Alisher Navoi and Urdu literature — A forgotten story

SocialAlisher Navoi and Urdu literature --- A forgotten story

Alishir Navai and Urdu literature — A forgotten story

Ali-Shir Navai
Ali-Shir Navai and Urdu literature — A forgotten story

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Nizomiddin Mir Alisher (Rus- Алишер Навои) , also known as Ali-Shir Navai is a legendary personality of Central Asia.

He was a mystic, a Sufi poet, a travelogue writer, a play writer, a historian, a philosopher, an administrator and even a builder. He can be considered as the father of modern Uzbek language and a beacon for poets, writers, linguistics, historians and philosophers of Central Asia as well as of South Asia.

His style of writing influenced almost every classic poet, play writer and story teller of Urdu language. One of the most popular forms of poetry “Ghazal” is actually a gift of Alisher (February 9, 1441 –  January 3, 1501) to subcontinent literature. Ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming. The Ghazal spread into India under the influence of the Mughals and mostly through Sufi mystics.

Although the Ghazal is most prominently a form of Dari, old Uzbek language and Urdu poetry but today it is found in the poetry of many languages of the Indian sub-continent (today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).

Classic Urdu writer Syed Sajjad Haider Yaldram wrote travelogues by following technique of Alisher while play writers in Urdu and even in Hindi languages were very much under the influence of Navai style. Critics believe that most popular plays of Urdu language including “Rustom O Sohrab” written by Agha Hashar Kashmiri and “Anarkali” written by Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj follow scene writing style of Alisher Navai.

Moreover, Sufi poets like Baba Bulleh Shah, Khawaja Ghulam Farid, Mian Muhammad Baksh, Sultan Bahu, Shah Hussain (alias “Madho Lal Hussain”) and Waris Shah could not resist to get the influence of mystic poetry of Alisher Navai because all classic poets of Urdu and Punjabi had knowledge of Persian and little knowledge of old Uzbek language therefore the work of Alisher Navai was not unfamiliar to them.

Navai was introduced to subcontinent by Mughal Emperor Babur who was actually founder of the Uzbek dynasty of subcontinent. Babur wrote one of the first autobiographies among Islamic rulers, the epic “Baburnama”. He was influenced heavily by Navai and even included his respect for the writer in this famous book.

Navai became one of the most beloved poets in the Turkic-speaking world. With the rise of the great Ottoman poets, the place of Turkish as a classical language of Islam and a major world literature was solidified.

He wrote his Ghazals under the pen-names of Navoi (in his poems which were written in the old Uzbek language) and Foni (in his poems which were written in Persian language).

Navoi is a great Uzbek poet, an icon of the Uzbek literature which is called Chigatoy Literature in the subcontinent. He was born in Herat. One of the Timurid’s Husayn Boyqaro took the crown of Herat in 1469, and a new period began in Navoi’s life. In 1472 he became a minister of the state (Vazir) of Husayn Boyqaro. He was famous as a poet and a statesman. During 1480, he built a number of madrasahs, 40 Sarai (the place where Karavan could have a little rest), 17 mosques, 10 honaqohs, 9 bath-houses, 9 bridges, 20 pools in Herat and in other parts of the country from his own money as charity work. Navoi was sent to Astrobod as a governor (head) in 1487. Husayn Boyqaro gave a title to Navoi as “Muqarribi Hazrati Sultoniy (the closest person to Sultan)”. One of the main features of that title was that who could do state work instead of Husayn Bayqaro.

He revolutionized the literary use of the Turkic languages. He himself wrote primarily in the Chagatai language, and produced 30 works over a period of 30 years, during which period Chagatai—and Turkic in general—became accepted as a prestigious and well-respected literary language. Navai also wrote in Persian (under the pen name Fani), but he also wrote in Arabic and Hindi.

