The Golden Road to Samarkand
Volume 1, Chapter 24
S a t u r d a y J u n e 1 0
We left Tashkent this morning for Samarkand. As we were driving, Yasomatinandana dasa, the regional secretary for this area, told me that in the nineteenth century all the Muslim countries in this area— Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—were one country called Turkmenistan, with the Imir of Bukhara (now Uzbekistan) as the absolute authority. The country was fabulously rich from its invasions throughout the centuries.
After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Imir of Bukhara, fearing a communist takeover of his country, had his soldiers put all the gold in the treasury on a caravan of camels and take it to the desert to hide it. Then he had the soldiers killed, and those soldiers who killed those soldiers killed and those soldiers who killed those soldiers killed, until he was the only one who knew where the treasure was. He died without revealing its location.
Our trip to Samarkand, one of the prominent capitals of ancient Islam, took four hours through dry farm land. We passed many irrigation ditches where young boys could be seen happily swimming in the sweltering heat. I saw that much of the farming was being done by Muslim women in colorful traditional dress. Bundles of wheat were being transported to the nearby villages on small donkeys.
It is said that visiting Samarkand thrice is equal to visiting Mecca once. As e approached the city, a famous quotation I had memorized in my school days suddenly came to my mind:
“For the joy of knowing what may not be known We take the golden road to Samarkand.”
As we entered the city we saw many ancient, beautiful mosques. It was one of the fiive times of the day that Muslims pray, and we heard the Mullahs reading the Koran through the loudspeakers atop the mosques. Men were kneeling in prayer here and there. I was awed by the size and beauty of many of the buildings, although some were in disrepair. Dating back more than 25 hundred years, Samarkand was once called the Pearl of the Muslim World.
We had several hours before our program with the local devotees was to begin, so we decided to visit some of the historic sites. We saw the tomb of Timor, the Mogul tyrant who swept into India after Mohammed Gazzi and conquered Delhi. Outside his massive and ornately decorated tomb is a huge marble seat where he received guests. Nearby is a large stone vat, about three meters in diameter.
I asked one of the guards what it was. He said Timor would have each of the men in his army pour a cup of wine into the vessel before going into battle. When the men returned from fiighting, they would again take their cups and dip them one time into the vessel and drink. By seeing how much wine was left in the vessel, Timor could judge how many of his men had been killed in battle.
We saw his actual tomb underneath the ground. Because he was one of the Mogul tyrants who conquered India, my thoughts while there are diffiicult for me to put in this diary.
Just outside Samarkand we visited the tomb of St. Daniel,the great Christian who was untouched when thrown to the lions in the Colosseum by the Romans. I asked Yasomatinandana why St. Daniel was buried in Uzbekistan.
He told me that Timor had tried for many years to conquer Syria but was unsuccessful. One of his ministers suggested it was because the saint from biblical times, Daniel, was buried there. Timor then sent his army to where St. Daniel was entombed in Syria and after a fiierce fiight with the Syrians was able to take the body back to Uzbekistan. It is said that St. Daniel was eighteen meters tall and that it required a caravan of camels to transport his remains to Uzbekistan.
When we saw his tomb, I was surprised that it was indeed eighteen meters long. The caretaker of the tomb is a kind and gentle Muslim man who told us that worshipers from many religions— Muslims, Christians and Jews—visit the tomb. He requested that we circumambulate the tomb to pay our respects. Then he asked us to sit down, and with great devotion he began reciting the Koran before the tomb. He was such a simple and kind man that his prayers moved me a lot.
He told us that once he was sleeping next to the tomb and St. Daniel appeared to him in a dream., “Get up, my child,” St. Daniel told him. “Get up. Guests are coming to visit.”
Govinda Maharaja later took a broom and swept the entrance to the tomb “to do some seva for Daniel.” Before leaving we drank water said to have the power to cure from a natural source that had sprung up the day St. Daniel was entombed here.
Dusk was setting in by the time we reached the park where the program was to be held. Remembering that proselytizing was against the law in Uzbekistan, I was again wondering how we were to present a program in a public park. But when we arrived I understood how the devotees had arranged it. They had heard that Sri Prahlada was the lead singer in our rock band Celibate Lovers in Poland. So they had simply advertised the program in the park as a rock concert.
When we arrived, the caretaker of the park was a bit taken aback by our dhotis and shaved heads, but as soon as Sri Prahlada started kirtana with his accordion, everything was all right. About a hundred people gathered as soon as Sri Prahlada started to sing. I was standing there, again marveling at how we were chanting Hare Krsna in Samarkand, the ancient Pearl of the Muslim World.
“This one’s for all the ksatriyas who fell in battle defending the city of Delhi,” I thought. “Roll over, Timor … “