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Author(s) of the publication: Igor KYZLASOV

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One of the most extraordinary discoveries of Russian archeologists made in recent years is the Manichean cutt complexes in Khakasia. The amazing diversity of theif types is of great importance for the history of religion and architecture. At the same time the evidence of the Medieval Arab sources about the existence of strict canons on the constructions of similar structures has found its confirmation: design features of every temple were determined by the gods they were dedicated to.

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by Igor KYZLASOV, Dr. Sc. (History), RAS Institute of Archeology

Manichaeism originated in the middle of the 3rd century in South Mesopotamia, part of the Sasanide Empire (currently Iran) and was connected with the philosophical views and religious activity of the prophet Mani (216 - 276), whose edifice absorbed many theses of Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity. The constant and universal battle of the two principles on Earth-Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, according to this reformer and consolidator requires from people a supraliminal and active support of the truth and rejection of falsehood. The self-improvement of true believers could be encouraged by the mastering of elaborated theory of origin, arrangement, development, ultimate fate of the Universe and Humankind-seven books which were poetically written and illustrated by Mani himself. He created special types and rules of spelling for maximum clarification of the meaning of the texts. It should be pointed out that his religion paid great attention to reading and the accumulation of knowledge. The religion successfully promoted the development of exact sciences among which the astronomy occupied an exceptional place. A great Oriental scientist and encyclopedist, Abu Reikhan al-Biruni (973-circa 1050) paid tribute to the Manichean Calendar and chronology.

In the early Middle Ages this religion rapidly spread from Spain and North Africa to Eastern Turkestan and China becoming one of the world religions. However it still remained as one of many religious sects and heresies, having never acquired the status of an established faith except three neighboring Turkish speaking empires of Siberia and Central Asia-Uigur, Old Khakas and Kimak chaganats. Why those three nations turned out to be especially sensitive to that religion is still a mystery. Our article is about the Manichean temples discovered and explored within the boarders of the Old Khakas state to the north of the West Sayan Mountains.

The past of Siberia was not long ago perceived as the realm of nomad life. Even the majority of archeologists - the followers of highly thorough and independent from other historical disciplines science-did not look for traces of the past settlements in those steppes (what could be preserved from a felt yurt over the centuries?). The breakthrough in the science of source studies was made by a Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences S. Kiselev, who in 1948 - 1949 discovered in Transbaikalia and Mongolia the ruins of the cities attributed to the Genghis Khan period - Karakorum, Khara-Balgas and others (13th century). Right after that his follower, professor of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, I. Kyzlasov excavated in Tuva six 13th-14th century towns with monumental temples, palaces and dwellings and then, descending into the depth of time and earth-clay settlements of Old Uigur of the 8th-9th centuries. At last, in the middle of the 20th century, archeologists from Leningrad started to excavate the cities of the Huns who lived in the 2nd cent. B.C. which had street layouts. And it has to be observed that all those great monuments belonged to the nations which had been described by the chronologists as nomads rushing about the steppe. The findings of archeologists showed the tendentious nature of such information, though the above-mentioned cultures were alien and strange for Siberia.

The settlements of local tribes continued to be unknown, in which case modern historical knowledge was behind the medieval. Way back in the 12th century Arab scholar, Al-Idrisi, the author of one of the major geographical works of that time, singled out Siberia, the Abakan and Yenisei rivers and four cities on his world map. The information about Sayan-Altai Old Khakas state, one of the most developed and long existent kingdoms of early middle age

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Siberia, had reached at that point even Transcaucasia. Iskander (Alexander the Great), a hero of the philosophical and Gnostic poem (circa 1203) of Nizami Gyandzhevi, a poet and sophist who lived in the territory of present Azerbaijan, had just found on the Yenisei the land of prosperity and wisdom, where he ended his pilgrimage. Generally the combined information of Arab and Persian authors about South Siberian countries and the cities built there covered the period from the 9th to the 12th centuries. Can it be true that today there are no visible traces of their existence?

