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Dagestan - Land of Myths and Legends.

Many legends and epics are scattered about the land of Dagestan like gold seeds and placers of precious stones. They preserve the people’s wisdom, their love to their home place. They depict in their particular way the life, family life, traditions and customs of our ancestors. 

Tzada

In spite of centuries-old influence of ideology and culture of monotheistic religions (first Christianity then, starting from the XVIII century Islam) there have preserved a lot of pagan characters of the former pantheon in home life and culture of the villagers of the mountainous village of Tzada which is situated in Khoonzakh region. 

The oldest pagan Gods were the personified : the Sky, the Earth, different heavenly bodies and meteors. There preserved oaths to the “Heavens which are above us”, “to the Land”, “to the Sun”, “to the Moon”, “to the Star”, which are sure to be the relics of the pagan religions as according to  the canons of Islam one can swear only by the name of the Allah.  Pretty girls were compared with the Sun, the Moon, the Stars and the Heaven – “As beautiful as the Sun”, “Moonfaced”.

 People believed that the treasure was hidden in the place where the ends of the rainbow were. The grown ups sent the girls there to look for golden scissors. Some marks were connected with the colors of the rainbow. If the red color prevailed in the rainbow that meant that the summer would be droughty, the blue color meant that there would be heavy rainstorms, the green meant a good harvest.

 Up till now people believe that if you set a wish when the rainbow appears in the sky it will come true. If the rainbow is spread above somebody’s house all the sins of its inhabitants will be forgiven.  

“Mother wind” personified the wind for the Tzadies.  The people believed that there was “The Mother wind, a woman with long  flowing hair inside the hurricane, who usually tries to  saddle the windy horse and ride to the sky on it. By the way if there was a tornado or whirlwind they would also say that it was a dragon who was going out of the earth and trying to reach the sky.

 

More over they scared the children saying :”Mother wind is coming. Quickly run home –she is angry”.  In spite of the damage brought by the strong wind they didn’t scold it but took as God’s prescription. The wind was considered to take away all misfortunes and troubles. The old women seeing the beginning of the strong wind would always say “to the good” or  “to the happiness”. They addressed the God with the following words: “Oh, Allah, give patience to the wind which obeys your will”.

 

The lighting was fancied as a flying fire ax. They believed that they could find a gold ax in the place where the lightning stroke.

 

“The Rainy donkey” was a personified God of Rain who was usually performed by a masked boy in the custom of calling the rain. He was decorated with bushes branches in the form of a hut  tied with the rope. He was going from house to house accompanied by the children and teenagers where the people poured water on him and gave the accompanying crowd different kind of cereals. After they visited all the houses in the center of the village they went to a roads crossing or to the nearest spring, made a fire and cooked the ritual porridge from all the cereals  they had been given. All the passers by and the participants of the ritual tasted it. In the evening the grown ups organized a collective praying where they mentioned Allah’s name from whom they asked the rain.

 

 

Dyurk

  Worshiping of the mountains – is a widely spread phenomenon, which derives its roots from pre-monotheistic religions.  The Tabasarans (nation in the Caucasus) consider the mountainous cave Dyurk which is situated near the village of Khustil the most esteemed and sacred place.

Many famous scientists and writers wrote about this cave. There is a poem devoted to it written by Dagestan poet Abumuslim Dzhafarov. The cave is shrouded in the mist of mysteries and there are many legends about it.  Some legends say that the cave was the place  of living of the ancient people . Other legends say that  the sword of the first spreader of Islam in the Southern Dagestan – Arabian military leader Masalama is still kept there. According to the old residents the people called “the erellers” lived in it and only godly people could go there as the others hadn’t been able to come as the rocks at the entrance to the cave would usually close in and crush them.

 

They say that previously the cave consisted of seven  living quarters situated one above another. Up till now only two have preserved, the rest were   filled with the stones during the earthquakes which are very often there. The floors are covered with thick layer of carpets and rugs brought by the pilgrims. The  kerosene lamps standing in the corners of the cave illuminate it.  You can get into the other room using a narrow staircase.  According to the local people’s words if you listen attentively you can hear the roaring of the river flowing beneath the cave. The cave has got one more peculiarity: sometimes in a calm weather it starts roaring and the roar is heard in the far away villages. On hearing it the people say that the cave demands sacrificing. And they really sacrificed to propitiate the spirit of the cave.

