their late relatives. Both of the mausoleums are considered to be universal places for worship. Both men and women visit the place due to various reasons.

Mazar Azizler Baba

Mazar Azizler Baba is located in the graveyard by the same name which lies 10 kilometers northwest from Nukus. Azizler Baba Cemetery lies on a natural highland. Pilgrimage is accomplished on Thursdays. The first thing that pilgrims do is to come to the graveyard keeper who prays, then they enter the cemetery. They go round the cemetery periodically touching its walls and their own faces. After the three-phase revolve they enter the room with a tomb, they touch it as well, then they put their hands on their faces. After the rituals they again go to the graveyard keeper who says certain prayers.Very often visitors come here with a sacrificial animal (a sheep or a goat). There is a room in the graveyard for preparing meals. Usually such sacrifices are made after the result of pilgrimage (recovering from illness), or for reminiscence of late ancestors.

The Mizdakhan Complex

The Mizdakhan Complex includes a special group of sacred places. Pilgrims from various regions of Karakalpakstan visit the place. Essential objects of pilgrimage are Mazlumkhan-Sulu Mausoleum, Shamun-Nabi Mausoleum and Jumart Kassab knob. Mizdakhan is a huge complex consisting of antiquities which belong to different epochs. It includes the ruins of Gyaur Kala castle,  Golden Horde fortress, remnants of other constructions and a graveyard. The whole complex lies 3-4 kilometers southwards from Khodjeyli town on  three small hills with significant distance between each other. On the top of the hill there are tombs and mausoleums of different architecture and the most amazing among them from the point of view of architecture is Mazlumkhan-Sulu Mausoleum decorated with turquoise tiles. Construction of a palace in this part of Mizdakhan Complex is topographically impossible.

A legend among locals says that Mazlumkhan Sulu was a khan’s daughter to whom the nations of India, central and front Asia obeyed. Khoresm territory was her residence. A citadel on the hill located in an island was built for her. Her slave fell in love with Mazlumkhan Sulu and proposed marriage. She loved him too. However in anticipation of her father’s objection to the marriage as well as trying to check the sincerity of her lover she orders him to build an unprecedented palace in Central Asia. The slave constructed the palace with the assistance of his mates. Seeing the palace Mazlumkhan loved him much stronger. Knowing they would never be together alive Mazlumkhan-Sulu told him:  “if you love me jump from the roof of my palace”. The slave obeyed and died. Mazlumkhan-Sulu follows him and dies too. Both of them were buried in the palace which is now a mausoleum.

Inside the mausoleum there are remains of two tombstones which formerly had Persian inscriptions. The one that lies northwards is considered Mazlumkhan-Sulu’s grave. Mazlumkhan-Sulu’s temple was regarded as home for souls.

In early times on Thursdays at night porkhans (holy men) used to get together and organized zikr (religious activity related to saying certain prayers for the sake of God). Majority participants of zikr are women, porkhans are men. Porkhans were counted as specialists on fortune telling and curing, female infertility in particular.

The legends about this saint are widespread in Karakalpakstan. Shamunnabi was a strong man who lived long before Mukhammed and struggled against pagans for the faith of the only and genuine Allakh. He came from Arabia with a friend of his and settled in this hill. A pagan wrestler by name Gyaur lived nearby in a fortress with whom he often fought. Gyaur saw Shamunabi’s wife, fell in love with her and dug an underground way to his place. The unfaithful wife used to go through this way to meet Gyaur in the absence of her husband. Once having returned home Shamunnabi couldn’t find his wife in, and began looking for her. While searching he came across with an underground path through which he got to Gyaur’s castle where he found his rival with his wife. Gyaur started to fight with Shamunnabi but in vain.  The wife tried to bind her husband even with wire so as to put him at Gyaur’s disposal but the latter tore them all. Suddenly she learned that he couldn’t escape if bound with his own beard. Thus Gyaur managed to kill Shamunnabi. Other legends add that Shamunnabi had seven daughters and each of them constructed a dome for his sake.

