Kut: Abundance of land and talent of people

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

The Kyrgyz talk of the kut of the land, this means it’s blessing; the abundance of the land. The kut of the land of the Ysyk-Köl province is seen as connected with the Ysyk-Köl lake itself. Several rivers: the Tüp, Jyrgalang, Karakol, Kyzyl-Suu, Juuku, Jeti-Ögüz, Barskoon, Tuura-Suu, and Tong flow into the lake, but no river flows out. So the lake collects all their waters that come from underground mountain springs.

If among the sons and daughters of a town or village there are many talented people, the Kyrgyz say that “ichken suulary bir emespi” meaning: they have drank the same water. When introducing themselves, Kyrgyz people will mention the name of a famous person who came from their home town or region and say “balancha ichken suudan ichkem”: I drank the same water that this person did. The founders of Kyrgyz literature Tugölbaiy Sydykbekov and Mukaiy Elebaev also spoke of the holy water of the lake country that they drank.

Another well-known Kyrgyz saying is “akkan suuda aram jok”: there is no evil in running water. This saying was a rule of traditional lifestyle. People used the water flowing from sources, streams and rivers to drink, to prepare their meals and other necessities. Kyrgyz people never doubted in the purity of running water and they took care to keep it clean. They called the water sacred. Over time this rule of life turned into what it is now, just a saying. This is not because people have stopped needing water, but because they have polluted it and now even running water may be dirty and dangerous for the health.

However there are places where the water remains clean, people care for the springs and consider them a sacred source of life, energy and powers. These are sacred sites. There is also the Ysyk-Köl itself, despite the fact that the river water flowing into the lake is sometimes polluted it does not loose its clarity and depth and greatness. Kyrgyz elders say that the dirty waters that flow into the Ysyk-Köl are cleansed by the lake, this is the power of the lake and of the many underground springs that flow into it.

The aksakal also repeat the old sayings that knowledge, talent and blessings are given not to a person, but to a place, maybe a valley in which the person was born and brought up. To this day when talking of a person’s talent Kyrgyz people say “ichken suusunan, topuragynan”: the talent of his water and his land.

So it is that water has its power and the land also has its power. If the well-known writer Tugolbaiy Sydykbekov was raised not in the village of Keng-Suu by the shores of the lake, but in his father’s land of Jumgal, would his talent have developed to such heights? This question arises when reading his autobiography in which he writes “…my heart flutters like the traces of my bare footsteps on my home land. This land is in the valley of Keng-Suu, with its passes, valley and plains. I can see the mountains covered with wild berries. The valley is full of snowdrops of different colours and the pure spring waters shining. I remember how I would run like a young mountain goat, stooping only to pick rhubarb, sweating but not stopping. Here I drank the spring water, that was for me like the water of life”116.

Another famous Kyrgyz poet, Alykul Osmonov also wrote of the kut [q.v.] of the Ysyk-Köl and he spoke of this land as of a friend: “Among all of my friends, you Ysyk-Köl, are the nearest and most loyal”. Chyngyz Aitmatov, Kyrgyzstan’s great author of prose, yearning after his homeland wrote the poem “To the Ysyk-Köl”. And all the wisdom that Kalygul the elder wanted to pass down to his descendents he summed up in one phrase “Do not leave the Ysyk-Köl lake, my children!”.

Today, Kalygul, Alykul, Tügölbaiy and Chyngyz are no longer with us. But the world of great poets and writers is represented in this chapter by the master of modern Kyrgyz proze Kazat Akmatov. He also says of the lake “the Ysyk-Köl is depicted in all of my works, without it there would be no creativity.”

The “Manas” epic, which we consider a limitless source of traditional knowledge about our customs and ourselves also talks of the Ysyk-Köl it should be noted that the lake region is the motherland of Manas tellers. Many of the epics episodes take place by the shores of the lake; there is the episode of in which Manas is first struck by the beauty of the lake117, the episode when Aiychürök, Manas’s daughter-in-law lands on the smooth surface of the lake in the enchanted into the form of swan and there she performs the ok attoo118 ritual on the banks of the Jyrgalang river.