 

Even now the Dyurk is a sacred place for the people not only in Dagestan but in the neighboring Azerbaijan too. People come here to pray and ask for recovering of  their close people, the sterile women pray for becoming mothers, etc. During the disasters – a long drought or heavy rainfalls earthquakes and hails, people come here and pray in large groups. They perform the Muslim  ceremony, the so called “Zikr”, kill the sacrificial bull and distribute charity. People bring the carpets, rugs and kerchiefs as presents to the cave.  

 

Bai Tobe

To the East from the village of Aksai in Khasavyurt region there is a small hill Bai-Tobe (a rich hill in Turkish languages). The name of this hill attracts attention of local adventures. The local teacher found out that there was a manuscript in the neighboring village of Chagarotar in which there was some information about the hill.  He visited the owner of the book but the latter said that he would give him the book in exchange for the cow. On hearing this, the teacher decided to get the book at all costs and finally the book had become his property.

The book written in Arabic language said: “Once upon a time there lived two brothers. The younger brother owned the land in Bai Tyube and the elder one in Karanagai steppe. The young brother’s wife gave birth to a son. He informed his elder brother about this happy event. The elder brother hurried to Dagestan to participate in the feast. He took horses, sheep, and valuable things as presents. There was a gold cradle for a newly delivered baby among those things. But as soon as the brother arrived the baby died. He was buried in a gold cradle. That’s why the hill got the name  Bai-Tobe”.

 The teacher excavated the hill from top to bottom. He found the cradle but it was not made of gold. He found a lot of horns, bridles, and other objects but they were not of great interest to him.

 

Shalbuzdag

Shalbuzdag is the main natural place of interest in Dagestan.  This is one of the highest mountain picks in the South–east part of the main Caucasian mountain ridge. It is 4142 meters higher sea level. There are several versions of the origin of this name. According to one of them  - Shalbuzdag is a Turkish word which means Shalbus mountain. The legend says Shalbus was a name of Nadirshah’s   much beloved wife, that’s why the mountain got its name. The scientists dealing with place-name study prefer another version: the word Shalbus stands in one row with the ancient place names with the root “Alp, Alb). You can meet it in the name of the ancient Caucasian state of Albania, the name of the mountain Alprus (Elbrus).

In comparison with other highest peaks in Dagestan Shalbuzdag stands by itself, being a lonely pyramid crowned with a battlement. Thanks to such position Shalbuzdag makes an impression of being the highest mountain peak in the Southern part of Dagestan, though the neighboring peaks Bazardyuzyu and Shahdag are higher. 

 

From the top of the mountain you can see a wonderful panorama of the Eastern part of the Main Caucasian ridge. In clear weather one can see the icy caps of Bazardyuzyu, Shahdag, Bogoss mountain range, Dyulydag and other peaks. At the bottom of the mountain in the valley of the Samur river there are numerous mountainous villages, surrounded by beautiful gardens and in the distance  you can see the blue line of the Caspian Sea.

 The mountain slopes are covered with alpine and subalpine meadows. There are lots of different beautiful flowers of all colors here. For example: the blue-bonnets are white here, the lilies are yellow, the violets are light blue, and the camomiles are pink. Such flowers as rhododendrons, saxifrages, and buttercups have bright flowers too.

The highest mountainous village in Europe Kurush (2560 meters above the sea level) is situated on one of the mountain slopes.  

Still in ancient times people went on pilgrimage to the mountain peak. During the last thousand years this pilgrimage has become part of the local Muslim religious ritual. Shalbuzdag has become one of the most important natural sacred places  for the Muslims of the whole world.

Edighe

There is a village of Edighe in a steppe Dagestan. It bears the name of Nogai national hero, the legends of whose heroic deeds are spread from one generation to another. One of them is the following: The last powerful khan of the Golden Horde, whose name was Taktamysh, was famous for his hunting falcons, which jaundiced of his neighbors. The lame Timur had wanted to get the falcons’ posterity for a long time and made a secret agreement with the khan’s falconer Kutly-kaya, who sold him secretly one falcon egg.

Once the both khans went hunting. Timur’s young falcon was much quicker in getting the prey.  Taktamysh, having understood the reason of his failure, ordered to chase away Kutly-kaya from his khanate.  

 He went to live in thick forests but secretly returned to his homeland many years later with  his son Edighe.  The boy grew up strong, clever, and brave. Taktamysh gave him the job as a horse-herd, but having learnt whose son the boy was told his men to kill him. But luckily Edighe managed to run away from the khan’s palace.