And the time had come when the searches of scientists paid off. Researchers from Moscow State University (MSU) found the remnants of ancient structures in the valleys in Khakasia in 1971 and 1973. The Institute of Archeology of the USSR Academy of Sciences had been involved in the exploration since 1975 and on the basis of the institute a special Sayani-Altai expedition was formed in 1978. It turned out that Old Khakas settlements did not have fortifications and the houses were built of wood. That's why time did not spare their outward signs, where the streets and squares used to be now there are only flat fields. How did they find those cities? By the ruins of the constructed temples, which belonged to monumental architecture and which had been erected from clay brick in the 8th - 12th centuries. Their clay walls became swollen and formed in plan rectangular hillocks 3 - 4 m high, which served as landmarks for the search.

By the joint effort of the experts from the MSU and the USSR Academy of Sciences the sacred complexes in the valleys of Khakas rivers, Puur-sug and Uibat, had been excavated till 1981 and the last work after a long break was carried out in 2002. Under three hillocks which marked the centers of the cities they managed to find the remnants of at least 11 structures successively superseding each other. Their development turned out to be time-consuming, however, it was even harder to answer the question what was the purpose of those structures. The layout, construction techniques and design of the discovered installations were staggering in their diversity. No archeologist had ever seen it, even any special literature, documentary records could not help to comprehend the discovered antiquities. Only after years of search did it become obvious that they had not been palaces and castles but temples of the unknown form and cult.

It took sixteen years to unfold that mystery: by 1997 the scattered evidence of three Arab authors al-Masudi, ash-

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Shakhristani and ad-Demishki, who lived in the 10th, 12th and 14th centuries respectively, was found. Being combined, the evidence created a true canon of the temple architecture, which explained the main characteristics of the excavated structures. Those traditions were usual for cities of Khakasia in the 8th - 13th centuries when Manichaeism occupied the undisputable status of the established religion. Thus the culture of South Siberia had never been separated from the centers of other civilizations of the World, even remote geographically.

Once in Mesopotamia (4th - 3rd millennia B.C., Astern Asia) an astral cult was formed. Its disciples in Old Babylonia (the beginning of the 2nd millennium-539 B.C., present territory of Iraq) called Sabaens especially emphasized seven luminaries which protected days of the week: Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The same ideas provided the basis for the Zoroastrian calendar. To find out who from the shining gods and how influenced human affairs at that or other time according to the Chinese sources of the 8th century it was "enough to ask Sogdians*, Persians or the people of five Indias about it, who know them well". In other words, the Sabaeanism in Asia was widely spread. The excavations at the Yenisei showed that Manicheans recognized it in a Sabaen form.

So, the Sabaens canonized the diversified layout of the temples, connecting each of the idolized luminaries and cosmic phenomena with the specific geometrical figure and their combination. Al-Masudi wrote: "Among temples of the Sabaens there are the Temple of World Order, the Temple of Necessity and the Temple of Soul-these buildings are round in form. The Temple of Saturn is hexagonal, the Temple of Jupiter-is triangular, the Temple of Mars is rectangular, the Temple of Sun is square, the temple of Venus has a shape of a triangle inside the regular tetragon. The Temple of Mercury has a triangle shape inside the oblong rectangle, the Temple of Moon has an octagonal shape. The Sabaens see in this fact the symbols and mystery which they conceal".

The complexity of the cult symbolics, combining different planigraphic features, were not limited by that. For instance, ad-Dimeshki enumerates a variety of round temples: "Among the temples of the Sabaens, who recognize the chain from causes to causa causans of all causes, there are the following: the


* Sogdians - inhabitants of Sogda (or Sogdiana) - a historical province in the Central Asia, in the basin of the Zeravshan and Kashka Darya rivers, one of the oldest centers of civilization. - Ed.