Navai’s best-known poems are found in his four divans, or poetry collections, which consist of roughly 50,000 verses all together. Each part of the work corresponds to different periods of a person’s life:

  • Ghara’ib al-Sighar (“Wonders of Childhood”)
  • Naivadir al-Shabab (“Witticisms of Youth”)
  • Bada’i’ al-Wasat (“Marvels of Middle Age”)
  • Fawi’id al-Kibar (“Advantages of Old Age”)

His literary work had a far-reaching impact, as he also wrote technical works that would be helpful to other Turkic language poets, such as Mizan al-Awzan (“The Measure of Meters”), a detailed treatise on poetical meters, and the monumental Majalis al-Nafais (“Assemblies of Distinguished Men”), a collection of over 450 biographical sketches of mostly contemporary poets, and a gold mine of information for modern historians of Timurid culture.

Other important works include:

Muhakamat al-Lughatayn (Uzbek: Muxokamat al-lugatayn, literally English “Judgment between the Two Languages” or “The Comparison of the Two Languages”) completed in December, 1499. He believed that Chaghatay Turkic language was superior to Persian for literary purposes, and defended this belief in his work. It was the writer’s last definitive statement on the subject dearest to his heart, and the Muhakamat is a perfect example of an author’s final work acting also as his last will and testament which was to emphasize the importance of his native language. Repeatedly, Navai emphasizes – what he believed being – the richness, precision and malleability of Turkic vocabulary as opposed to Persian. He said:

I realized the necessity of giving thought to Turkish words. The world which came into view was more sublime than 18,000 worlds, and its adorned sky, which I came to know, was higher than nine skies. There I found a treasury of … excellence in which the pearls were more lustrous than the stars. I entered the rose garden. Its roses were more splendid than the stars of heaven, its hallowed ground was untouched by hand or foot, and its myriad wonders were safe from the touch of other hands.     

Badoe ul-Vasat – The third devon (a complete collection of poems) of Navoi`s lyric heritage “Hazoin-ul-maoniy”. It consists of 650 ghazals, 1 mustazod, 2 muhammas, 2 musaddas, 1 tarjeband, 1 qasida (an ode – triumphal poem praising a person or event), 60 qit’as, 10 chistons, 3 tuyuks. Total number is – 740 poems – 5420 couplets, compiled between 1492-1498 years.

Waqfiya – Alisher Navoi wrote it in 1481. This is a documentary work by ‘Foni’ but it also depicted the poet’s life, spiritual world, his dreams and unfulfilled desires. The work is an important source to learn economical, social and cultural life in XV century.

Layli wa Majnun – The third dastan (epic poem) of “Hamsa” (“Quintet”, a group of five dastans). It is about a man mad with love. It was written in 1484 and consists of 3622 couplets and 36 chapters.

Lison ut-Tayr (The Language of the Birds) – An epic poem that is an allegory for our need to seek God, whatever our excuses may be. The story begins with the birds of the world realizing that they are far from their king and need to seek him. They begin the long and hard journey with many complaints, but a wise bird encourages them through admonishment and exemplary stories. It was written in 1498-99, and consists of 3598 couplets. In the introduction Navoi noted he wrote this epic poem as a response to “Mantiq-ut Tayr” by Fariduddin Attar and used the pseudonym “Foniy”.

Majolis un-Nafois – is Navoi`s tazkira (anthology). Written in 1491-92 and completed with additions in 1498. It consists of eight meeting reports, tells about contemporary poets, especially major contemporary ones. Overall, Navoi provides information about 459 poets and authors. The work was translated three times and again into Persian  and Russian.

Mahbub ul-Qulub – Alisher Navoi`s work written in 1500 – the last year before his death. Here the poet’s extremely rich experience and conclusions are collected into one work. It consists of an introduction and three parts. The first part is about status and the duty of different social classes; the second part is about moral matters; the third part provides useful advice and wise sayings. Translated into Russian – volume ten.

Mezon ul-Avzon – Navoi`s work about Persian and Turkic aruz. It was created in 1490.

