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The Alpamysh, part 8: Karajan’s dramatic conversion

Central Asian wrestling. Photograph by Flickr user eatswords (CC-usage).

NewEurasia’s Paksoy’s translations of the ancient Turkic epic Alpamysh continues!

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!

A re-introduction

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!

Karajan wrestles with God

Alpamysh said, “You go first,” to which Karajan replied, “You go first.” Alpamysh insisted: “Your beard is white, you are older, therefore I defer to you. You go first” — and Karajan grabbed Alpamysh like a lion.

Just then, the Seven Saints who had named Alpamysh appeared. They worked their magic, making Alpamysh so heavy that Karajan was unable to lift him up or throw him.

Karajan thought, “Is this a walnut tree, deep rooted, that it does not move?”

Finally, Karajan deferred to Alpamysh, and called God’s name three times. Then he called his Seven Saints, grabbed Karajan’s belt, picked him up, turned and heaved Karajan under himself. Alpamysh embraced him so tightly that Karajan’s nose started bleeding. When Alpamysh threw him down, Karajan started to beg for mercy, saying:

“The young horse runs in his time;
the one who is a batir will use his shield;
you broke my back, took my life,
if it is Barchin you are looking for, she will be found.

I was alone, now I have an equal;
I was fooling myself with a false sense of superiority.
I accept your God, and his apostle;
I become friends with you, as of now;
if blood is spilled, then the golden throne will shine
because, there will not be anyone to sit on it.

I speak, elders listen:
I became friends with you;
I accept your God, and his apostle;
He [God] is the creator of all.
Shall I, the offender, ever be forgiven?

I became friends with you;
I became Muslim, my God is one.”

At this time, Alpamysh thought. “If I kill him, the black earth will not be filled. Furthermore, he invoked the name of God and his apostle; became a Muslim.” And so, Alpamysh stopped.

Karajan collapsed. Eventually, he came to, about the time of the noon prayers, and said to Alpamysh: “I became friends with you out of my fear. Now teach me the Creed [i.e., of Muslims].” And so, he recited the Creed. They placed the Isfahan sword between them, and embracing, became friends.

Karajan mounted his black horse. Alpamysh mounted his Chobar. They arrived at Karajan’s house and inner circle, where Karajan served his friend.

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