Feb 20, 2010

Legend of Seven Saints in Tuyugou, China

BEIJING, March 10 -- Tuyugou is not a name that is familiar to tourists. Visitors to the popular city of Turpan are often ignorant of this small place tucked in a mountain valley some 50 km away. However, Tuyugou has a rich religious history that few other places in China can match.

Named after the Uygur word tuyuq or "not passable", Tuyugou is a township in Shanshan county of Turpan prefecture. The Mazar village or "Tomb Village", the center of Tuyugou, lies in a valley of the Mountain of Fire (Huoyan Shan).

Muslims from all over Xinjiang, Northwest China's Gansu province and Ningxia Hui autonomous region, and even other countries like Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Turkey come here to visit the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar or "tomb of saints in the cave".

"Some even believe that visiting the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar twice equals one Haj," says 34-year-old Jappar Hamut from Shanshan.

Located in a mountainside just outside the Mazar village, the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar is a small cave with an extended domed room that serves as a prayer hall. On the walls are inscribed the 18th chapter of the Koran, The Cave.

It tells the story of a group of young men who sought refuge in a cave as they fled the pagans. Local people believe this is the cave of the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar.

One such believer is 66-year-old Izizbul Imin Haji, sheikh of the mazar. Izizbul belongs to the eighth generation of his family that has been guarding the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar for more than 300 years.

According to Izizbul, about 2,000 years ago, seven sons of the King of Yemen wondered about the origins of the sun, moon, sky and everything on earth. They decided to go out and seek the answer.

When they arrived at Dakianus (old name of Gaochang), the King of Dakianus asked what they were looking for. When they told him, he said, "I'm the creator of the world", and invited them to stay in his palace.

After a few days, the seven young men found that the king was not the creator of the world, but a corrupt ruler. When the king realized that his true nature was known, he decided to kill the young men, who ran away. On the road, they met a shepherd, who wanted to follow them to look for the creator of the world. He sent his sheep back home, but his dog decided to follow its master.

Together they arrived at the cave. The dog guarded the entrance, while the others slept for what they thought was three or four hours.

When they got up and went out to buy food, the vendor wouldn't accept their coins. Only then did they find out that they had slept for 309 years.

A record in the Koran seems to match the legend of the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar perfectly. The story goes that after their death, the seven young men were buried at where today's Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar stands. In Chinese the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar is called "Qi Xian Fen", or "Tomb of the Seven Saints".

Izizbul says that during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), many mazars were destroyed, but a dog kept guard at the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar, preventing the "red guards" from getting close to it.

In Izizbul's possession is a stick which is said to have belonged to the shepherd, 2,000 years ago. Pilgrims at the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar believe the stick has the power to cure problems such as lumbago and backache, and they often ask Izizbul to beat their body gently with the stick after praying at the mazar.

While a visit to the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar is believed to cure diseases, there is another place in Tuyugou which locals believe can invite illnesses.

"Uygur people never go there. We believe those caves are inhabited by the devil," says Ziwithan Kadir, a 58-year-old woman resident of Tuyugou. "They are not for Muslims."

Ziwithan is referring to what is known as the "Thousand-Buddha Caves of Tuyugou", a group of caves with Buddhist frescoes about 1 km from the mazar.

Before Uygur people converted to Islam, Buddhism used to be dominant in Xinjiang, and around today's "Thousand-Buddha Caves of Tuyugou" there used to be a famous Buddhist temple called Dinggu Temple.

After the Uygurs converted to Islam, Dinggu Temple and the caves with frescoes were forsaken. The residents no longer understood where those frescoes came from and became afraid of them.

"People are afraid to pass that area alone," says Mamat Rajap, a guard at the "Thousand-Buddha Caves of Tuyugou".

Mamat says that 15 years ago he too was afraid - till he learnt about the history of the caves.

"Some people say that I shouldn't guard Buddhist caves, but I tell them that these are cultural relics of the Uygur people."

According to archaeological studies, the sculpting of the "Thousand-Buddha Cave of Tuyugou" started in the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420), and continued for more than 1,000 years.

Wang Xin, a professor with Shaanxi Normal University, says Buddhism influenced the Tuyugou area deeply, and the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar was probably built on the ruins of a Buddhist temple after Islam replaced Buddhism in the area.

Wang believes that elements of more religions can be found in Tuyugou, for Xinjiang's location the Silk Road made it a meeting point of different religions and cultures. For example, the Nestorianism sect of Christianity used to be popular in the Turpan area and Nestorianism's idea of resurrection may have influenced the construction of the story of Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar; the custom of using the stick to cure diseases is probably a remnant of Shamanism. In addition, the legend of the dog may be related to the ancient wolf totem of the Uygur people.

The various cultural undercurrents of Tuyugou may not be evident to most worshippers at the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar who come here simply to seek divine blessings. Most worshippers come from May to October every year.

Infertile women often come to worship at the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar in the hope of becoming pregnant. Those who succeed come back to offer their gratitude with an offering like a sheep and divide the meat among the villagers.

But in a sign of changing times, "some women come to worship once a week, for seven consecutive weeks. If they still don't become pregnant, they go to a hospital," says Ziwithan.

The Mazar village, in the center of Tuyugou, is home to the holy Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar.

Original title:
Legend of Seven Saints in NW China's Tuyugou
Photo: China Daily by Mu Qian
Editor: Sun Yunlong
Note: Refer to the statement "Infertile women often come to worship at the Al-Sahab Kahfi Mazar". Muslims are not allowed to worship other than Allah. May be this statement wrongly written due to miss understand of the local term or their concept by writer or wrongly choice of the correct word by writer or miss understanding by some of the local about the wrong doing itself. The Kahfi also a God creation and we never ever allowed to worship other than Allah.

Some culture which are against the Islam lesson must be stop to make a muslim walk on the true path.

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