The literary world on Tuesday commemorated the 580th birth anniversary of Ali Shir Navai, a prominent Turkic poet, writer, linguist, and politician.
He is one of the greatest names in Chagatai literature, a classical Turkic language of Central Asia.
Nizam al-Din Ali Shir, also known by his pen-name Navai — meaning melody maker — was born in an aristocratic military family on Feb. 9, 1441, in Herat — now the third-largest city in northwestern Afghanistan. The region was then ruled by the Timurid Empire of Turkic-Mongol origin and his home-city was one of the leading cultural and intellectual centers in the Muslim world.
However, the Soviet and Uzbek historians regard Navai as an ethnic Uzbek, while many public places and institutions in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries are named after him.
The renowned poet pursued his studies in Mashhad, modern northeast Iran, Herat, and Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
He was a schoolmate of Husayn Bayqarah, who later became the Timurid ruler, or sultan, of Khorasan — a historical region comprising a vast territory now lying in northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, and northern Afghanistan. He ruled for 40 years until 1506.
Navai served as a public administrator and adviser to Bayqarah.
The outstanding 15th century poet also founded, restored, or endowed hundreds of mosques, madrasas, libraries, hospitals, caravanserais, and other educational and charitable institutions in Khorasan.
He was an instrumental contributor to the architecture of Herat, while his other interests included miniature painting, music, and calligraphy.
Navai produced 30 literary works over a period of 30 years during which Chagatai became a well-respected literary language.
Because of his Chagatai poetry, Navai is considered by many throughout the Turkic-speaking world to be the founder of early Turkic literature.
The writer also wrote in Persian, and, to a much lesser extent, in Arabic.
Navai’s best-known poems are found in his four diwans, or poetry collections, with roughly 50,000 verses, and correspond to four different periods of a person’s life — childhood, youth, middle age, and old age.
His other important works — masnawis, or narrative poems — include the Khamsa, or Quintuple — the common title of the five epic poems, or dastans that were written in 1483-1485 by Nizami Ganjavi. They include Wonders of Good People, Farhad and Shirin, Layla and Majnun, Seven Travelers, and Alexander’s Wall.
The poet also expressed his philosophical views and Sufi ideas in his work, Language of Birds.
Apart from his political and intellectual activities, he was also a member of the Naqshbandi dervish order. Sufism and the Naqshbandi doctrine deeply influence his works.
It is said that Navai believed that the Turkic language was superior to Persian for literary purposes, and defended this belief in an essay, The Trial of the Two Languages, which was his last work completed in 1499.
Navai had a great influence in areas as distant as India to the east and the Ottoman Empire to the west. He is among the most beloved poets among Central Asian nations.
It is said that Navai led an ascetic lifestyle, and never got married or had children.
Navai died on Jan. 3, 1501 in Herat.
After his death, his name was revered throughout Central Asia and the poet became a central feature of the cultural heritage of the region.
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