Najm al-Din Kubra mausoleum
LocationThe Najm al-Din Kubra mausoleum is located in the centre of Kunya Urgench, just south of the Khan-yab canal. It is built in a pretty little walled courtyard with spreading trees located in the centre of a large open area just west of the Dash mosque and medresseh, which today houses a small local museum. The courtyard also contains the mausoleum of Sultan Ali.
Satellite image of the Dash mosque and medresseh on the right and the walled courtyard on the left.
The burial chamber contains the rectangular double sarcophagus of Najm al-Din Kubra in its north-western corner, next to a smaller rectangular shrine. Legend has it that Kubra was beheaded by the Mongols during the conquest of Gurganj and that one sarcophagus contains his body and the other his head. From the evidence of old photographs it seems that the sarcophagus was originally covered with blue glazed tiles and inscriptions. Today all that remains are the words El Mulku-lillah meaning "all things are God's".
There are similarities to the mausoleum of the Nakshbandi Sufi khoja Sayid 'Ala ad-Din at nearby Khiva. His tomb, which was built around 1340 and restored in the 1990s, is decorated with blue, green and turquoise majolica tiles. It is one of the oldest buildings in the Ichan qala.
The Najm ad-Din Kubra mausoleum was constructed from thin yellow fired bricks and the domed roofs are rounded on the outside. The portal is in a bad state of disrepair, with much of the brickwork covered in cracked cement render. Apparently the monument was partly restored in 1950 following the collapse of the central dome. Much of the original blue glazed tile work on the portal is missing. The two rows of tiles decorated with Kufic script along the top of the portal apparently praise Qutlugh Timur, the governor of Golden Horde Khorezm from 1321 to 1333, who patronized the building of the mausoleum. The facing of the portal around the arched entrance was once covered with simple hexagonal tiles, only the top rows of which remain. The best preserved tile work is over and around the replica wooden entrance door. The original doors are kept inside the mausoleum.
Najm al-din Kubra was born in Khiva in 1145, when the Qipchaq armies of Khorezm ruled over a large part of western Central Asia. After his basic education in Islam he moved to Dizful in western Persia to continue his religious studies. After the death of his second teacher he moved to Egypt to continue his education and to become a religious teacher. During his stay he married the daughter of his own religious instructor. He seems to have returned to Khorezm at some time between 1185 and 1190, establishing his own school of Sufi mysticism, which became known as the Kubra order.
Najm ad-Din Kubra helped Khorezm become one of the major centres of Sufism during the 12th to the 14th centuries. Sufism is a mystical, spiritual and emotional branch of Islam, which aims for its adherents to reach God through personal meditation and secret recitation. The Sufi movement originally developed in Iraq and Syria in the early 9th century before spreading into western Central Asia. The movement's name derives from suf, meaning wool, since the Sufis wore simple cloaks made from coarse wool. Najm ad-Din Kubra taught his pupils that they must become more Godly by personally undertaking a series of ascetic practices involving fasting, prayer and silent meditation under the supervision of a master. In time the pupil would progress from one spiritual stage to another, each symbolized by different colours; black corresponded to the lowest stage and green to the highest.
Najm al-Din Kubra wrote extensively and seven of his books and 24 of his poems survive to this day. His most important book was Fawatih al-Jamal wa fawatih al-jalal, or the "Aromas of Beauty and Preambles of Majesty", where he recorded his own personal visionary experiences along with detailed guidance for students of his Sufi doctrine. In this book he described the details of the coloured lights and spots that appear when a novice undergoes spiritual training and how even the act of breathing expresses obedience to God, since the sound of exhalation and inhalation – "ha" – signifies Allah. His brand of Sufism, which became known as the Kubrawiyyah Order, was rapidly introduced to Persia, Afghanistan, India and China.
At the time of Chinggis Khan's invasion of Khorezm in 1221, Najm ad-Din Kubra was already 75 years old. Legend has it that the Mongols offered him the chance to surrender before the siege of Gurganj. He refused and fought alongside his fellow Khorezmians, only to be beheaded after its conquest.
His mausoleum was constructed over one hundred years later under the orders of Qutlugh Timur (a name meaning "blessed iron"), who had been appointed governor of Khorezm by Sultan Uzbeg, the ruler of the Golden Horde. Qutlugh Timur happened to be the son of Uzbeg's maternal aunt.
It is not clear whether the mausoleum truly does contain the remains of Najm ad-Din Kubra. Nevertheless it still remains the most holy place in the Kunya Urgench region and attracts many local pilgrims.
Sultan Ali was visited by the English merchant Anthony Jenkinson when he travelled through Urgench in 1558. This was a time of an intense power struggle between the ruling families of Khorezm. Jenkinson noted that although one of them had the name of king or Khan:
" ... he is little obeyed saving in his own dominion, and where he dwelleth: for every one will be king of his own portion, and one brother will seeketh always to destroy another, having no natural love among them, by reason that they are begotten of divers women, and commonly they are the children of slaves, either Christian or Gentiles, which the father doeth keep as concubines, and every Khan and Sultan hath at least 4 or 5 wives, besides young maidens and boys, living most viciously ..."Urgench was essentially in the middle of a civil war and Jenkinson observed that the town had been won and lost four times within the past seven years!
|Google Earth Coordinates|
|Place||Latitude North||Longitude East|
|Najm ad-Din Kubra mausoleum||42º 19.545||59º 8.762|
|Sultan Ali mausoleum||42º 19.564||59º 8.768|
This page was first published on 3 September 2008. It was last updated on 31 January 2012.
© David and Sue Richardson 2005 - 2015. Unless stated otherwise, all of the material on this website is the copyright of David and Sue Richardson.