To escape Taktamysh’s anger Edighe and his nine friends decided to run to Timur’s khanate. On their way they met Alyp-batyr with his army that was coming back to their homeland after their raid on Timur’s territory. They had Timur’s daughter Akbilek as a captive. Using his strength and ruse Edighe gained a victory over  Alyp –Batyr, set free his army  and having taken the daughter of the lame man went on his way.  Timur was very glad that his daughter returned home and let Edighe marry her.  

 

Fifteen years passed. During this period Edighe learnt the art of waging war, how to rule the khanate, keep a large house, and brought up his son Nuradin. Once when the boy won chuck-a-luck game he was insulted by his opponent who told him: “You play chuck-a-luck very well, but I wonder if you will be able to revenge Taktamysh -khan upon your father?” Nuradin told his father Edighe about this conversation. They began to muster a troop. Timur helped them too.

 

And soon they started on their way. When they reached the Edil (the Volga) river the father and the son got off the horses to kiss their native white steppe dust. On hearing about the approach of Edighe and his son’s army old Taktamysh got very frightened and escaped from his palace. The son decided to follow the fugitive, and Edighe returned to his hometown Sarai which had been ruined and robbed by the enemies while the khan was away. Edighe punished the offenders, built a new town, raised a strong army, formed the Nogai Horde – the state with exactly defined borders. 

 

 Some time passed and Nurudin returned to Sarai and brought Taktamysh–khan’s head. But evil  people caused a quarrel between the father and the son. Then Edighe left the town and his son became the ruler of the khanate. It was difficult for the boy to rule the khanate as he lacked his father’s wisdom and living experience. He began to look for his father to apologize. Edighe excused the boy but refused to come back to Sarai point blank. 

 Meanwhile Kadyr-Berdy- the son of the diseased Taktamysh–khan raised his army and unleashed the war against Nurudin to revenge upon his father. Using his ruse Kadyr-Berdy killed Nurudin and  took the thrown. But one thought that Edighe was still alive tortured him. He went to look for him with his army, found him and called him for an honest battle and they began to fight. Edighe managed to kill his enemy with the club but he was severely wounded himself. Takhtamysh’s alliances Baryn-murza and Shirin-murza meanly attacked the bleeding courageous hero, stabbed their daggers into the body, killed him and cut off his head.      

 

This great loss united the Nogai people, with whom even the most powerful armies were afraid to fight for many years. The memory about the fearless hero Edighe lives in the heart of every Nogai man.  And every year there are usually lots of poppies in the field where the battle was.

Amuzghy

This mountainous village of metal craftsmen    which is difficult of access is   mentioned for the first time in the papers in the XII century.

The former legendary smithy of  Damask steel daggers and swords Amuzghy lies in ruins nowadays and only the tourists,  the photographers   and   the archeologists sometimes bother the majestic calmness of this “eagle’s nest”.

 There was time when Amuzghy was part of the medieval state Zerihgeran. The craftsmen of Amuzghy drained and hammered the famous Damask steel from which they made the blades for daggers, swords and sabers. And the craftsmen from the neighboring village of Kubachy mage the handles and sheath for them and decorated them with engravings and cutting. People say that Chingiskhan, Tamerlane, Nadirshakh, Napoleon, Alexander I, and Imam Shamil possessed their blades.     

 

Vatzilu

The sacred Luck mountain Vatzilu is situated in the surroundings of the village Khury. According to the legend only sinless people can pass through a very narrow passage between the two rocks situated very close to each other on the top of Vatzilu.  Sterile woman who manage to pass through the stones on Vatzilu  can pray  to the God and ask him to give them a chance to give birth to a baby and these prays are usually successful. For a long period of time the mountain has been a place of praying to God for the rain, the sacrificing took place here, the great peoples’ feasts were celebrated here.  

 The great Russian scientist L.I. Lavrov thinks that the name of the mountain is derived from the Osetian name Uatzille to whom both Lucks and Osetians prayed during the droughts and other unfavorable for the agriculture events. In it’s turn Uatzula is associated by the scientists with the Saint Ilya who rides the fire chariot across the sky, and who changed the pagan god Thunderer Perunus.  But the people’s legends connect the mountain with the myth about the hercules Barhhu, who was in love with Pery. Pery asked him to make a sea near the place of her living and he decided to do so. He dug the foundation pit and the earth gathers into a hill and put some salt on it. In Luck language the word Vatzilu means – what lies under salt.

