An 8th century Uyghur Khagan. Picture credit: Tilivay
Long long ago, there was a nameless city far away on the other side of the Taklimakan Desert.
This city was ruled justly and wisely by a king, and under him everyone knew peace and prosperity. Travellers from all over the civilised world, from Egypt, Rome, India and Bukhara hailed the city as a paradise. In the city was a wise old sage who was a close advisor of the king. Not only did he give beneficial advice, but also he had trained many in the king's government in the way of economy, justice and peace.
Now the king had a Premier who was jealous of the wise sage, and who longed to be king in his own right. One day he bribed the head chef to put poison in the king's dinner. In due course the king died, and by a series of cunning strategies the Premier was declared king of all the land. The first thing he did was to exile the sage to countryside. Then he banished all of the king's loyal ministers and put his own evil followers in their place.
Before long, the fertile fields of the kingdom became covered with sand and famine and injustice abounded throughout the land. And then, a new diaster struck: each time the west wind blew, a beautiful girl from the city would vanish without a trace. A terrible black ogre lived in the kouyikap, a deep abyss ten days travel from the city. This ogre had long wished to cause mischief but had not dared while the wise king was alive. Knowing that the new king was weak, he took his opportunity; he would use his magic wind to plunder the kingdom of its beautiful girls.
One day, the king's own daughter was taken by the black ogre. Helpless in his grief, he announced in front of all his people that he would give his throne to the man who killed the ogre and brought his daughter back alive. Many brave men travelled to the kouyikap and attempted to rescue her, but all were turned into stone. And still the abductions went on, and visitors no longer came to the city, and the population of the city grew smaller, and things were very grim.
Finally the sage who was still living in exile spoke to one of his most promising students, one called Batur, and told him "My son, our nation was a paradise and is now turned to hell. Kill the black ogre, rescue the stolen girls and free the people from this reign of terror!" And he gave Batur words of advice, telling him to use his wisdom and everything that he'd been taught, but he prayed for Batur to succeed as well.
After saying good bye to his master Batur set off his journey. While he was going through a bog, he saw a toad. Thinking it might be useful, he put it in his bosom. He came to a desert and saw the tail of dead donkey. Thinking it might be useful, he put it in his bosom. He passed through a forest and saw a nest of skylarks high in a tree. Climbing the tree he captured the skylark along with several eggs and put them in his bosom. After ten days of travel he arrived at the edge of the kouyikap. When he looked inside the abyss and saw the countless bodies of men turned to stone, he became afraid. But remembering the words of his master, he stirred himself, took heart, and began the long descent. Finally he arrived at the home of the black ogre and saw lots of girls sitting sadly in an iron cage. When they saw him they cried out "sir, leave this place. The black ogre sleeps, but when he wakes he will surely turn you to stone!" But Batur had been thinking. He said to the girls "please don't worry, I'm here to destroy the ogre and save you from him. When he wakes, say that Batur has come to challenge him; I will meet him in front of the abyss". And having said this to girls in the cage he went out to make certain preparations.
Sure enough, when the ogre awoke, he emerged from the abyss with a horrifying noise. Seeing Batur he shouted "you puny human being, how you dare to come to my land without fearing me? I now turn you to stone!" But Batur loftily declared "frightened of you? Would I have climbed down to your home if I were frightened of you? I need the heads of ten ogres. It is a pity you are alone, because I'm really just worried about where to find the other nine heads". On hearing this the ogre was rather shocked and his hair stood on end. But in order not to show his fear, he laughed and said "well don't imagine cutting off MY head! A louse from my body could kill you with one bite". And he took a louse from his armpit, big as a walnut, and dropped it in front of Batur. Batur said proudly, "my louse can eat up yours" and dropped the toad from his bosom. Now the toad was so hungry for having not eaten for ten days that he swallowed the ogre's louse in one bite. Seeing this, the ogre panicked. He threatened "I'll bind you with a hair from my armpit. You won't be able to move and you'll die". He took a hair as long a snake from his armpit, and showed it to Batur. But unconcernedly shaking his head, Batur dropped the tail of the dead donkey from his bosom in front of the ogre saying "if I make a net from this, it's you who will not be able to move again". At this the ogre really started to worry. "If I throw you to the sky like I throw this stone, you'll fall to the ground after three days and then you'll be crushed and turn to powder" he blustered. He threw a stone into the sky and sure enough, it took three days to fall back to the ground. But Batur laughed "and if I throw YOU to the sky as I throw this stone, you will never come back down". He bowed to ground as if to pick up a stone but instead he secretly took the skylark from his bosom and threw it into the air. After doing a quick somersault the bird disappeared and was never seen again. The ogre was terror-stricken at this point, but tried one last time: "if I press you with my fingers as I press this stone you will be crushed to powder". Batur approached the Ogre and said "but if I press you as I press stone, instead of turning into powder you will be turned to oil", and as he pressed the eggs that had been hidden in his bosom, yellow and white liquid started to leak from his fingers.
