Sanctity of Manjyly-Ata

This post is also available in: Russian, Kyrgyz

This text was published in the book ‘Sacred Sites of Yssk-Kol: Spiritual Power, Pilgrimage and Art’. by Aigine Bishkek:, 2009. Translated from kyrgyz.

Manjyly-Ata is a large mazar, a sacred site that lies on the southern shore of the Ysyk-Köl. When asked about the mazar people often recall the words of words of Karga Ake, who lived in the 17th century: “Joo küsösön jongorgo chabaarsyn, bala küsösön, Manjylyga baraarsyn”, which means:“If you want enemies, you will go to the Jungars (China), if you want child, you will go to Manjyly”. As long ago as the 17th century Manjyly-Ata was already known as a sacred place and it is still considered so today.

There is known saying about the mazar: “Bala surasang – Manjyly-Ataga, baiylyk surasang – Cholpon-Ataga, den sooluk surasang – Ysyk-Ataga, tak surasang – Kochkor-Ataga bar”. This means: “If you want a child – go to Manjyly-Ata, if you want wealth – go to Cholpon-Ata, if you want health – go to Ysyk-Ata, if you want to be crowned – go to Kochkor-Ata”.

Manjyly-Ata is situated in the south of the Tong area of the Ysyk-Köl province between the town of Bokonbaevo and village Kaji-Saiy. The mazar is a complex of sacred places, hidden amongst the gentle clay hills there are holy trees, springs, old graves and a dilapidated mosque. The mazar has now acquired a more modern area where the pilgrims are hosted. There is an area for ritual sacrifice, for the preparation and arranging of food; a place for eating; a place where pilgrims can spend the night; and a room for those who guard the site. On the top of one of the hills a modern mosque was built in 1998 with the support of Dastan Sarygulov147.

The pilgrims visit the springs (of Umaiy-Ene, Kyrk-Chilten, hero Köbök, Ilim, Bala) the trees (Bugu-Ene), the grave of Moiyt ake and other graves. The waters of the springs of Manjyly-Ata each have a different flavour and according to the knowledge of the traditional practitioners they all have different healing abilities.

There are no exact explanations of how Manjyly-Ata came to be known as a sacred site. According to the famous manaschy Mambet Chokmorov, the future parents of the great hero Jakyp and Chyiyrdy came to Manjyly-Ata to ask for a child and were blessed with Manas. From this story comes the fame of the mazar as a place where people ask for children. The local people also tell another story about Manjyly-Ata. According to this version a person named Manjyly lived there. He was a greatly respected wise man, he had healing powers and was an enlightened person. When he died, he was buried in this place, at one of the sacred sites of the complex called Manjyly-Ata. When people got sick or when they needed advice, they would remember Manjyly and visit his grave to ask his help. Over time the grave and the springs around it became known as a holy place. Yet another story says that the hero Attila who conquered Europe with his sword in the fifth century was buried at Manjyly-Ata. There are many other legends about Manjyly-Ata.

The Altai people also use a word similar to manjyly. Their word manjak is used for a special sheepskin coat that only powerful shamans can wear. According to Danil Mamyev148, shamans wear the manjak coat when they hold a ritual called “going under the earth” or “going to the world of the dead”. The manjak coat helps the shamans in the difficult rituals, it helps them to go beneath the earth and then return.

In has long been custom among the Kyrgyz people to bury their fathers in the burial place of their forefathers. This tradition has always been strictly followed and was considered the right way of honouring ancestors. When Orozbak from the Ysyk-Köl Bugu clan, the father of five sons: Aryk, Myrzakul, Asan, Kara and Tokoch, was buried near Andijan, his sons and the Bugu people would take the bodies of their deceased south, close to Andijan, to bury them where their ancestors lay. Then one day a wise men, one of the seven ake of the Ysyk-Köl: Moiyt ake, a son of Aldayar beseeched his last will to his people saying: “When I die, bury me at Manjyly-Ata. When you dig a place for me you will find a copper kazan149, a ladle, and two bowls. After that, do not trouble yourself by taking the bodies of the deceased to Andijan. You will receive a sign at Manjyly-Ata and you should submit to that sign. You must know that this is a very holy place.” Moiyt Ake lived to be one hundred and he died in the summer time in Tekes. The people of the Bugu tribe did not forget his last will and took his body between two camels and buried him at Manjyly-Ata. As Moiyt ake had said, when they dug the hole to bury him they found the copper kazan, the ladle and the two bowls. When the mourners were leaving the site they saw a white colt run along the lake shore along to Manjyly-Ata hollow and then it disappeared. Remembering the words of Moiyt ake about the sacredness of Manjyly-Ata, they read this vision as a good sign confirming the words of Moiyt ake. From that time onwards the people of Ysyk-Köl no longer took their dead to be buried in the south, but rather buried them by the lake.

