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Karajan awakes three days later to discover his son’s betrayal. Can he and the injured Baychobar win the race for Barchin?
The Alpamysh makes several references to the “Saints”. Sometimes these figures are identified explicitly, as in the case of al-Khidr (“Hizir”); most of the time, simply as a collective. Who could these individuals have been in reality?
Central Asia has had a long and complex religious history. Its oldest spiritual genetics reach back to shamanism and Zoroastrianism, but there is also a heavy strain of Buddhism as well. This latter strain dates back to the ancient Greek kingdoms in Oxus, Bactria, the Khyber Pass, Gandhara and the Punjab. Hence, it is probable that the “saints” are, in fact, the bodhisattvas of Buddhist lore, in particular monks who had perfected the spiritual disciplines and subsequently ascended to nirvana, from which position they could assist and guide those still on earth trapped in the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. The bodhisattva notion would take on Islamic garb in the form of the Sufi pir.
The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (Department of Anthropology and Sociology) invites paper proposals for an interdisciplinary workshop: Muslims and Sports (event date: July 2013).
To what ends will men go to satisfy lust? As Karajan drifts to sleep, his only son, Dost Mohammed, implements a terrible plan to prevent him from winning the race for the lovely Barchin.
The tired [lit. "small-minded"] batir, Karajan, tied the feet of his young mount, then placed his head on the saddle cushion, rested his head on his palm, and laid down. He immediately became motionless like a tree.
Taysha Khan sends a spy to report on Karajan, who reports back about the latter’s horse, who has oddly pegasus-like qualities. A conspiracy is hatched by none other than Karajan’s only son to kill the horse and tie up the heroic horseman…
A tore was sent by Taysha to observe the order of the race, and was instructed to keep an eye on the four hundred and ninety Kalmaks.
This man was At Peshin Tore, who at once reported about the horses: “We saw the four hundred and ninety horses as they filed past us. We watched all. Next to the chestnut [tree] was Karajan’s horse, [compared to which] all the others seem like oxen. Karajan’s friend’s horse is [quite a] mount.”
[The khan replied,] “Let us go see it.” He gathered nine Kalmaks to go with him.
They all went near the horse.
Ever since Karajan became friends with Alpamysh and became Muslim, he never missed a single prayer time. While he was performing his morning prayers, Baychobar was walking around behind him.
The tore inspected Baychobar’s body and flesh with his own hands. He discovered the wings on his shoulders, and the way the horse folded them, moving occasionally. Atpeshin Tore became scared of Baychobar. He fled, rejoining the crowd.
He gathered all of the four hundred and ninety Kalmaks and said:
The race for Barchin’s hand in marriage has begun: whoever can reach her jurt first shall have her! Alpamysh and Karajan’s enemies prepare themselves, numbering as many as 490. But Alpamysh himself is banned from racing on account of his age, forcing the much older Karajan to compete in his place…
Karajan told Alpamysh what Barchin said. Alpamysh asked him, “Are my elders well?” “They are well, my friend,” Karajan replied. Upon hearing this news, they rested Baychobar for seven days and nights.
Meanwhile, the Kalmaks rode hard over the stony ground towards the fortress of Taysha Khan. They hid their beloved in the castle, for to the winner of the horse race contest, Barchin was the prize; hence, all hell broke loose [among them].
For the lady and the child, horsetails were braided. Death is an order of the creator: no Kalmak was left behind, all were gathered, and all cried with the hope of receiving the hand of Barchin. [According to the mollas,] four hundred and ninety swift horses from the side of Taysha entered the race.
Karajan called for his friend Alpamysh, who was ready to enter the race. [Yet,] Alpamysh himself was not permitted [on account of his age of 14 years], for children only fetch the horses. His friend Karajan was fielded instead, declaring, “For the sake of friendship, I will be the horsegroom!”
Karajan breaks his in-laws out of prison and rides away upon Baychobar. But, as he parts ways with Barchin, she makes a terrible oath.
Kokemen Kaska [the vezir of Baysir Bay] was the head of the executioners. He realized that Khan was changing his mind. Speedily coming to the jailhouse, Kokemen Kaska released Baysari Bay and Altun Sach to Karajan.
Baysari Bay recognized the Baychobar, walked around it, hugged it. He Jumped and mounted Baychobar; Karajan mounted behind him, followed by Altun Sach. The horse’s chest got longer and he galloped away.
Thanks to his encounter with Barchin, Karajan has discovered the horrible truth of his own connection to the political upheavals and devastation plaguing the land. He vows to seek justice.
Karajan mounted his horse, saying to Barchin,
“My mind became upset on this field.
Kungrats are in a revolt over their honor,
and when the owner arrives from the land of Baysun
Taysha Khan will be in trouble.
Mounting horses from every direction,
countless Kalmaks died in Isfahan.
When I look, I see that your house is on fire Taysha.
Valiant Alpamysh arrived from the land of Baysun.
When the roses of the garden wilt before the ninety days of winter,
when my time is up, the appointed hour cannot be deferred,
all my limbs [shall be] devastated.
When he was our guest for the six days,
Padishah, hear that I am crying,
draining my life away,
consuming my sustenance at every stage of my travelling,
eating my nine camels,
even when the Kalmak could not eat one baby camel.”
Thus, Karajan was displaying his degree of friendship towards Alpamysh.
“Hear me, Taysha Khan!
If you had nine camels eaten at every stage of travel,
you cannot keep it up until the end of time.
Won’t you admit that!
You are an impostor!
When I listen to the God in the morning,
I become angry and [vow to] take your head!
You will die doing what you have always done!
Of all your bad deeds, you do the worst to me!
You have imprisoned my father and mother!”
After befriending Alpamysh, Karajan decides to go find the latter’s beloved himself. He treks until he sheds “bloody tears”, but finally succeeds. But can he convince Barchin to return with him?
One of the most interesting things about Karajan’s wrestling match with Alpamysh is how it becomes a tale of islam: he is literally forced to submit to God. And yet, once Alpamysh decides to be merciful, friendship immediately ensues. The notion here is that submission and mercy in the One True Faith bring harmony and unity.
Moreover, now converted to the cause, Karajan is also strongly inclined to take matters into his own hands and help Alpamysh resolve the plight of Barchin…
It has been almost two years since we last saw our hero, Alpamysh. He has ridden to the Kalmak camp to rescue his beloved Barchin. There, he confronts the impetuous and violent Karajan for the first time. Some of the spiritual power behind the Hero’s quest has already been intimated, but much is still to come, particularly now as the two warriors face off for an epoch-making wrestling match, one with more than a few similarities to Jacob’s struggle with the angel!
Alpamysh is a Turkic dastan, i.e., ornate oral history, and a prime representative of the Turkic oral literature of Central Asia. This literature has been and remains the principal repository of ethnic identity, history, customs, and the value systems of its owners and composers. Set mostly in verse, the Alpamysh dastan is known and recited from the eastern Altai to the western Ural mountain ranges and as far south as Band-e Turkestan. It commemorates the Turkic people’s struggles for freedom, on one level materially, but at a deeper level spiritually.
This translation was produced over a span of seven years, with research conducted on three continents, ten countries and almost two dozen cities. I worked on it originally to explore the effect of Soviet policies upon local cultural traditions and literature, as well as to dig deeper into Central Asia’s mythic, shamanistic past and cast more light on the fertile interaction between the region’s ancient Tengriist beliefs and the later Islamic import. The copyright’s mine and I’ve happily turned the manuscript over to NewEurasia to re-publish it, with edits by Schwartz. Enjoy!