Minhoj un-Najot (The ways of salvation) – The fifth poem of the Persian triumphal poems collection “Sittai zaruriya” (6 necessities). It consists of 138 couplets. It was written in response to Khoqoni and Ansori’s triumphal poems.

Munojot – is a work written by Navoi in the last years of his life. It is a small work about pleading and repenting before God (Allah). The poet’s unfulfilled dreams and regrets connected to epoch and environment, anxiety in his spirit is depicted dependently with incomplete surrounding.

Munshaot (A Collection of Letters) – A collection of letters of Navoi written to different classes of people about various kinds of matters. There are also letters addressed to Navoi in this collection. It was collected in 1498-99. The work contains details about Khusain Baykaro, Badiuzzamon Mirzo and the letters addressed to his adopted son and letters expressing his dreams about doing the pilgrimage to Ka`bah. This work gives valuable facts about political, social, moral and spiritual matters for the common person.

Mufradot – Navoi`s work about how to do problem-solving (Logical Thinking). The ways of making and solving of 121 problems are depicted in this work. There are 52 problems in Chagatay in the Hazoin-ul-maoni section and 500 problems in Persian in Devoni Foni section. The work was written in 1485, a presentation of various views and styles of problems (48) is given.

Muhakamat ul-Lughatain – Navoi presents the contexts, the vocabulary and other possibilities that bode well for the fiction/poetic work of Turkic over the Persian language. Included are details about poets who write in both languages. This work by Navoi proves how he struggled for a national language and a national literature. It was written in 1499.

Navodir ush-Shabob (The Valuables of Youth) – Navoi`s second devon (complete collection of poems) and includes Hazoin-ul-maoniy.  It contains 650 Ghazals, 1 mustazod, 3 muhammas, 1 musaddas, 1 tarjeband, 1 tarkibband, 50 qit`as, and 52 problems. Total number is: 759 poems and 5423.5 couplets. It was formed 1492-1498.

Nazm ul-Javohir – In 1485 Navoi wrote this work in appreciation of Khusain Baykaro’s Risola . The meaning of every proverb in Hazrat Ali’s collection of proverbs entitled Nasr ul-laoliy is told in one ruba’i. The creation and purpose of the work is given in the preface.

Nasim ul-Huld – Navoi`s qasida (ode) written in Persian under the influence of Khoqoni and Khisrav Dehlavi’s qasidas.

Risolai tiyr andohtan – The work (Risola) was inserted in Navoi`s non-completed “Kulliyot”, which was published as a book in 1667-1670 and consisted of 17 works. Risola consists of three pages and seems to be a commentary on one of the hadiths. For the first time it was published in 1995 in the “Tafakkur” magazine, in Uzbekistan.

Rukh ul-Quds (Holy Spirit) – The first qasida (ode) of Navoi`s collection of qasidas in Persian named “Sittai zaruriya”. It consists of 132 couplets and is about divine love.

Sab`ai Sayyor (Travel Around the Planets) – The fourth dastan (epic poem) of “Hamsa”. It is divided into 37 chapters and consists of 8005 lines. It was written in 1485.

Saddi Iskandari (The Wall of Alexander the Great) – The fifth dastan (epic poem) of “Hamsa” . This masterpiece displays Navoi’s view of governance. Alexander the Great conquers the world not for self-glory, but for protecting the people (world justice). It consists of 88 chapters and 7215 couplets. Written in 1485.

Siroj ul-Muslimin (The Light of Muslim People) – Alisher Navoi`s work written in 1499. It gives the facts about the five pillars of Islam, Shari’at, the rule of faith, signs of God, responsibilities and the sunnats of namaz (the five daily prayers), purity, alms, fasting and the Hajj. The risola (pamphlet) was first published in Uzbekistan in 1992.

Tarixi muluki Ajam – Navoi`s work written in 1488 dedicated to outlining a history of the Shahs of Iran. The work describes the useful deeds of the Shahs done for their society and people, starting from Kayumars to Yazdijurd Shahriyor that belonged to four classes (dynasties).

