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Legend about saint Shahi-Zinda.

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

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I wish to tell you about the most surprising thing that happened in the great city of Samarkand. In the East there is no city quite like Samarkand. The best paper is made in Samarkand. They make a special kind of paper - «djuvaz» on the river Siob, also named Obi-Rahmat. Another manufactured product of Samarkand is crimson velvet of such quality that there is no other such splendid fabric anywhere else in the world. The city gives people grapes, melons, apples and pomegranates. Samarkand’s peaches are like gold. The halvah in Samarkand is better even than that found in Tashkent. Flat cakes from Samarkand are always on the tables of kings ruling in the countries stretching from China to Rome.

In this city and its outskirts there are many buildings and gardens built by Timur bek and Ulugbek Mirza. In Samarkand’s citadel Timur bek built a huge four-storey palace known as the Kuk Sarai. The palace was very high. Near the Iron Gate he built a stone cathedral mosque called the Bibi-Hanym. It was built by stonemasons from India. The front face of the mosque is decorated with a verse from the Koran: “And here Abraham, with Ismael, made the foundations for this house”. The letters of the verse are so big that one can read them some eight thousand steps away from the mosque.

Timur bek laid out two gardens to the east of Samarkand: Dilkusha and Bag-buldi. In Dilkusha there stood a big palace whose walls displayed a picture of one of Timur's Indian battles. Near Kuhaka hill, above the Kanighil stream Timur laid out a garden called Nakshi-Djagan. When I was there the garden had already been destroyed, and its name lost. Besides, to the south of Samarkand, Timur laid out the further gardens of Baghi-Chanor, Baghi-Shamol and Baghi-Beghisht.

Timur's grandson and Djahanghir Mirza's son, Muhammad Sultan Mirzo, built a madrasah in which they buried Timur's daughter and other descendants that reigned in Samarkand. But only one vaulted tomb of the madrasah is safe. These ruins are 50 steps from "Gur-Emir" - Timur bek's tomb. It is surrounded by Sart "saklyas" [1] and known to a few people.

Mirzo Ulugbek built a madrasah in Samarkand and a "khanaka" dome so big that it has no equal in the world. Near the madrasah and khanaka he built a pleasant bath known as Mirza's bath. Its floor was decorated with jewels of all different kinds. It is not known whether such exquisite baths have ever existed in Khurasan or, even, in Babylon. To the south of the madrasah Ulugbek built a mosque called Masdjiddi Mukatta. Its walls and ceiling are covered with wooden mosaics made in magnificent syulsi stile. The direction to kybla[2] is defined by astronomers. At the foot of Kuhaka hill Mirza Ulugbek erected a huge three-storey observatory for drawing the Gurgan astronomical tables that are now used all over the world.

At the foot of «Kuhaka", to the west, Mirza Ulugbek laid out a garden named Baghi-Maydon, and in the middle of this garden he built a two-storey building named Chil-Sutun. Each column of the building is made of stone, and its four corners are equipped with towers which look like minarets. In the towers there are corridors leading to the top where the upper floor is an open hall with a terrace around.

In the time of sultan Ahmed Mirza noble men also laid out a lot of gardens, the best of which was Dervish Muhammad Tarkhan's garden famous for its air, comfort and size. It is situated near Baghi-Maydon. The area is divided into terraces and planted with nice elms, cypresses and poplars.

To the south of these extraordinary gardens is situated the most esteemed place for souls of the dead. This earth's paradise for souls is called Shahi Zinda which means “the king is alive”. However, (and I shall not conceal it from you), one mutavallia [3] at the mazar of Shahi Zinda translated it as – “the Emperor's hole”. May Allah judge him for his words [4].

I know only the truth which I tell you. Abbas, who was uncle of Prophet Mohammed (may he rest in peace!), had sons: Fazyl, whose tomb is in Syria, in Yarmuk province; Abdulla, buried in Medina, where the Prophet died; and Kussam who participated in the ablution of the Prophet's body.

Among Abbas' sons only Kussam, through his looks and character, resembled the great Prophet of the Islamic world. In the time of Caliph Ali, Kussam was the khakim (mayor) of Mubarak city in Arabia. In the time of Caliph Maavia he went to Mavaru-al-Nahar with general Saghid, son of Caliph Osman, and became the khakin of Khurasan after Ubaydi Ziy.

