Why do people visit sacred sites?

This text was published in the book ‘Mazar Worship in Kyrgyzstan: Rituals and Practitioner in Talas’ by Aigine, Bishkek, 2007. Translated from Kyrgyz.

There are different understandings and reasons behind why Kyrgyz people visit a mazar. Everyone with whom we talked in the Talas region—regardless of their village—had some opinion to offer with regard to mazars.

Most of those we interviewed were mazar practitioners who see praying at a mazar as an essential part of their lives. They come to the mazar with different reasons and in different ways. Some of these reasons are presented below.

To summarize the motives, we turn to a famous Kyrgyz proverb: “The first wealth is heath, the second is happiness, and the third is prosperity”. This proverb continues to define and prioritize the values important to the Kyrgyz people. Health, family welfare, achievements in the society, peace of people and land—these are important things that every person always needs. As our research in Talas shows, in the consciousness of people visiting a mazar, there is a close association with the attainment of these values. For those who believe in their power, mazars are holy places used to connect people with super forces and help believers achieve their goals and realize their plans.

Aigine has been conducting participatory research on the main rules and requirements ofmazar visit and worship since 2004. As with other mazar related issues, there is no existing document that completely defines the regulations and expectations associated withmazar worship. With this in mind, members of Aigine made visits to mazars to gain an experience on the route of pilgrims and to conduct ethnographic observations. They met several times with pilgrims, who made visits for many years to different mazars, and had the issue about the documents of the regulation for the discussion.

Although the rules and requirements for visiting a mazar are not written, those making the trips are aware of the regulations. Aigine understood that people were aware of regulations by seeing it in mazars and discussions. The issue about the rules and regulations was discussed with different people who often held the same opinions about the requirements.

The rules and requirements that pilgrims keep in visiting a mazar have been learned orally from each other. As most of people, who make mazar visits along their whole lives; say that there was no difficulty in remembering and carrying out the rules. The most important requirement is that the person visiting the mazar does so with his or her best hopes. In addition, the person should make ablution and it is advised that s/he come with some food. After coming to the mazar, the Quran will be recited and a blessing will be given. It is prohibited to damage the nature surrounding a mazar; to drink alcohol, to smoke, to have sexual intercourse, to pollute the environment at holy places; and to remove or destroy things that belong to mazars. Moreover, one elderly woman noted that women should not go to mazars during menstruation.

If mazar visitors have been keeping for centuries the core of necessary rules and requirements a question is likely to arise what this discussion is for. Aigine would answer as following: Kyrgyzstan is now an open country for different inner and outer influences and thoughts. Mazars are also likely to be open for tourism. Not only people who need and interested in kyrgyzchylyk but also people, who do not know about Kyrgyz world may go there.

We think it is important for the Kyrgyz people in the time of such an openness to learn the rules and requirements of the mazar trip and to introduce it as much as possible to the society and to “others”. There is hope that these regulations will help keep the sacredness and special powers of holy places.