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Temple of Causa Causans, which forms a round wall and has a shape of a hemisphere, erected on the Earth in the form of a marquee..., the Temple of the First Sense, which also consists of a round wall without windows, then the Temple of World Order (Harmony) also with a round wall without windows, then the Temple of Necessity, which has figures and pictures of nine spheres. And at last the Temple of Soul which is round as previously mentioned temples and contains a sculptural image of Man with different heads, arms and legs. The geometrical symbolics were completed with color. On the whole, using the medieval hints it is possible to make a conclusion that the round planning was tied up to the worshipping of abstract philosophical notions and multiangular of the planets.

The excavations at the Yenisei testify that the experienced Manichaean architects preserved the said canon of geometrical architectural concept which they had inherited from the Sabaens of Mesopotamia. Each of the Khakas temples studied by the archeologists was dedicated to one Deity of seven great celestial bodies or cosmogonic notions. The first and probably the earliest cult center was discovered in the hollow Sorga in Batenyovsky ridge, at the Puur-sug (Wolf river) head-left tributary of the Uibat. Here, just in the street of modern settlement, Yerbinskaya railway station, one can see the ruins of the Manichean temple. The rectangular structure (37.5 m x 28.5 m) was erected on a massive platform laid out in granite boulders bonded by clay wash and raised at 1.7 m over the steppe. The walls 2.2 - 2.4 m thick made of raw bricks went up as far as 3 m making up the hall 792 m2 in area. The flat clayey walk-ways lead from the foot to two entrances with double swing doors-main from the east and minor from the north. Judging by the remnants of the wooden constructions, the building had a flat ceiling bleached out by time. The wooden piazzas extended along the plastered and chalked walls. Four pillars with carved heads opposite the main entrance probably held a skylight. The walls to the north and south from it were scarlet, later on narrow brick pedestals were added to those sections. It is believed that it is the place where the major sacred things have been disposed.

Judging from the above-mentioned symbolics of layout, the rectangular Yerbinsk temple was devoted to the God of Mars. Most probably it was built in the middle of the 8th century, and in the beginning of the 10th century it was burnt to the ground along with the wooden monastic settlement situated

Pages. 90


around it. The specific characteristics of construction material (the format and the composition of brick) as well as of the architectural forms and techniques (stone platform, ramps, the mode of laying, the form of pillars, etc.) allow to think that the building had been erected by the traveling Sogdian builders. The missionaries of the Central Asia people, in accordance with the written sources, brought Manichaeism to East Turkistan, China and Uigur chaganate. It was proved that they had built cities and castles in the latter.

The second sacred complex is situated 90 km to the south-east of the former in the open steppe, near the fall of the Uibat into Abakan river. The earliest of the local structures had a shape of a square yard (22 x 22 m) with walls up to 4 m high. The neat work of carefully handled yellow clay raw bricks was made by the experienced masters, probably, Sogdians. The structure itself ought to be dated from 758 - 759 A.D. It was possible to notice a narrow gate in the eastern part of the wall, which was built under a later reconstruction, and there are the remains of the round structure in the western part of the yard. Probably the interior and exterior were plastered with clay wash and the floor was made of wood. As we see, such shape matches the layout of the above-mentioned Sabaen temple of Causa Causans, erected "as a marquee".

In the middle of the 8th century all space between the square walls was converted into a large hall and was topped by a roof. The roof was supported by 169 heavy wooden pillars, which rested on stone bases. Once again going back to Arab treatises containing the description of the standard plans and layouts it may be proved that the temple was dedicated to the God of Sun (Kuun-tengri). Sometime after the second regular tetragon from the raw brick walls was added to it from the south part which was connected with the main building by a passage-probably, the monastery, because along the walls it was separated by wooden partitions into a number of rooms. The wide gate allowing to go through in a cart was made in the east wall. One more interesting discovery was a low, narrow adobe platform with an oval end, adjoining outside to northwestern wall of the Temple of Sun. It happened to be very decrepit. The Temples of Flame with similar sanctuary are well known in Central Asia.