Bakhargan

Various mythological characters of the peoples of Dagestan take their roots in the  ancient times  and tell us about the connections of the local tribes with nature. Ancient spirits, and gods possessed one common relic feature - they personified the fertility and profusion. 

Rare archaic legend about the brothers’ transformation into the rock there preserved in an Andean Myth, written by H. Saipuev in the village of Rickvany in Botlikh region.  This miracle myth tells us about the supreme God Tzobe and his twin sons Bakhargan and Modu, who were immaculately concepted from the virgin woman. Because of the cruel envious people’s slander the cruel gods turned both brothers into rocky mountains Bakhargan and Modu , covered with rich flora. After their mother’s death her heart was buried in the center of the mountain Modu and one eye at the foot of it. The other eye was buried at the foot of Bakhargan mountain. The tears are still running from the mother’s eyes – the cold water from the rocky mountain and the warm curative water from the picturesque mountain Modu.  

 

Both mountains Modu and Bakhrgan were turned by the Andeans into specific religious centers. According to the mythological plot a community of Gods whose life resembled the life of the local people lived on the top the mountain Bakhargan.

Untzukul

The regional center Untzykul, the homeland of the unique decorative art, is situated among the high forbidding mountains. The origin of the craft dates back to the XVII century. The elderly people in the village still remember  a large wooden ring engraved with silver which was hanging on the door of the local Mosque.

   

The legends tell us about famous craftsmen Gooseyn and Martal, whose names bare the Untzukul ornaments nowadays. Craftsman Gooseyn lived more than three hundred years ago and his ornament resembles the dagger. The ornament of craftsman Martal looks like a sequence of sea waves.  These and many other elements used either separately or in different combinations, determine the unusual ornamental richness of Untzukul goods.  As the legend says the first artistic object of the local craftsmen was a whip handle made from the cornelian tree and decorated with rich inlay. Later the craftsmen began to use white silver, copper, and silver for engraving the walking sticks, pipes, snuff boxes, candlesticks, desk sets, dishes, peaces of furniture, the best sample of which are exhibited in the largest museums of the  world.

Lakes of Kaitag

 

At the very border between the Kaitag and the Tabasaran region people can see two beautiful lakes connected by a canal. Local people say a very interesting instructive legend about this picturesque place which got the name “Gignila Sherby”.   

 

Once upon a time there were two villages here in which there lived the people who were busy with improper deeds. They didn’t show their respect both to the Sun and to the Moon. More over they usually insulted them, and shot into them with their arches.  And one day when one licentious man approved by the smiles of the surrounding people boastfully declared that that he could marry the heavenly bodies it was the last straw that broke the Heaven’s patience. They severely punished the people for such an unprecedented impudence – the gulf devoured the wicked people and two lakes appeared in those places.

Gotzatl

The art of metal processing appeared in the ancient mountainous village of Gotzatl, which is situated in the surroundings of the village of Khunzakh, more than three hundred years ago. Before this it was difficult to find a family where they used metallic dishes for cooking- the food was cooked in wooden cauldrons. Even well-to-do villagers warmed the water for ablution by throwing heated in the fire stones into the earthenware vessels

In order to have their own copper-smith the people of Gotzatl made a raid on a rich village of copper-smiths and took several men as prisoners. But none of the prisoners confessed that he could process copper. Then one of the local elderly men proposed a cunning thing. The legend says that the villagers scattered charcoal mixed with pieces of copper, which were valued more than gold at that time, on a mountainous road. They thought that a real smith would certainly pick up those precious pieces from the road. The idea was a success. In this way the first copper-smith whose name was Akhkubek appeared in the village.

 Later the deposits of sulfur and saltpeter were discovered in the neighborhood and they were used in the process of processing the goods from silver. A huge stone with a large hole for pounding sulfur and charcoal is still on the local meeting place.

 Time went on and the village grew. There appeared a group of craftsmen who made Gotzatl famous around the world. By the end of the XIX century only the poorest bridegroom had not been able to give his bride elegant bracelets and delicate ear-rings and there had not been practically any mountainous girls who would marry without a water jug with a certain engraved design.   

