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Ali-Shir Nava'i

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Title: Ali-Shir Nava'i  
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Subject: Attar of Nishapur, Chagatai language, Sherali Jo‘rayev, Uzbek language, Jami
Collection: 1441 Births, 1501 Deaths, 15Th-Century Writers, People from Herat, Persian Literature, Sufis, Turkic Literature
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Ali-Shir Nava'i

Nizām al-Din Ali-Shir Nava'i
A commemorative Soviet stamp made in honor of Ali-Shir Nava'i's 550th birthday
Born 9 February 1441
(Islamic Calendar: Ramaḍān 17, 844)
Herat, Timurid Empire
Died 3 January 1501
(Islamic Calendar: Jumādā II 12, 906) (aged 59)
Pen name Navā'ī (or Nevā'ī) and Fāni
Occupation Poet, writer, politician, linguist, mystic, and painter

Mīr 'Ali-Shir Nava'i (9 February 1441 – 3 January 1501), also known as Nizām-al-Din ʿAlī-Shīr[n 1] Herawī (Chagatai-Turkic/Persian: نظام الدین على شير هروی‎‎) was a Central Asian poet, writer, politician, linguist, mystic, and painter.[1] He was the greatest representative of Chagatai language literature.[2][3]

Nava'i believed that the Turkic language was superior to Persian for literary purposes, and defended this belief in his work. He emphasized his belief in the richness, precision, and malleability of Turkic vocabulary as opposed to Persian.

Because of his distinguished Chagatai language poetry, Nava'i is considered by many throughout the Turkic-speaking world to be the founder of early Turkic literature. Many places and institutions in Central Asia are named after him.


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
    • Literary works 2.1
    • List of works 2.2
  • Influence of Nava'i 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


Ali-Shir Nava'i's portrait by an unknown artist. Isfana, Kyrgyzstan.

Ali-Shir Nava'i was born in 1441 in Herat, which is now in northwestern Afghanistan. During Ali-Shir's lifetime, Herat was ruled by the Timurid Empire and became one of the leading cultural and intellectual centers in the Muslim world. Ali-Shir belonged to the Chagatai amir (or Mīr in Persian) class of the Timurid elite. Ali-Shir's father, Ghiyāth ud-Din Kichkina (The Little), served as a high-ranking officer in the palace of Shāhrukh Mirzā, a ruler of Khorasan. His mother served as a prince's governess in the palace. Ghiyāth ud-Din Kichkina served as governor of Sabzawar at one time.[3] He died while Ali-Shir was young, and another ruler of Khorasan, Babur Ibn-Baysunkur, adopted guardianship of the young man.

Ali-Shir was a schoolmate of Husayn Bayqarah who would later become the sultan of Khorasan. Ali-Shir's family was forced to flee Herat in 1447 after the death of Shāhrukh created an unstable political situation. His family returned to Khorasan after order was restored in the 1450s. In 1456, Ali-Shir and Bayqarah went to Mashhad with Ibn-Baysunkur. The following year Ibn-Baysunkur died and Ali-Shir and Bayqarah parted ways. While Bayqarah tried to establish political power, Ali-Shir pursued his studies in Mashhad, Herat, and Samarkand.[4] After the death of Abu Sa'id Mirza in 1469, Husayn Bayqarah seized power in Herat. Consequently, Ali-Shir left Samarkand to join his service. Bayqarah ruled Khorasan almost uninterruptedly for forty years. Ali-Shir remained in the service of Bayqarah until his death on 3 January 1501. He was buried in Herat.

Ali-Shir Nava'i led an ascetic lifestyle, "never marrying or having concubines or children."[5]


Ali-Shir Nava'i depicted on 1942 USSR stamps to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his birth

Ali-Shir served as a public administrator and adviser to his sultan, Husayn Bayqarah. He was also a builder who is reported 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.[6]

Among Ali-Shir's most famous constructions were the mausoleum of the 13th-century mystical poet, Farid al-Din Attar, in Nishapur (northeastern Iran) and the Khalasiya madrasa in Herat. He was one of the instrumental contributors to the architecture of Herat, which became, in René Grousset's words, "the Florence of what has justly been called the Timurid Renaissance".[7] Moreover, he was a promoter and patron of scholarship and arts and letters, a musician, a composer, a calligrapher, a painter and sculptor, and such a celebrated writer that Bernard Lewis, a renowned historian of the Islamic world, called him "the Chaucer of the Turks".[8]

Literary works

Under the pen name Nava'i, Ali-Shir was among the key writers who revolutionized the literary use of the Turkic languages. Nava'i himself wrote primarily in the Chagatai language and produced 30 works over a period of 30 years, during which Chagatai became accepted as a prestigious and well-respected literary language. Nava'i also wrote in Persian (under the pen name Fāni), and, to a much lesser degree, in Arabic.

Nava'i's best-known poems are found in his four diwans,[2] or poetry collections, which total roughly 50,000 verses. Each part of the work corresponds to a different period of a person's life:

A page from Nava'i's diwan. From the library of Suleiman the Magnificent.
  • 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, Ali-Shir 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.

