This paper explores the role of Mazars (sacred sites) in the contemporary social and spiritual life of the Kyrgyz. Based upon recent ethnographic research in the Talas region of northern Kyrgyzstan, the paper argues that Mazars perform an important function in enabling local residents to deal with the emotional, psychological and physical consequences of a profoundly destabilizing post-Soviet “transition”. Despite the significance of Mazars to the sacred life of the Kyrgyz, they have rarely been studied and are not protected, or even registered, by the State commissions dealing with religious affairs. Our research indicates that Mazars are visited by Kyrgyz people, both men and women, of all ages. The paper contains ethnographic accounts of infertile women who attend Mazars to regain their fertility, of alcoholics who are able to be cured of drinking problems, and of people who simply want to gain a sense of spiritual renewal. Mazars, which may be either natural or man-made, are an element of pre-Islamic culture that have survived and co-exist with both formal Islam and the official atheism promoted by the Soviet state. It is quite common to find both the Koran and the indigenous Manas epic co-existing in ritual practices observed at Mazars. There is strong evidence that Mazars plaid a crucial role in the spiritual life of the nomadic Kyrgyz, co-existing with ancestor worship in this strongly patrilineal society, and that their very lack of formality helped them to survive Soviet attacks on formal religious institutions. This research represents the first large-scale fieldwork to be undertaken by the recently formed NGO, Aigine. Over 200 Mazars have been identified in the region, which has a population of 200,000. The sheer volume of these sacred sites attests to their continuing importance as a source of spiritual and emotional energy to the population.
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