Samarkand was surrendered to Arabian conquerors at the end of the 7th century AD, and its inhabitants were made moslems. Kussam, heading a little group of Arabian soldiers was left in Samarkand to strengthen the Arabian authority and belief there.

He lived in a cave near Samarkand, in the place where his mazar is, and from here he organized the dissemination of the new religion to help convert the heretics. Owing to Kussam's diligent activities the people of Samarkand accepted Islam, and his cave became a place for people's meetings; they came there to discover the divine truth.

Kussam's lectures were a great success, and soon there was not a single non-believer left in all of Mabaru-al-Nahar. His popularity greatly frightened other heretics, and they decided to attack Samarkand at night. In secret they rowed across the KukhakRiver and surrounded Kussam with his followers near Ahanin gate at Banunajia Street where they were praying.

Suddenly a terrible fight began. The heretics attacked the true believers like a terrible storm would attack the trees. The battle proceeded till next morning. Kussam's sword killed hordes of enemies as swiftly as strikes of lighting. But from out of nowhere saint Kussam was struck by an arrow. The Torch of Islam was dead. His followers surrounded the body and continued fighting until Khazret Jabrailm, on his wings, took their souls to the halls of the Prophet (May he rest in peace!).

The heretics were very happy at their victory and came up to Kussam's body. They cut off his head, intending to show it to people and prove that a Moslem could be killed. But Kussam got up suddenly, took his head and ran to a cave. He used his whip, and with each strike he killed a hundred of his enemies. Kussam hid in the cave in which there was a well, and nobody saw him since then. The heretics followed him, but the well had been closed with big stones.

Hiding in the cave Kussam threw his whip at the entrance and the whip turned into a tree which still grows today even without water. You can see it in the end of the open corridor in the east side of cemetery of Shah-i-Zinda. Pilgrims come to this wonderful tree – darakhti-kamchin (the tree of the whip). Clever people say that the tree works miracles. If a barren woman eats just one berry from this tree she will give birth to a child whichever sex she wants. I saw the tree myself. It looks like an acacia and gives berries every year. The sheikhs of the mazar gather these berries and treat barren Muslim women.

But I must tell you that the miracles connected with saint Kussam's tomb have been performed there for many centuries. Emir Timur returned to Samarkand from a far-flung campaign. The campaign had been begun well: Timur had conquered a lot of lands and had returned with many things to his capital. Timur was pleased with the success of the campaign, but before celebrating his victory and relaxing after the war he wished to perform ziarat (worship) at the tombs of some holy men buried in Samarkand.

His sons and relatives, with great splendour and magnificence, together with Timur went round the sacred places, left their horses and worshipped. Finally, Emir Timur came to the well at the cave in which Kussam ibn Abbas had hidden from the heretics. At that moment Timur wondered whether Shah-i-Zinda was alive? He said to his followers:

“I have read about it in historical books, and many people know that Shah-i-Zinda disappeared down into the well when he was pursued by the pagan Samarkandians. He is alive and lives in this cave’s well. I wish to know, whether it is true. Didn’t Shah-i-Zinda die?”

Somebody answered:

“Emperor, nobody knows about the invisible. Only God does. We cannot say weather Shah-i-Zinda is dead or alive. We must see it for ourselves.”

One dignitary continued:

“Great Emperor, one book tells that Shah-i-Zinda will pray in the well until the prophet Isa comes to this world. Then Kussam ibn Abbas will leave the well and show himself to the people again.”

Those words did not persuade Timur, and he wished to find out everything. Timur was never afraid of difficulties. He wanted somebody to go with him. He promised money and honour to anyone who could get information about Shah-i-Zinda. His promises were tempting, but there was not a single volunteer as everybody was afraid of disturbing Shah-i-Zinda. Many of them thought that the entrance was guarded by a fearsome dragon.

Timur got angry and asked his army: “My brave soldiers, can any of you go down in the well and find out whether the saint is alive or not”


One soldier, Hida by name, decided to try. Hida was a strong and fearless soldier. He intended to collect the prize for his courage. Hida said he would do what Timur wanted.

At this news Timur cheered up and said:

“It is very difficult, but I know you can do it. I want you to come back soon and safe and calm my heart.”