 Nowadays the craftsmen from Gotzatl produce table sets, horns for drinks, decorative dishes, souvenir daggers, and various filigree decorations for women with mounting from the precious stones such as turquoise, nephrite, lapis lazuli, agate, and obsidian. The handicrafts made in Gotzatl are exhibited in the famous museums both in Russia and abroad. They are shown at the International and All Russian exhibitions bringing fame to Dagestan.

Pushkin Tau

The town of Isberbash is situated on the shore of the Caspian Sea at the foot of a mountain ridge Isberg tau, 65 kilometers to the south from the capital of Dagestan.  The height of Isberbash anticline reaches 500 meters above the sea level. The upper part of Isberg-tau is formed from hard limestone of neogenic age which served as a base for making a natural very surprising monument.

 Situated at the height of 220 meters combination of several rocks following one another form the profile of the Great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, which can be clearly seen only from the definite place.

Still in the ancient times this rocky formation served as a reference point for the ships sailing in the Caspian Sea. But only in the XX century people noticed that those mountains looked like A. Pushkin. In 1978 the rock Pushkin-Tau was proclaimed the natural monument of republican significance.

There are some legends in Dagestan saying how this miracle appeared. Here is the most popular one. It says that during the duel between A. Pushkin and G. Dantes there happened an earthquake in Dagestan and part of a huge rock broke in a form a Pushkin’s profile. But to tell the truth the scientists haven’t found any traces of the earthquake at that time up till now.

 

 

Derbent

There are several cities baring this name on the map but only one of them is more than 5000 years old, famous for its historical monuments and has always been a very important  city in people’s history. We can find information about this city in the works of famous historians, geographers and travelers of the past: Gekatey Miletsky, Hares Mitilensky, Gerodot, Cornelius Tatzit and many others. Many times it was mentioned in medieval times. It is known that in those numerous works the city   had different names and its contemporary name appeared only in the VII century and meant “Closed Gates”.

 Derbent is situated on the western coast of the Caspian Sea in the place where difficult to access mountain ridges of the Main Caucasian range come too close to the sea leaving only a narrow seashore line. From the ancient time there laid a famous Pry-Caspian way from Europe into the Front Asia. The ancient Aryans used this way while going from the steppes of Eastern Europe onto the territory of Iran plateau. In the VII century it was used by the numerous nomadic tribes in their attempts to get to the regions with rich lands in the South to rob and devastate them.

 The history of the city is lost in the centuries. And though ancient written sauces give a lot of information about this famous city, they don’t provide us with any information about the time of its origin.  People came to live here not only because of its convenient geographical position and exclusive strategic position but mostly because of favorable climatic conditions.  Many settlements appeared here in the early period of the history of mankind and even at that time they were very well fortified.

 

Powerful fortification works in Derbent amaze us with their magnificence and have become the subject for numerous legends and stories. Profuse imagination of the inhabitants in their attempts to glorify their mysterious city referred its foundation either to the fire-spitting giants who lived on the earth before the appearance of mankind or to the fantastic people Yadzhuh-Madzhuk (in the Bible – Goga and Magoga). In the X century the Arabian historian Masudy in his book “Golden Meadows” tells us a story of the son of the king Gishtaspa prince Isfendiyar who build the fortress Naryn-Kala.  Decembrist A. Bestuzhev – Marlinsky, who had been sent in exile to Derbent and spent many years there, writes: “The citizens say that their city was built by the devil. The Devil had been building in the darkness and was in a hurry. He kneaded stones in his paws, smashed them to pieces, spit on them, through the ready houses one on another and built the streets as his tail lay. By the morning the city had been built.”  

 The local historian Mirza-Hedir Vezirov in the XIX century writes that the city was founded by shah Lehrasib from the dynasty of the Cyanides – contemporary of the king Salomon. Old Georgian chronicles   tell us about the dreadful invasion of the Khasars. The Persian Tsar Afridon sent his commander Ardon to pacify them. With a numerous army Ardon came into Khazar’s country, defeated them, built a city near the sea gate and called it Darubandy, which in the translation means  “Closed Gates”.  

There is another legend that says that the city was founded by Alexander Mecedonian. He built a wall with towers between the sea and the mountains and closed it with the gates bind with metal so that the people who lived on the other side wouldn’t be able to do them any harm. It is only a legend. The great warrior had never been to Dagestan but the existence of numerous legends shows how important were the Derbent passage and the system of fortifications built there.