Abai and Shakarim Mausoleum Complex – Karaul, Kazakhstan - Atlas Obscura

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Abai and Shakarim Mausoleum Complex

Karaul, Kazakhstan

A pair of towering monuments commemorate two of Kazakhstan's greatest poets and philosophers. 

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The vast and alluring Eurasian steppe personifies the infinity of time and space. So it is no wonder that the heart of the steppe is the sanctuary for the remains of two of the region’s greatest poets and philosophers. The double mausoleum dedicated to Abai Kunanbayev (1845-1904) and Shakarim Kudayberdiyev (1858-1931) commands the Kazakh savanna as it stretches toward the firmament, a rousing testament to their enduring influence.

Often described as the founder of written Kazakh literature, Abai is celebrated prolifically in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia. His most famous work is The Book of Words in which he exhorts his readers through poetry to eschew corruption and embrace good moral character. But he was also known for bridging the gap between east and west by translating the works of numerous European luminaries including Goethe, Shakespeare, and Lermontov into Kazakh for broader consumption.

Abai’s nephew and crypt companion, Shakarim, is known for his tersely titled book Three Truths, which took him 30 years to complete. Alas, when he confronted the newly minted Soviet Union with his truths, Stalin had him shot in 1931 and banned his writings. It wasn’t until the 1980s that his works were rediscovered and celebrated as a point of Kazakh pride.

Inaugurated in 1995, the complex was built near the village of Zhidebay in the region where Abai’s father once ruled as sultan. Abai’s mausoleum itself stands approximately 123 feet tall while his nephew’s is slightly shorter at some 115 feet. Nearby are the monuments and burial plots for various family members including one for Abai’s mother.

Not far away is the Abai House, where the grounds feature a small pyramid that makes the rather dubious claim to mark the geographical center of Eurasia.

In addition to the monuments and a mosque, the complex includes a library and amphitheater to fully celebrate the learned writers’ erudition and influence. Each year, an oration competition is held here for children in grades eight to eleven. The current recitation record is held by a student who performed 400 of Abai’s poems and songs from memory.

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