That's how the rectangular temple complex at the Uibat looked like by the end of 8th century. Later on the high identical octagon structures with flat top were built into the south and north corners of the rectangular building. Overall dimensions of the complex reached the size of 72x37 m. At that time the old entrance to the colonnaded hall was bricked up, and the new one was made near the north tower. According to Al-Masudi the Sabaen octagon structures were the Temples of Moon. If so, there were two of them in the excavated city. Sun and Moon according to beliefs of the Manicheans were two ships which collected the parts of the world freed from the terrestrial confusion with the Darkness and brought them to the Upper World.

Five unusual sickle-like steps lead from the south-west to the south octagon tower, and amid the north tower we discovered a square well (2x2 m) with the walls reinforced by poles and wood strips, which testified to the worshipping of waters. It was quickly flooded with water after the cleanup.

About the mid-9th century even the Temple of Sun had undergone the reconstruction. Its hall was filled with pebbles, sand and clay 2.5 m high, transforming it into a high platform framed up by the brickwork of the old walls. A new square building (20x20.6 m) without roofing and with south entrance was built on the clay surface. The round brick podium (0.75 m high and 8.8 m in diameter) went up in the west part, three steps lead to the podium from the north, and in the center there was a square alabaster sanctuary with a low ornamental edge, with the corners oriented towards parts of the world. The temple of the astral cult according to ad-Dimeshki typology was erected in honor of Wbrld Order, Harmony, Creation, most probably, to commemorate the victory over Uiguria in 840. Its openness to the sky testifies to the harmony with the Universe. On the east wall of the complex and the trapezoid platforms attached to it two Temples of Air are symmetrically placed-wooden roofs, which are sup-

Pages. 91


Pages. 92


ported by four thick pillars resting on stone foundation.

The latest temple of Uibat city was rectagonal (20x16 m) and it was erected in 1 lth century. According to the archeologists it stood up till the Mogul conquest of Khakasia in the 13th century. In the west part of the building 10 heavy pillars resting on thick stone foundation were situated at a square area (7.5x7.5 m), probably, they supported the tower with a skylight. From the east part, not far from the entrance, there rested a flagstone on the floor with the visible traces of fire-probably it was used as a stand for a torch. We managed to clear up a sacrificial hole 0.9 in depth with the bones of large fish, birds, sheep and goat (i.e. sacrificed remnants of the inhabitants of waters, air and land) with the Temple of Flame attached outside. This rectangular temple as well as the above-mentioned Yerbin one was dedicated to the God of Mars.

These are the archeologic findings collected on the Siberian Manichaeism.

Naturally they cannot reconstruct the full scene of life of so large and long-existent sacred centers in the valley of the Central Yenisei. It's apparent that their rise was due to the adoption of the Manichaeism as an established religion of Old Khakas empire.

All these wonderful findings call for archeologists for new discoveries. Thus, according to the canon, each Manichaean monastery had libraries, arts collections, rooms for training. According to the evidence only those who had education, and mastered astrology, astronomy, mathematics and theology could become archpriests of "School of Light". The Manicheans brought their knowledge as well as their own calendar, reckoning the time from the birth of their Prophet, to Siberia. And since religion was different from the rest, that they used the language of the local population, to create pious literature. That's why the regular rise of education happened there, Old Turk runic characters were widely spread, local clerisy, so to speak, emerged: missionaries, clergy, public servants. Currently dozens of prayers, full of ethic searching were discovered on the old rocks in Sayan-Altai, specific standards of spelling were distinguished, inherent only to the Manichaean texts. That was the time of cultural rise and uplift, joining of the folks of Siberia to the world of spiritual and cultural values of the West Asia civilization. Imagine in the 9th - 12th centuries on the Yenisei or let's say the Katun they read the life history of Mani, i.e. grasping the events which had happened in the 3rd century in Mesopotamia, learning the succeeding history of beliefs and its shepherds. All that had a great impact on the culture of many Asian nations even in the following centuries.


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Igor KYZLASOV, THE MYSTERIOUS TEMPLES OF SIBERIA // Moscow: Russian Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.RU). Updated: 27.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.ru/m/articles/view/THE-MYSTERIOUS-TEMPLES-OF-SIBERIA (date of access: 24.01.2021).

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