Navoi as a symbol of Uzbek literature
February 9 marks the 581st anniversary of the birth of Alicher Navoi, a 15th-century poet, linguist, and thinker who played a central role in the Uzbek nation-building process.
Alisher Navoi was a poet and thinker most remembered today in Uzbekistan for championing the use of Chagatai which serves as the basis for the modern literary and spoken Uzbek language.
He was born in Herat and spent most of his life there. Navoi’s family was close to the Timurid Palace. According to the information of the great historian Hondamir, an old poet Lutfi met Alisher Navoi, when he was a child and Lutfi appreciated his talent.
One of the Timurids Husayn Boyqaro took the crown of Herat in 1469, and a new period began in Navoi’s life. In 1469 he received the title of stamper and in 1472 that of minister of state (vazir) by Husayn Boyqaro.
He was famous as a poet and statesman and possessed great wealth at that time. During 1480 he built a number of madrassahs, 40 robots (the place where Karavan could have some rest), 17 mosques, 10 honaqohs, 9 bathhouses, 9 bridges, 20 swimming pools in Herat and other other parts of the country for his own money (on his own account).
Navoi was sent to Astrobod as governor (head) in 1487. Husayn Boyqaro gave Navoi a title as “Muqarribi hazrati sultoniy (the closest person to the sultan)”. One of the main characteristics of this title was that who could do state work in place of Husayn Bayqaro.
Typically, Navoi was a Central Asian who crossed regions, cultures and languages throughout his life. He was born in 1441 in Herat (now Afghanistan), studied in Mashhad (a city in Iran) and Samarkand (located in Uzbekistan), and died in Herat, where he is buried. He was a polymath who built buildings, served the local political power and wrote in three languages (Chagatai, Persian and Arabic), mainly poetry.
One of his most famous works is the Muhakamat al-Lughatayn, (known in English as “The Judgment Between the Two Languages”), a treatise in which he compares the merits of Persian to Chagatai and concludes that the language Turkish is superior.
Such a claim was unusual at that time, given the prestige attached to Persian and the relative lack of texts written in Chagatai. This is why Navoi is celebrated in the Turkish world, and particularly in Uzbekistan, as the father of Uzbek literature. He takes his pseudonym from the word “navo” which means melody, a poetic aspiration that is reflected in his ghazals, these short poems largely inspired by Sufi imagery in the Muslim world.
His most famous works include “Khamsa” (“The Fivefold), a collection of five epic poems that includes cult love stories, such as Farhad and Shirin, or Layli and Majnun, and the “Lison ut-Tayr” ( “Language of the Birds”). He also wrote treatises to help other poets write in the Chagatai language and embrace Turkish heritage.
Navoi’s main poetic work is “Khamsa” written in Chagatai language. The Khamsa genre appeared in the 12th century, and its founder was the great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Gyanjavi. He collected five poems, five individual literary units: “Treasure of secrets”, “Khosrov i Shirin”, “Leili i Medzhnun”, “Seven planets”, “Iskandar-name”. They are different in their events but united by the idea, the common message.
Alisher Navoi created his “Khamsa” from 1483 to 1485 under the direct influence of Djami. In this poem, the poet expressed his life and his creative experience as an artist, philosopher and politician. Unlike previous poets, he tried to bring the reader closer to the real perception of the world, to give him more of a “worldly taste”.
Navoi’s “Khamsa” became a response to the “Khamsa” of Nizami Gyandjevi and the Indian poet Amir Khosrov Dehlevi who wrote in the Persian language. By taking up the plot and certain formal peculiarities of the composition, Navoi gave an absolutely different interpretation of the subject and the situations in his poem, a new interpretation of the images and events.
A 1947 film by Kamil Yarmatov, titled “Alisher Navoiy”, embodied his image as a key figure in the process of national construction of a Soviet, albeit Uzbek, identity. The film had cult status in the Soviet Union and includes a 21st-minute segment where Navoi defends the importance of a “Turkish language that can unite the people”.
After the independence of Uzbekistan, Navoi’s poems are widely studied. 254 handwritings of 24 works by Navoi are kept in the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, at the Institute of Oriental Languages.