Manjyly-Ata distinguishes itself from the other mazars of the region in that it has always had loyal guardians and protectors, who take care of the site. The guardians maintain the site, they keep it clean and welcome the pilgrims, they tell them the story and secrets of the site. There is a story passed down through the oral records concerning one of the guardians of the site, who lived around the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. he was a dervish, called Kobek. The story goes that it was Kobek, an educated man and a Muslim, who built the old mosque. Today it is still possible to see the ruins of that mosque; one can see the walls almost a metre high. After Kobek the guardians were Moiyt ake, Botokan, and Maiytyk dervish, who were also clairvoyants, after them the manaschy, Mambek Chokmorov.

Botokan was one of the richest people in the Tong area on the south shore of the lake. He took it upon himself to protect the mazar from his kinsmen, who wanted to settle here. He told people that the sacred place should not be touched, it should not be trampled upon and cattle should not graze here, nomadic yurts should not stand at Manjyly-Ata. He took great care of the site. Before he died he told his children to bury him at Manjyly-Ata next to Moiyt ake, and his last wish was fulfilled.

Maiytyk was a dervish [q.v.] – a wanderer who came from afar, stopped at Manjyly-Ata and then became the guardian. According to legend Maiytyk cured people from emotional disorders, he would light great fires at Manjyly and in this way cleanse the souls of the sick people. The elders say that Maiytyk guarded the site until the end of his days.

The manaschy Mambet Chokmorov was the guardian of Manjyly-Ata during the Soviet period, during which the state fought to eliminate spiritual and religious values. That is why heconducted the pilgrimage and took his patients there only at night. He would only cure people after dark. People who undertook the pilgrimage with Mambet manaschy say there was nothing there at the time. There were no buildings; only the tombs and the great expanse of nature, there were also two stone hearths. The local aksakals also say that despite government prohibition, many people would visit the sacred sites at night150.

Today the guardian of Manjyly-Ata mazar is Kadyrbek Jakypov. He has done much to improve the conditions at the site for the pilgrims who come from all parts of the country. A modern complex has been built, a four room house in which visitors can spend the night, and a kitchen area where food can be prepared and cooked. Everything necessary for pilgrimage is here including a place for ritual cleansing and ecological rubbish bins. These facilities have been built thanks to the organizational skills of the guardian.

In October 2008, Kadyrbek Jakypov took part in World Conservation Congress organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Barcelona, Spain. His participation was nominated by Aigine Cultural Research Center and was supported by the Christensen Fund from the USA. At the congress, Kadyrbek Jakypov had the chance to tell an international audience of the ancient traditions of the Kyrgyz people, he talked of the sanctity, magic and power of sacred sites, particularly Manjyly-Ata. This was a way to introduce people to the traditions of the Kyrgyz people.

The mosques that stood and are standing at this exceptional sacred site have already been mentioned. This is an important detail when considering religious diversity. On the one hand the mosque standing at Manjyly-Ata can be a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of “official” Muslims strictly following the rules of the Shariat [q.v.], the mosque allows them to pray at this scared site. On the other hand it is also a place of worship for hundreds of followers of “folk” Islam. Whereas the adherents of other religions and directions of belief have at their disposal the incredible nature of the area, here they can pray amongst the peaceful and quiet lands not influenced by time and civilization.

In this chapter our contemporaries share their thoughts and experiences about pilgrimage to Manjyly-Ata and their understanding of the sacredness of the site.

147 Dastan Sarygulov is a Tengriism practitioner, author of books on Tengriism. He is the former State Secretary of Kyrgyzstan, former deputy of the Parliament [ed.].

148 Danil Mamyev is the founder and head of the natural park “Uch Enmek” in Karakol, Altai Republic of Russian Federation. He is also the leader of the organization “Tengri Spiritual-Ecological School” (1996). His nationality is Altai, from the Todosh tribe. He is a geologist, geographer, and mountaineer. His spiritual responsibility is to preserve sacred sites.

149 Kazan [Turkic] – a kettle.

150 For a description of the problems of visiting sacred sites during the Soviet period: see “The experience of sacred sites during the Soviet period” in Mazar Worship in Kyrgyzstan: Rituals and Practitioners in Talas, Bishkek, 2007, pgs.329-351.

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