Nadezhda Dukhovny
Nadezhda Dukhovny

Ancient and unique Uzbekistan: Alisher Navoi

Speaking about the Navoi region, it is impossible not to recall who this area is named after.

Alisher Navoi was born on February 9, 1441, in the Afghan city of Herat, which at that time was subordinate to the rulers from the Timurid dynasty. He was the son of a high-ranking official, descended from the influential Mongolian tribe, Barlas. One of the boy’s uncles was a writer, another one was a famous musician and calligrapher, and the future ruler of the city and the whole of Khorasan, Sultan Husayn Bayqara, was the best friend of his childhood.

Alisher Navoi with Sultan Husayn Bayqara. This picture is courtesy of the Korea Post.

When the poet and adherent of the arts, Husayn Bayqara, came to power, Navoi became a mulazim (the Arabic for “warrior”). In 1469, he received the post of keeper of the seal, and in 1472, the poet became a vizier (adviser). At his post, Navoi provided great assistance to musicians, poets, artists, and calligraphers, for which he was very popular among the people. On the initiative of Navoi, large-scale construction was launched in Herat.

Being an adherent of the Sufi order of Naqshbandi, Alisher Navoi led an ascetic lifestyle, was never married, and had no concubines. At court, he fought against despotism and arbitrariness, exposing the abuse and greed of the nobility, defending the interests of ordinary peasants and townspeople. This displeased influential families, so Husayn Bayqara sent him to the distant Caspian province of Astrabad as a ruler.

Alisher Navoi. This picture is courtesy of the Korea Post.

Alisher Navoi was also a builder to have founded, restored, or endowed some 370 mosques, madrasas, libraries, hospitals, caravanserais, and other educational, pious, and charitable institutions in Khorasan. In Herat, he was responsible for 40 caravanserais, 17 mosques, 10 mansions, nine bathhouses, nine bridges, and 20 pools.

Among Alisher’s constructions were the mausoleum of the 13th-century mystical poet, Farid al-Din Attar, in Nishapur (north-eastern Iran) and the Khalasiya madrasa in Herat. He was one of the instrumental contributors to the architecture of Herat, which became, in RenĂ© Grousset’s words, “the Florence of what has justly been called the Timurid Renaissance”. Moreover, he was a promoter and patron of scholarship and arts and letters, a musician, a composer, a calligrapher, a painter, and a sculptor.

In 1488, during the civil strife within the Timurid dynasty, Alisher Navoi decided to leave the service and return to his native Herat. After returning home, the poet completely immersed himself in creative activity. On January 3, 1501, the poet died.

A modern portrait of Alisher Navoi. Photo: nardepjournal.com.

Under the pen name Navoi, Alisher was among the key writers who revolutionized the literary use of the Turkic languages. Navoi also wrote in Persian (under the pen name Fani), and, to a much lesser degree, in Arabic.

Navoi’s best-known poems are found in his four diwans, or poetry collections, which total roughly 50,000 verses. Each part of the work corresponds to a different period of a person’s life:

– Ghara’ib al-Sighar (Wonders of Childhood)

– Navadir al-Shabab (Rarities of Youth)

– Bada’i’ al-Wasat (Marvels of Middle Age)

– Fawa’id al-Kibar (Benefits of Old Age)

To help other Turkic poets, Alisher wrote technical works such as Mizan al-Awzan (The Measure of Meters), and a detailed treatise on poetical meters. He also crafted the monumental Majalis al-Nafais (Assemblies of Distinguished Men), a collection of over 450 biographical sketches of mostly contemporary poets. The collection is a gold mine of information about Timurid culture for modern historians.

Alisher Navoi dedicated some of his works to Uzbeks. So, in the poem “Alexander’s Wall” you can find the following words:

“On the shah’s crowns and magnificent clothes

I’m tired of looking

One of my simple Uzbeks is enough for me,

He has a skullcap on his head and a robe on his shoulders. ”

The literary heritage of Alisher Navoi is about 30 collections of poems, scientific works and poetic treatises. They fully reveal the spiritual life in Central Asia, which experienced a flourishing of arts and sciences at the end of the 15th century. The pinnacle of Navoi’s creativity is considered to be “Khamsa” (“Five”) – a collection of five poems based on folk legends. One of them was dedicated to the legend of Layli and Majnun, to which the poet of the medieval East Nizami Ganjavi also referred. Another landmark work of the poet was the allegorical poem about the ideal state structure “The Language of Birds”.