According to ancient Kyrgyz traditions if a loyal wife steps over the body of her wounded husband, then the bullet will fall out of his body. The story of how Aiychürök saved her husbands life when he was dying by the shores of the lake, by performing the ritual of stepping over the bullet, are in the ”Semeteiy” epic. This story is mentioned in three versions of the “Manas”; Sayakbaiy Karalaev’s version of the “Semeteiy” clearly states that the story took place along the banks of the river of Jyrgalang119. This river and how it got its name are also described in the “Manas” epic in Sagynbaiy Orozbakov’s version and in Shaabaiy Azizov’s version120. The fact that one and the same story, connected to the Ysyk-Köl lake, was told by different manaschy shows that this is one of the main stories in the epic.

This inspiration can also be connected to the water and land. The following words of the writer Choyun Ömüraliev are proof of this: “Ysyk-Köl is the motherland of good spirits”. It is a spring of talents that were given to poets, writers, komuz players and painters. The lake and the mazars located on its shores continue to exert their magical influence on people. In this chapter Akylbek Murataliev, the well-known Kyrgyz actor shares his experiences of pilgrimages to sacred sites, he talks of how these have influenced his perception on life and changed his life.

Tashkul Kereksizov, the statesman and activist considers the Ysyk-Köl to be the jerdin karegi: the eye pupil of the planet earth. He is currently building a grand complex called Aalam-Ordo121 on the lakes’ sourthern shore and firmly believes that his center will raise future Nobel prize winners.

In the second chapter of our book the Ysyk-Köl lake is spoken of as the land of the manaschy. But it is also the land of many other talented artists and musicians. Arstanbek Buiylash uulu, was one of the children of the lake, a famous komuzchu from the XIXth century. His successors from the XXth century were Karamoldo Orozov, Ybyraiy Tumanov, Asanaaly Kyshtoobaev, Chalagyz Imankulov, Chalagyz Isabaev and contemporary artists Asan Kaiybyldaev, Tölön Kasabolotov, Namazbek Uraliev and Anara Esengulova who all continue to develop the traditional music. In this chapter, Namazbek Uraliev talks of his decision to walk the path of traditional healing and faith, he talks of the way his ancestors have influenced his life. This man, who can be called a representative of the “village intellectuals”122 plays folk melodies, teaches the art of komuz playing to numerous students and is a master craftsman of the komuz and other traditional musical instruments.

We had the luck to hear Maiyra Kerim kyzy speak of her close spiritual connections with the Ysyk-Köl and of her childhood wishes to see the magical lake that she had heard so much of from her mothers tales. The gifted poet and musician-improvisor died this year, on the 18th of August 2009. In the days before she died, she complained not of the pain that her illness was causing, not of regret to be leaving the world before her time, but of her longing to see the lake one last time. Maiyra was a master of words, they seemed to spring to her lips in rhythmn and rhyme whenever she wished them to. She helped us with our work on this book, when we were lost for words, looking for the title for our second chapter, she stopped by the office and inspired us. She said in a poetical twang “Ysyk-Köl – manaschylardyn mekeni”, this means “Ysyk-Köl is the land of the manaschys”.

Thank you, Maira. Jatkan jeringiz jaiyluu bolsun123.

116 Sydykbekov Tügölbaiy, “Bel beles”, Bishkek, 1996, pg. xx.

117 See the introduction of the second chapter of this book “Secrets of Ysyk-Köl and manaschylyk” and the story of Tilek Asanov.

118 Ok attoo [Kyrgyz] – stepping over the bullet.

119 By the version of Sayakbaiy Karalaev (1894-1971).

120 Bakchiev, T. ‘The role of sacred site in Manas telling (on the basis of personal observation).’ In: Mazar Worship in Kyrgyzstan: Rituals and Practitioners in Talas. B., 2007, pgs. 183-184.

121 Aalam-Ordo [Kyrgyz] – the center of the universe.

122 See footnote 5 from the Foreword [ed.].

123 Jatkan jeringiz jaiyluu bolsun [Kyrgyz] – May the land of your resting place be in peace