TWC'S Odyssey
Tan Wee Cheng's Travels in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan


TEXT: Copyright (c) 1996 Encyclopaedia Britannica
PICTURES: Copyright (c) 1998 Tan Wee-Cheng

Original name ABU 'ABDOLLAH JA'FAR EBN MOHAMMAD (b. c. 859, Rudak, Khorasan--d. 940/941, Rudak?),
the first poet of note to compose poems in the "New Persian," written in Arabic alphabet, widely regarded as the father of
Persian poetry.

A talented singer and instrumentalist, Rudaki served as a court poet to the Samanid ruler  Nasr II (914-943) in Bukhara
until he fell out of favour in 937. He ended his life in wretched poverty. Approximately 100,000 couplets are attributed to
Rudaki, but of that enormous output, fewer than 1,000 have survived, and these are scattered among many anthologies and
biographical works. His poems are written in a simple style, characterized by optimism and charm and, toward the end of his
life, by a touching melancholy. In addition to parts of his divan (collection of poems), one of his most important contributions to
literature is his translation from Arabic to New Persian of  Kalilah wa Dimnah, a collection of fables of Indian origin.
Later retellings of these fables owe much to this lost translation of Rudaki, which further ensured his fame in Perso-Islamic


Samanid Dynasty, (AD 819-999), first native dynasty to arise in Iran after the Muslim Arab conquest. It was renowned for the impulse that it gave to Iranian national sentiment and learning.

The four grandsons of the dynasty's founder, Saman-Khoda, had been rewarded with provinces for their faithful service to the
'Abbasid caliph al-Ma`mun: Nuh obtained Samarkand; Ahmad, Fergana; Yahya, Shash; and Elyas, Herat. Ahmad's son Nasr
became governor of  Transoxania in 875, but it was his brother and successor,  Isma'il I (892-907), who overthrew
the Saffarids in  Khorasan (900) and the Zaydites of Tabaristan, thus establishing a semiautonomous rule over Transoxania
and Khorasan, with Bukhara as his capital.

Under the loosely centralized feudal government of the Samanids, Transoxania and Khorasan prospered, with a notable
expansion of industry and commerce, attested by the use of Samanid silver coins as currency throughout northern Asia. The
main cities of Samarkand and Bukhara became cultural centres. Persian literature flourished in the works of the poets Rudaki
and Ferdowsi, philosophy and history were encouraged, and the foundations of Iranian Islamic culture were laid.

The most important contribution of the Samanid age to Islamic art is the pottery produced at Nishapur and Samarkand. The
Samanids developed a technique known as  slip painting: mixing semifluid clay (slip) with their colours to prevent the
designs from running when fired with the thin fluid glazes used at that time. Bowls and simple plates were the most common
forms made by Samanid potters. The potters employed stylized Sasanian motifs such as horsemen, birds, lions, and bulls'
heads, as well as Arabic calligraphic design. Polychrome pieces usually had a buff or red body with designs of several colours,
bright yellows, greens, black, purples, and reds being the most common. Many pottery pieces were produced at Nishapur,
however, with only a single line on a white background. The art of bronze casting and other forms of metalwork also flourished
at Nishapur throughout the Samanid period.

Although few Samanid buildings have survived, a mausoleum of Isma'il the Samanid (d. 907), still standing in Bukhara, shows
the originality of the architecture of the era. The perfectly symmetrical mausoleum is constructed entirely of brick; brick is also
used to form decorative patterns in relief, based on the position and direction of each architectural unit.

From the mid-10th century, Samanid power was gradually undermined, economically by the interruption of the northern trade
and politically by a struggle with a confederation of disaffected nobles. Weakened, the Samanids became vulnerable to
pressure from the rising Turkish powers in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Nuh II (976-997), to retain at least nominal control,
confirmed  Sebüktigin, a former Turkish slave, as semi-independent ruler of Ghazna (modern Ghazni, Afg.) and appointed
his son  Mahmud governor of Khorasan. But the Turkish  Qarakhanids, who then occupied the greater part of
Transoxania, allied with Mahmud and deposed the Samanid Mansur II, taking possession of Khorasan. Bukhara fell in 999,
and the last Samanid, Isma'il II, after a five-year struggle against the Ghaznavid Mahmud and the Qarakhanids, was
assassinated in 1005.

Heart of the Silk Road 
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