The most important contribution of Alisher Navoi to world literature was the introduction of the Old Uzbek language, along with Farsi, into the artistic creation of the Medieval East. In 1958, the newly formed city in Uzbekistan Navoi was named in honor of the poet. A special place in the work of A. Navoi is occupied by the composition Majolis un-Nafois (Collections of the Refined). Many facts from literary and secular life are mentioned here, they all are collected in Tezkira – this speaks of the influence of secular literature.

At the end of his life, Navoi wrote a theoretical treatise Muhakamat al-Lughatayn (Judgment between the Two Languages or The Comparison of the Two Languages), in which the author, in an easy colloquial, sometimes dialogue form, substantiated the rights of Turkic, which is not inferior to Farsi, to create his own poetry.

Alisher Navoi. This picture is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

In light of who Alisher Navoi was for the Uzbek people, it is not surprising why an entire region in Uzbekistan was named after him.

Since the name of Alisher Navoi is closely associated with literature and poetry, the National Library of Uzbekistan is named after him to honor his memory. The Library is the largest repository of manuscripts and printed publications of the country is the Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan. The library contains the world’s largest collection of works in the Uzbek language.

The National Library. Photo credit: Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan.

The library was founded in 1870 as the Tashkent Public Library. The Ministry of Public Education, the Academy of Sciences, the Public Library, the Geographical Society, and the General Staff of Russia, who donated duplicate editions from their book depositories, provided assistance in organizing the library fund. By May 1870, more than 2,200 volumes of 1,200 titles had been collected, which formed the book core of the future library.

Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

The Tashkent Public Library was supposed to collect and store literature on various branches of knowledge, primarily related to the region and neighboring countries. The well-known Russian bibliographer V.I. Mezhov, who collected materials about the Turkestan region, which laid the foundation for the creation of the well-known scientific circles “Turkestan collection”.

According to the “Catalog of Manuscripts of the Turkestan Public Library” compiled by Academician A.A. Semenov, her manuscript fund by 1917 amounted to 250 volumes.

During this period, the first lithographic books, published in the lithographs of Khiva and Tashkent, were also acquired. These are lithographs “Hamsa” by A. Navoi (1880), “Divani Munis”, “Divani Raji”, the work of the famous 18th Sufi poet Allayar “Resilience of the Weak” and many others.

In 1920, the library was given the status of “state”. From this year, the library begins to receive obligatory copies of all publications that are published on the territory of the Turkestan Territory. In 1925, its fund amounted to 140 thousand storage units.

As a result of the delimitation of the Central Asian republics, the library provided practical assistance to the newly created Central Asian republics in organizing librarianship.

In July 1925, the institute of interns began to function at the eastern department of the State Public Library of Uzbekistan. In December 1929, courses for the study of the Uzbek language, created for the library staff, were opened, in August 1930 – courses for training cataloguers of scientific libraries, in January 1932 – three-month courses on cataloging and systematization, and in October 1934 at Committee of Sciences – courses for employees of scientific libraries.

By the decision of the government of Uzbekistan, the State Public Library in Tashkent in 1933 was declared the Central repository of oriental manuscripts of the republic.

The bibliography was of great importance in the work of the library in the 1920s – 1930s. During this period, large bibliographic works were written by its employees.

At the end of the 1930s, the State Public Library became a true methodological center for other libraries of the republic, the number of which by that time exceeded 2,500. A library science and bibliography office was opened with it, where lectures, reviews, and consultations were constantly held.

During the Second World War, academicians, corresponding members of the USSR Academy of Sciences, writers, art workers, and many others evacuated to Tashkent worked in the library halls. In the post-war period, the main task of the library is to replenish the book collections. Books began to arrive from Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia. Friendly relations were established with the libraries of Great Britain, the USA, France, Germany, Japan, etc.