After this the ogre frankly thought he was going to have a heart attack from fear and said "obviously you are much more powerful than me; if you let me live you can have the key to the cage in which the girls are imprisoned and the key to my magic box," and saying this he gave Batur the two keys and fled. Batur descended the abyss and immediately freed the girls. When he opened the magic box, an ugly bird raised its head from inside and chirped unpleasantly. At that moment a strong wind began to howl inside the kouyikap but as Batur closed the box, the wind stopped. Batur made a fire and burned the bird and box together, and at that moment all the people that had been turned to stone came back to life. And they all thanked Batur, and began the journey with him back to the city.
But the story does not end there. As the ogre was running for his life, he came across a fox. Seeing the pitiful condition the ogre was in, the fox said "friend ogre, what on earth has happened to you?" "Well, dear fox, I'm escaping for my life from someone called Batur" said the ogre in reply. The fox laughed sneeringly. "Friend ogre, you are escaping from nothing. There is no human being equal to you, he frightened you with his tricks. Come on, I'll go with you, we'll get your keys from him and take your revenge". "Hmmm" said the ogre somewhat hesitantly, "you are an extremely crafty fellow. You're not thinking of bringing me to my death while escaping with your life, are you? I won't rise to this bait of yours". The fox replied "then tie me to you". After tying up the fox to him with a stout piece of rope, the ogre turned around and went to look for Batur, who they found leading the group of men and women through the desert. Seeing them come towards him, Batur had a crafty thought and shouted "hey, you bastard fox, I told you to get me ten ogres and you come here with only one? How about I make a hat from your fur for breaking your promise". On seeing this, the ogre turned and ran for his life, while the fox, tied as he was to the ogre, was beaten from stone to stone and died. On arriving at a safe place the ogre stopped to rest. As he turned around, he caught sight of the fox, whose mouth was hanging open, and it seemed that he was laughing at the ogre. Seeing this he became angry and shouted "you devious fox, you dare to laugh at me? I will kill you for your traitorous behaviour" and so he started running again.
Meanwhile, Batur arrived in the city with everyone he had freed from ogre, including the king's daughter. The people welcomed them home with great rejoicing and the dishonest king was forced to give up his throne to Batur as he had promised. To the sounds of drums and flutes, Batur was placed on the throne, however Batur summoned his exiled teacher and asked him to be the king of the country. The wise sage refused the honour, but agreed instead to be his chief advisor. After that, with the acumen of Batur and his wise teacher at his side, the kingdom returned to its prosperousness, peaceful and happy ways.
And according to the sayings of the people, the black ogre is still at large and running with that dead fox around his neck.
Uyghur princesses. Wall painting, Bezeklik, Cave 9, 8th/9th century AD
Uyghur princes wearing robes and headgear.
Wall painting, Bezeklik, Cave 9, 8th/9th century AD
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Want to read more Uyghur fairy tales? Author John Halstead has painstakingly gathered fifty-nine tales and stories that stretch back in history almost to the time of the great flood itself. Read about one-eyed, seven horned monsters that double as mothers-in-law, tricksters, illusionists, shape-shifters, ogres and even the origin of the meaning of fate itself. Visit Abela Publishing if you would like to purchase Uyghur Folklore and Legends, and note that 33% of the publisher's profit from the book will be donated for education scholarships for Uyghurs in East Turkestan.
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