Hida tied his waist with one end of a rope and Timur's soldiers took the other. As he was going down the soldiers had to tie several ropes to each other as the well was so deep. At last Hida felt the ground under himself. He looked around and saw nothing but darkness. However Hida was a very clever man. He had seen and heard a lot in his life. Hida sat down on the ground and closed his eyes covering them with his palms. Some time later Hida opened his eyes and saw that the well as light as the Earth on a clear day.

Hida looked round and saw another cave in the corner of the well. He entered the cave, passed through a hundred-meter corridor and saw a palace which looked like Faridun's treasury. The palace, decorated outside and inside with precious stones, was shining like the sun on a summer day and lit everything with multicolored beams. Its four sides were equipped with "sufas" [5], and the facade was plastered with fused gold. On each sufa there was a throne decorated with jewels. This magnificent palace surprised Hida. He had been to many countries with Timur, and had seen different wonders, he had even heard about such wonderful things, but he had never seen anything like the palace.

Hida stood there waiting, but encountered nobody. He entered the palace, but again nobody was there. At last Hida opened a door and saw a large garden. It was the most beautiful garden he had ever seen. There were huge vineyards, fruit and decorative trees and bushes of all sizes. There were fine flower beds with the most surprising flowers in the world. Wide meadows and fields flowed as far as the eye could see with soft grass of the most delicate colors and amazing kinds. Several streams with light spring water ran through the garden with their murmuring water filling hauzes (pools) surrounded by big, shadowy and cooling plane trees. The streams, canals and hauzes had their beds and banks covered with corals, emeralds, and rubies. Fruits hung on every tree. The garden was also full of wonderful birds with pleasant and fascinating voices, whose feathers resembled the palace’s jewels. They flew from one tree to another and sang laudatory songs to God.

The admiring Hida forgot what he had come for and walked through the wonderful garden. The fruits looked so nice that he could not help himself from tasting them. But as soon as he raised his hand to take one, he heard a terrible, thunderous voice:

“Hey! Are you mad! If you dare take anything from here, I shall tear the thread of your life. I shall break your head with this club!”

Hida shook with fear and he removed his hand. He looked at the place from which the voice had come from and saw a terrifying old man of extraordinary height with a big club in his hands. Hida wanted to ask him a question, but having seen the monster he ran away very fast. He ran and ran and came to the end of the garden. He saw a wonderful green meadow that disappeared into the distance. There were two hundred thousand horses on the meadow. All of them had gold saddles and bridles decorated with precious stones, but there was no groom around.

Then Hida saw another palace with a high terrace that resembled the palace he had seen before. Approaching the palace he saw two hundred thousand men dressed in white and green clothes. Hida had an ability to estimate numbers with one quick glance. His ability had often been used by Emir Timur when wanted to know the number of enemies he faced before a battle. Hida would climb a hill from the top of which he could see everything, before returning to report how many enemies there were.

Hida was looking at the palace, horses and people. He saw an anxiety in the crowd. Some people in white and green clothes began to exchange words among themselves:

“The man on the meadow looks like an alien!” they muttered.

At that moment Hida saw an old man in white shining clothes sitting on a throne on the palace terrace. To the right and left of him were sitting two more old men in the same white clothes. They were talking together. Hida plucked up his courage and respectfully came up to the men standing around the palace and said:


Hida got a polite answer and addressed to one of them with the following question:

“Taksyr (sir)! Who is that great man sitting on the throne, and what are the names of those two noble old men?

The man answered:

“Know and remember this. The man on the throne is Shah-i-Zinda Kussam ibn Abbas, (may God bless him!); the man to his right is prophet Hyzyr, and on the left is prophet Ilyas. The people you see here are the souls of future people (in white clothes) and souls of righteous men, who are in green. According to God's order, souls come here every day to bow and serve khazret[6] Shah-i-Zinda and then leave on the horses you see there. The souls fly to the right and left, to the East and West...”

Meanwhile the souls were frightened by the presence of a stranger. Shah-i-Zinda saw it and wished to find out the reason for their anxiety. The souls answered:

“Oh, Khazret! A stranger has come today.”

Shah-i-Zinda got angry and ordered that he be brought to him immediately. Hida was brought to the throne. Hida put his hands (right above left) on his belt, bowed and said:


Shah-i-Zinda answered:

“Waleykum as-salam!”