In 1948, the library was named after the great Uzbek poet and thinker Alisher Navoi, and a new three-story building was opened, with reading rooms for 350 seats. At the same time, the department of rare and old editions was organized, in which 2 thousand books were collected, including 250 with autographs, 151 – with bookplates. Now this fund has over 16 thousand copies.

Inside the Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

In the 1970s, new research, scientific information on culture and art, depository storage, control, and dispatch service, and youth departments were created.

The visitors of the Library. Photo credit: Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan.

In the 1980s, special attention was paid to replenishing the fund with literature in the Uzbek language. Now it contains over 600 thousand copies – the works of the classics of Uzbek literature, such as A. Navoi, Furkat, Mukimi, Zavki, Ibn Sino (Avicenna), Ulugbek, Al-Biruni, as well as the works of modern scientists and writers of the republic.

Inside the Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

The Hall of the literary heritage of Alisher Navoi is located on the second floor of the library. The Alisher Navoi hall is designed for 30 seats, of which 4 are equipped with modern computers. The hall of literary heritage contains classical literature and works by A. Navoi. Also, in the hall, you can find periodicals published in the republic.

Alisher Navoi’s works in the Library. Photo credit: Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan.

The next important period in the history of the library begins in 2002 when the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan determined the status of the library as the main state book depository of the national and foreign press, a multifunctional library, information and research institution, a methodological center for all libraries of the republic.

Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Another large scientific and educational institution of Uzbekistan – the State Museum of Literature – bears the name of Alisher Navoi. The museum was founded in 1939. It is here that the monuments of the literary heritage of the Uzbek people are kept.

The museum fund has more than 17,000 exhibits – works of art, archaeological monuments, manuscripts, documents, films, reflecting the centuries-old history of the Uzbek culture of literature. In addition, more than 65,000 documents about the life and work of the writers of our country are collected here.

Alisher Navoi Museum of Literature in Tashkent. This picture is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Last year, in the Alisher Navoi National Park of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, the Alley of Litterateurs was opened.

The Alley of Litterateurs in the Alisher Navoi National Park of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Previously, statues of some writers of Uzbek literature were already installed in the park, but in order to create a large cultural and educational center, sculptures of more than 20 literary figures were erected, including writers and poets, critics, and publicists: Babur, Muhammad Riza Agakhi, Zakirdzhan Furkat, Muhammad Aminhoja Mukimi, Mahmudhoja Behbudi, Berdaq, Abdulla Avloni, Abdulhamid Chulpan, Abdulla Qodiriy, Abdullah Kahhar, and many others.

Abdulla Qodiriy monument in the Alley of Litterateurs in the Alisher Navoi National Park of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Abdulla Qahhor monument in the Alley of Litterateurs in the Alisher Navoi National Park of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Bronze monuments together with the father of Uzbek literature Alisher Navoi form a single architectural ensemble, occupying an area of more than 8 hectares.

The Alisher Navoi monument in the Alley of Litterateurs in the Alisher Navoi National Park of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

In this regard, it is also planned to open a library and launch the Internet portal “The Alley of Litterateurs”, so that anyone can go to the site to read works of Uzbek literature in electronic format. The site will be available in three languages: Uzbek, English, and Russian.

The Alley of Litterateurs in the Alisher Navoi National Park of Uzbekistan. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

In addition, the Museum of Tashkent was opened near the Alley, which contains unique collections dedicated to the rich culture and traditions, reflecting the entire history of the capital of Uzbekistan.

The Museum of Tashkent. This photo is courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

This is a wonderful place for hiking, among trees and flower beds, it creates its own unique atmosphere in the center of a bustling city.

About the Author
Nadezhda Dukhovny was born and raised in Uzbekistan and made aliya in 2005. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Tel Aviv University and works in translation. She has a true interest about her motherland and would like to tell more about that fascinating country to make Israeli readers familiar with another culture from other part of the globe.
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