According to a more realistic version, the mausoleum was built by a wealthy man whose cattle used to die. During seven years he led his cattle to the knob and revolved the saint’s grave seven times which resulted in termination of cattle loss.

The Shamunnabi cemetery is a most respected place. All the roads leading to the knob go through the cemetery. Visitors bow the saint kneeling down at the threshold, touch the tomb with their hands and then their faces. Then they listen to the Sheikh to say some prayers and give him sacrificial things. There are a lot of pieces of color cloth hanging on the bushes left by visitors. Mostly infertile women come here. They revolve the mausoleum three times and go to Jumart Kassab knob.

Jumart Kassab is a barrow shaped knob five meters high located next to Shamunnabi cemetery. This is the main object of pilgrimage for women. No sooner than getting married women take sacred measures to avoid infertility. But when trouble comes, pilgrimage and accomplishment of all the rituals are the most appropriate solution.
The ritual consists of triple revolve round a triangular object on the top. Then with the graveyard keeper they slide down on the stone slope.

The number of visits is determined by the Sheikh. In this case the Sheikh is usually a woman who runs the rituals. Sliding is determined by her as well. Usually infertile women visit the knob and the cemetery three times or seven times running.

Sultan-Vais Bobo

Civilization has existed for more than two millennia in Karakalpakstan. Many kingdoms replaced each other during these years. Ancient people left here castles and ruins of settlements as memory about themselves. The castles were built from mortar and this material, though it may not seem strong, it has remained safe through centuries.

But one thing in Karakalpakstan is particularly extraordinary. It is Sultan Uvays  mountain. It is not high and is known for its black color. In antiquity the temple of Anakhita, the goddess of water and fertility, was located on it. A pond with holy fish remain safe today. If these fish die, people bury them with tears in their eyes.

With the penetration of Islam a legend about Vais Al-Karani, a shepherd from Yemen who was one of the first to follow Mukhammed, began to spread here. His grave in Sultan Bobo Mountain is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. In Khorezm he is regarded as a patron for rain and underground resources, Turkmenians and Kazakhs consider him as keeper for camels.

Legends say Sultan Uvays lived here, kept sheep and was in a certain telepathic contact with the Prophet not having seen him even once before. Sultan Uvays always used to walk naked and barefoot, crying out one of Allakh’s   names- “Hu” which means “He”. By word of mouth Mukhammed learnt about him and four of his followers brought Sultan Uvays clothes from Mukhammed.

Sultan Uvays put them on and stood before God, took a piece of stone and split his head with tears in his eyes. All the birds gathered and wept above his head. Sultan Uvays requested God for all the sinful at his disposal in order to show them the true faith. But God became angry for he had split his head.

“Your tears became a river” said God to Uvays.  “I ask you for the sinful” insisted Sultan Uvays. God let him take one third of the sinful. But he stood his ground and beat his head again. Then he began praying for the rest of the sinful and they were given to him as well. He prayed so hot that a stone on which he  knelt melted under him. And now there is a piece of this stone with a trace of kneels.

The second part was taken to Leningrad for investigation. This story tells one of the main pictures of Khoresmian legends about the saint. A number of legends are connected with the ancient land of Khoresm, and the legend of Sultan Uvays is one of them. Even today a lot of pilgrims from around the world come here to pray the place where this legendary shepherd lived.  

Appreciation of saints exists in all religions: Islam is not an exception, though it took a lot of time until it came into being in the process of formation of Moslem faith teaching. Respect of saints and pilgrimage to the places connected with the names of the holy people has become a normal thing in the religious behavior of a Muslim. There are the so-called “holy places” in any region of our country where Islam exists. A number of them have long lost their previous significance and are not often visited while others are still appreciated by people. This is one of the essential forms of modern religiousness.