Tuhfat ul-Afkor – Navoi`s qasida (ode) in Persian written as a respond to “Daryoi abror” by Khisrav Dehlavi. One of the six qasidas named “Sittai zaruriya”.

Favoid ul-Kibar (The Usefulness of Old Age) – The fourth diwan (complete collection of poems) of “Hazoin ul-maoniy” . It consists of 650 ghazals, one mustazod, two muhammas, one musaddas, one musamman, one tarje`band, one sokiynoma, 50 qit`a, 80 fard, 793 poems, 5888.5 couplets. Written 1492-1498.

Farhod wa Shirin (Farhad and Shirin) – The second epic poem of “Hamsa”. A classic Romeo and Juliet story for Central Asians. Divided into 59 chapters, 5782 couplets. Written in 1484.

Fusuli arba`a (Four seasons) – The common name of four qasidas (odes) written in Persian. Each Qasida is about one of the four seasons – Spring (57 couplets), Hottest part of Summer (71 couplets), Autumn (35 couplets), and Winter (70 couplets).

Hazoin ul-Maoniy – The common name of the four diwans (complete collection of poems) that include completed lyrical poems by Navoi. “Hazoin ul-maoniy” consists of 2600 ghazals, four mustazods, ten muhammas’, four tarje`bands, one tarkibband, one masnaviy (a poetic letter to Sayyid Khsan), one qasida, one sokiynoma, 210 qit`as, 133 ruba’is, 52 muammos, 10 chistons, 12 tuyuks, 26 fards, 3132 poems – 22450, 5 couplets (44901 misra’s (poetry couplet ). The work was finished in 1498. In this collection 16 different lyrical genres are presented.

Hamsa – The common name of five dastans (epic poem) by Navoi written in 1483-85. With this work Navoi established a precedent for quality literature in Chagatay. The dastans are:

  1. “Hayrat ul-Abror”, 64 chapters, 3988 couplets.
  2. “Farhad wa Shirin”, 59 chapters, 5782 couplets, written in 1484.
  3. “Layli wa Majnun”, 36 chapters, 3622 couplets.
  4. “Sab`ai Sayyor”, 37 chapters, 8008 couplets, written in 1485
  5. “Saddi Iskandari”, 83 chapters, 7215 couplets, written in 1485.

Hamsat ul-Mutaxayyirin – Alisher Navoi`s work about Abdurahmon Jomi written in 1494. It contains an introduction, three parts and a conclusion. In the introduction Jomi`s genealogy, his birth, upbringing, studies, his becoming a scientist and poet is explained. The first part tells about Jomi’s spiritual world, and his talks concerning creative works; the second part reveals the nearness between Navoi and Jomi in creative colloborations, talks and invitations to works relating to Sufism. The conclusion sheds light on Jomi`s death. It includes Navoi`s eulogy written in Persian that consists of seven sections of ten lines.

Gharoyib us-Sighar – The first diwan (complete collection of poems) of “Hazoin ul-Maoniy” by Navoi. It consists of 650 ghazals, one mustazod, three muhammas, one musaddas, one tarje`band, one masnaviy, 50 qit`as, 133 ruba’is. 840 poems – 5718,5 couplets (11.437 misra). It was compiled 1492-1498.

Hayrat ul-Abror – The first dastan (epic poem) of “Hamsa” by Navoi. It’s divided into 64 chapters, and has 3988 couplets. Written in 1483.

Navoi is greatly respected in independent Uzbekistan. Many places and institutions in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries are named after him including Navoiy Region, the city of Navoiy, the National Library of Uzbekistan, the Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, Alisher Navoiy station of Tashkent Metro and Navoi International Airport.

Many of his ghazals appear in popular Uzbek folk songs and in the works of many Uzbek singers. His works have also been staged as plays by Uzbek playwrights.

There is a dire need to introduce work of Navoi to Pakistan and Pakisrani literary circles. Literary organizations and linguistic circles can play an important role to showcase play writer and ghazal style of Navio to modern Urdu writers.

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