Shah-i-Zinda looked at Hida angrily. Hida was a brave and fearless man, but Shah-i-Zinda's glance made his face turn pale. He shook like a leaf and fell on his knees. Shah-i-Zinda closed his eyes and thought. Hida fell to the ground, neither alive, nor dead, trembling for his life. At last the Khazret raised his head and said to Hida:

“Listen to me! You dared to come here without invitation, and now you are standing among righteous souls. Are not you afraid of angering me? Do you not know that you can be made a part of the eternal world if I order?!

Sha-i-Zinda thought a little and added:

“If I wish I could get rid of the impudent people who wish to go through the well and visit the kingdom of the pure souls.”

Hida tried to justify himself:

“Oh, Khazret! Do not punish me. I am here against my will. A great emperor, Emir Timur, has come to the world. He's already conquered half the Universe and wishes to get the whole world. It is he who sent me here, and I could not disobey”

Shah-i-Zinda said:

“Oh villain, you are lying and not afraid of God. Emir Timur did not send you by force. Your greediness brought you here. You came here to get the money and honour promised by Emir Timur. This time I forgive you, but I want you not to tell anybody about what you saw here. Troubles and misfortunes will fall on your head if you do not keep it a secret.”

Having heard Shah-i-Zinda's threat Hida became very sad. His sobbing and moaning were so loud that they shook the walls of the palace:

“You think Emir Timur will believe me if I tell him nothing?” said Hida with despair, “He will not! He will torture me. What will happen to me Khazret if I cannot withstand these tortures and tell him what I saw here?”

“If you tell him about our secret you will be blinded, and all your descendants will be born blind. Remember the punishment and say nothing.”

“Oh, wise Khazret!” Hida exclaimed, “Is it fair that an unfortunate servant must be punished for a wish of the haughty emir?”

“Silence, you vile slave!” exclaimed Shah-i-Zinda, “You may not discuss God's justice. Go out immediately! I will also punish Emir Timur for he does believe I am alive. All the countries and lands he conquered will belong to him till his death, but he will never occupy China. If he begins a campaign against China his clan will end with those who accompany him in that campaign. Now go away and do not disturbing me again or something worse will happen!

Hida got up and went away thanking about Shah-i-Zinda. Then he quickly ran through the meadow, garden and palace and got back to the cave. He was standing at the bottom of the well and tied his waist with the end of the rope. Then he pulled it to show he was there. His signal was seen by soldiers standing at the entrance and they extracted him, but did not recognize his now tired, shaggy and gray-haired appearance. Hida was immediately brought to Emir Timur who was waiting impatiently for news about Shah-i-Zinda. Hida knelt and kissed the floor before the emperor. Emir Timur saw his face and knew something extraordinary must have happened to Hida. Then he said:

“Tell me what you saw in the well? Is Shah-i-Zinda alive or not?”

“Great emperor, I went down to the bottom of the well, but there was nothing there,” Hida lied, “Shah-i-Zinda is not there.”

Emir Timur got angry with Hida's words and shouted at him:

“You are deceiving your emperor, you mortal worm! All people know that Shah-i-Zinda is in the well: it is written about in the wisest books, and yet you say he is not there! Tell me what you saw or I shall have you tortured and then killed.”

“What can I tell you my emperor if I saw nothing?” Hida continued with his tactic.

Then Emir Timur told his servants to call executioners. They came and knelt before the throne respectfully saying they were ready to do everything the emperor would order. Timur angrily ordered them to kill Hida. One of the executioners took his sword, came up to Hida, forced down his head and raised the sword to kill him. Only then did Hida understand how sweet his life was!

“Stop! I have something to tell!” he exclaimed in despair.

The executioner stopped.

“Great emperor! If I reveal Shah-i-Zinda's secret I shell lose my sight. Besides, all my descendants will be born blind,” Hida moaned, “Emperor, I have always served you loyally. I hope you will not wish me this terrible misfortune. I hope you do not want me and my descendants to go blind because of Shah-i-Zinda's secret.”

But Timur answered:

“My orders are unchanged. I desire so much to know this secret that your fears will not stop me. If you and your descendants are punished I shall build for you a madrasah in Samarkand in which you will live and study the Koran. I shall name it Madrasah of the blind and lay out a garden for you, which I shall name Hida's Garden, and give you a big vakuf (rent). You can take a horse and go to any place you like. You will get as much land as your horse can cover within one day. That land will give vakuf to you and your descendants. Furthermore, I shall give you twelve lines of shops in Samarkand market.”