Saints of all ranks and spheres are known here, but none of them is respected more than Vaisoi al Karani who has great popularity and the power of influence on believers’ mind. In Khoresm people call him as Sultan Bobo or Sultan Vais. The center of his cult – Sultan Bobo Temple is located in the foothills of the Amudarya, a long distance from suburban settlements, on the southern slope of mountain chain which –for his sake-is called Sultanuizdag (Sultan Vais Mountain). There is a complex of temples here. In the early 1950s life prospered near the Sultan Vais Mausoleum. A famous “service” was organized here for pilgrims including a hotel with a huge terrace and kitchen appliances for preparing sacrificial sheep.

It was necessary to find out the reason why the legendary character from Arabia got settled here well and his cult has remained up to the moment. It was surprising to watch pilgrims concentrating not on Sultan Vais’s mausoleum, but a rather huge holy pond. Pilgrims drank water from it, washed their faces, others even accomplished ritual washing for which sheikhs had built a pavilion with the capability of 20-25 people. They took water in bottles from the pond. It is considered holy and it must be helpful against illnesses and other troubles. But what relation does Sultan Vais have with this place? They explained us: the spring water that fills the pond flows out of the legs of the buried Sultan Vais.

We saw fish in the holy pond. Big, lazy and fat they seemed to have grown moss. From time to time they slowly swam to the very bank of the pond. These fish too are counted holy. Visitors watched them long, fed them- it was a part of the rituals of their pilgrimage. They told us about severe punishments which were made for people who killed the holy fish. With the pond is related the ritual that is accomplished by infertile women. They go barefoot from the pond on a stony and thorny path along a dried stream through which flows surplus of water from the pond in spring only. On their way they bind votive ribbons on the bushes and rocks. The banks of the stream have been hollowed out and … they don’t revolve them but go through them. At the end of their way they build “arvohuyi” (home for spirits) from several pieces of stone, imitations of houses, a symbolic sign of a magical relation with the mausoleum. This ritual is said to help avoid infertility and other female diseases.

The Sultan Vais Complex includes Chinar Baba Mausoleum. Visitors come to it earlier than the main mausoleum. It is linked with the belief according to which Chinar Baba was either master (religious tutor) or muezzin for Sultan Vais - nevertheless Sultan Vais respected him in such a way that he ordered: “He must be higher”. They explained us the reason of Chinar Baba’s prevalence over Sultan Vais this way. Chinar Baba’s character is rather attractive. Actually, he doesn’t have a name, because Chinar is the name of a tree. It is just an assumed name. Finally, there isn’t any biographic data related to him – either real or legendary.

Having prayed Chinar Baba pilgrims go to the place where, according to the most popular legend in Khoresm, the holy Ambar Ona milked the wild goat that had come down from the mountains. She is regarded a patron saint for women. She has surely replaced Dizan, the goddess of water and fertility in pre Islamic belief of Khoresmians. On the way to the place connected to this saint and her wild goat, visitors meet a sheikh with scales. On one of these scales there is a piece of stone. “What is this?” asks the visitor according to the ritual. “These are your sins” responds the sheikh and then the pilgrim puts a stone so that his good deeds could overweight his sins. The shekh is given a gift for he lets the pilgrim to do so.

There is one more place of interest of Sultanuzdag mountain. Shekhs of the mausoleum took us to this holy place together with visitors telling us about an interesting incident from the legendary biography of the saint: when Sultan Vais found out that Mukhammed (the prophet) lost his tooth in the battle which had taken place near Okhod mountain he also desired to have his tooth pulled out. But he didn’t know which tooth Mukhammed had lost that was why he broke all 32 teeth in his own mouth.     

At a rather long distance from the mausoleum, in a deserted place there is a huge pile of stones put together on a rock, big and small, on which waved votive ribbons.

There is a tradition that Khoresm took a significant part in spreading the cult of this saint among nomads.