February 9 marks the 581th anniversary of the birth of Alisher Navoi, a 15th-century poet, linguist and thinker who has come to play a central role in the nation-building process of Uzbekistan.
Alisher Navoi was a poet and thinker who is mostly remembered today in Uzbekistan for having championed the use of Chagatai that serves as the foundation for the modern literary and spoken Uzbek language.
He was born in Herat and spent the main part of his life there. Navoi's family was close to Timurid's palace. According to the information of great historian Hondamir, an old poet Lutfi met with Alisher Navoi, when he was a child and Lutfi appreciated his talent.
One of the Timurid's Husayn Boyqaro took the crown of Herat in 1469, and a new period began in Navoi's life. In 1469 he was given a title as a stamper and in 1472 as a minister of the state (vazir) by Husayn Boyqaro.
He was famous as a poet and a statesman and owned a great wealth at that time. During 1480 he built a number of madrasahs, 40 robots (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 for his own money (from his own account).
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.
Typically, Navoi was a Central Asian who crossed regions, cultures and languages during his entire life. He was born in 1441 in Herat (now in 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 constructed buildings, served the local political power, and wrote in three languages (Chagatai, Persian and Arabic), mostly 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 against Chagatai and concludes that the Turkic language is superior.
Such a statement was unusual, to say the least at this period, given the prestige attached to Persian and the relative lack of texts written in Chagatai. This is why Navoi is celebrated in the Turkic world, and especially in Uzbekistan, as the father of Uzbek literature. He took his pen name from the word “navo” which means melody, a poetic aspiration reflected in his ghazals, the short poems largely inspired by Sufi imagery in the Muslim world.
His most famous works include “Khamsa” (“The Quintuple), 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 the Turkic heritage.
The main poetic work of Navoi is “Khamsa” written in Chagatai language. The Khamsa Genre appeared in 12th century and its founder was the great Azerbaijan poet Nizami Gyandjavi. He united five poems, five inpidual literary units: “Treasury of secrets”, “Khosrov i Shirin”, “Leili i Medzhnun”, “Seven planets”, “Iskandar-name”. They are different by their events but united by the idea, common message.
Alisher Navoi creates his “Khamsa” from 1483 to 1485 under direct influence of Djami. In this poem the poet expressed his life and creative experience as an artist, philosopher, and politician. Unlike the previous poets he tried to bring the reader closer to real perception of the world, give it more of a “worldly taste”.
Navoi’s “Khamsa” became an answer to “Khamsa” of Nizami Gyandjevi and an Indian poet Amir Khosrov Dehlevi who was writing in Persian language. By taking the plot and some formal particularities of composition Navoi gave an absolutely different interpretation of the subject and situations in his poem, new interpretation of the images and events.
A 1947 movie by Kamil Yarmatov, called “Alisher Navoiy”, embodies his image as a key figure in the nation-building process of a Soviet, albeit Uzbek, identity. The movie had cult status in the Soviet Union and includes a part, in the 21st minute, where Navoi defends the importance of a “Turkic language that can unite the people”.
After the independence of Uzbekistan Navoi's poems are widely studied. 254 handwritings of 24 works of Navoi are kept in the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, in the Institute of Oriental Languages.