Hida had to agree to Timur's offer against his will. Hida liked Samarkand’s surrounding land. He said to himself: “In Angora tuman (district) there is not enough water because the aryk Dargam often washes away the dam on the ZaravshanRiver. A proverb says: “avoid sowing along Dargom if you do not wish to get into trouble”. That will not do. The Suguda district is fertile too, and the Zaravshan River floods from time to time. So it is bad too. Besides, this district is full of dirt. My horse cannot cover much distance there in one day as there are too many marshes and bogs in Suguda”.

After thinking for some time, Hida realized that Shaudor land was the best: close to the city, dry and flat, and would give a good harvest and enough water.

A mullah from a minaret called the Muslims to perform namaz «bamdod» as Hida was preparing his horse in Ak-tepe to go round his future land. The horse had won numerous competitions. As soon as the sun rose above the PendjikentMountains, Hida went to the Kara-Tyube mountains trying to cover as many kilometers as he could. His horse jumped over fences and gullies, flying like an arrow. The wind whistled in Hida's ears playing with his clothes, and Hida continued looking at the sun. It seemed as that the sun was rising too quickly and the horse was going too slowly. Hida was disappointed with the horse and whipped it ferociously.

By midday Hida had approached Kara-tepe, having covered many kilometers. His horse moved like a bustard, slower and slower, covered with sweat. But Hida kept going as he was unreasonably greedy. The greed closed his eyes and mind. Hida reached Agalik and turned his horse to Chungul. It was namaz hour when the exhausted horse shook and fell. It could not get up any more.

Hida looked at the sun - it was of fiery color. He left the horse and continued moving. Hida ran across the Chor-Minor Bridge on the Dargom until he was exhausted. Then he began walking. Hida threw his clothes off and looked at the sun but it was fast disappearing.

He ran again and then fell. But his greed had no limit. As he fell, Hida threw his whip as far as he could, desperately trying to snatch more ground. On the place where the whip fell a settlement was built named "Kamchinon" (whips).

Then Hida went to Emir Timur who ordered him to tell his story immediately. Hida told him everything in detail: He told him what he had seen and heard, adding nothing and concealing nothing. As soon as Hida had finished the story two big black tears fell from his eyes and he went blind. Everyone was shocked by this phenomenon.

Ever since Hida's descendants were born blind - everybody in Samarkand knows that. Emir Timur built a madrasah in which blind men still live. Most of them are Hida's descendants. Hida's garden has now been destroyed, and the vakuf given by Timur to Hida's descendants have almost been lost, as the generations have changed. Besides, there were many invasions in Samarkand after Timur's death.

Emir Timur could not avoid the punishment predicted by Shah-i-Zinda. Timur was the emperor of many countries, but the Chinese empire never belonged to him. Emir Timur was very haughty. He forgot about Shah-i-Zinda's prediction.

Timur raised a big army. It was so numerous that no-one could count it from one end to the other. Nobody doubted a victory. The army left for China. What could stop it? What could close its way? Is it possible to halt a storm or keep the waters of the Syr-Darya back?

In this great campaign Emir Timur took all his sons and grandsons - brave princes. Victory would surely immortalize their names for ever. The Chinese emperor was frightened by the move of the invincible Timur. He decided to give all his empire to Timur without fighting in order not to shed blood in vain. So, he sent ambassadors with rich gifts for Timur.

But Emir Timur suddenly died. Even invincible commanders and kings are powerless before death and Providence! Timur's armies dissipated, all his descendants were lost in the fog of the Time, but people still worship saint Shah-i-Zinda…

[1] These are very poor houses made from clay, stones and wooden parts. Such architecture is still widely used today in the poor rural areas of Central Asia. [2] Kybla is the direction to the place to where Muslim should read the namaz and to pray. The direction to Kybla effectively means the direction of Mecca. [3] A man who has good knowledge of the holy books and manuscripts. [4] Despite the dramatic overtones of this there is in fact nothing bad about this it merely represents what someone said which was “the king is alive” and another translated it as “the Emperor’s hole”. The author, in traditional Islamic manner, suggests that we should let God decide who is correct. The significance of this is not clear. [5] A “sufa” us a place for sitting in local language. [6] Khazret = Holy man

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