Ali-Shir's other important works include the Khamsa (Quintuple), which is composed of five epic poems and is an imitation of Nizami Ganjavi's Khamsa:

  • Hayrat-ol-abrar (Wonders of Good People) (حیرت الابرار)
  • Farhad va Shirin (Farhad and Shirin) (فرهاد و شیرین)
  • Layli va Majnun (Layli and Majnun) (لیلی و مجنون)
  • Sab'ai Sayyar (Seven Travelers) (سبعه سیار) (about the seven planets)
  • Sadd-i-Iskandari (Alexander's Wall) (سد سکندری) (about Alexander the Great)

Ali-Shir also wrote Lison ut-Tayr (لسان الطیر or Language of Birds, following Attar's Manteq-ol-tayr منطق الطیر or Speeches of Birds), in which he expressed his philosophical views and Sufi ideas. He translated Jami's Nafahat-ul-uns (نفحات الانس) to Chagatai Turkic and called it Nasayim-ul-muhabbat (نسایم المحبت). His Besh Hayrat (Five Wonders) also gives an in-depth look at his views on religion and Sufism. His book of Persian poetry contains 6,000 lines (beits).

Nava'i's last work, Muhakamat al-Lughatayn (The Trial of the Two Languages) is a comparison of Turkic and Persian and was completed in December 1499. He believed that the Turkic language was superior to Persian for literary purposes, and defended this belief in his work.[9]< Nava'i repeatedly emphasized his belief in the richness, precision and malleability of Turkic vocabulary as opposed to Persian.[10]

List of works

Below is a list of Ali-Shir Nava'i's works compiled by Suyima Gʻaniyeva,[11] a senior professor at the Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies.[12]

Badoe ul-Vasat (Marvels of Middle Age) – the third diwan of Nava'i's Hazoin ul-maoniy. It consists of 650 ghazals, one mustazod, two mukhammases, two musaddases, one tarjeband, one qasida, 60 qit'as, 10 chistons, and three tuyuks. Overall, Badoe ul-Vasat has 740 poems and is 5,420 verses long. It was compiled between 1492 and 1498.

Waqfiya – a documentary work by Nava'i. He wrote it under the pen name Fāni in 1481. Waqfiya depicts the poet's life, spiritual world, dreams, and unfulfilled desires. Waqfiya is an important source of information about the social and cultural life in the 15th century.

Layli wa Majnun (Layli and Majnun) – the third dastan in the Khamsa. It is about a man mad with love. Layli wa Majnun is divided into 36 chapters and is 3,622 verses long. It was written in 1484.

Lison ut-Tayr – an epic poem that is an allegory for the man's need to seek God. 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. Nava'i wrote Lison ut-Tayr under the pen name Fāni between 1498 and 1499. The poem is 3,598 verses long. In the introduction, the author notes that he wrote this poem as a response to Farid ud-Din Attar's Mantiq-ut Tayr.

Majolis un-Nafois – Nava'i's tazkira (anthology). Written in 1491–92, the anthology was completed with additions in 1498. It consists of eight meeting reports and has much information about some poets of Nava'i's time. Overall, in Majolis un-Nafois Nava'i wrote about 459 poets and authors. The work was translated three times into Persian in the 16th century. It has also been translated into Russian.

Mahbub ul-Qulub – Nava'i's work written in 1500, a year before his death. Mahbub ul-Qulub consists of an introduction and three main sections. The first part is about status and the duties of different social classes; the second part is about moral matters; the third, final part contains advice and wise sayings. Mahbub ul-Qulub has been translated into Russian.

Mezon ul-Avzon – Nava'i's work about Persian and Turkic aruz. Mezon ul-Avzon was written in 1490.

Minhoj un-Najot (The Ways of Salvation) – the fifth poem in the Persian collection of poems Sittai zaruriya (The Six Necessities). Minhoj un-Najot is 138 verses long. It was written in response to Khaqani's and Ansori's triumphal poems.

Munojot – a work written in prose by Nava'i in the last years of his life. It is a small work about pleading and repenting before Allah. In Munojot, Nava'i wrote about his unfulfilled dreams and regrets. The work was translated into English in 1990. It has also been translated into Russian.

Munshaot (A Collection of Letters) – a collection of Nava'i's letters written to different classes of people about various kinds of matters. The collection also includes letters addressed to Nava'i himself and his adopted son. Munshaot was collected between 1498 and 1499. The work contains information about Husayn Bayqarah and Badi' al-Zaman Mirza. It also contains letters expressing Nava'i's dream about performing the Hajj pilgrimage. In Munshaot, Nava'i provides much insight about political, social, moral, and spiritual matters.

A 16th century Herat School miniature of Ali-Shir Nava'i

Mufradot – Nava'i's work about problem solving written in 1485. In this work, Nava'i discussed the many different types of problems and offered his own solutions. The first section of Mufradot entitled Hazoin-ul-maoni contains 52 problems in Chagatai and the second section entitled Devoni Foni contains 500 problems in Persian.

Muhakamat al-Lughatayn – Nava'i's work about his belief in the richness, precision and malleability of Turkic as opposed to Persian. In this work, Nava'i also wrote about some poets who wrote in both of these languages. Muhakamat al-Lughatayn was written in 1499.

Navodir ush-Shabob (Rarities of Youth) – the second diwan of Nava'i's Hazoin ul-maoniy. Navodir ush-Shabob contains 650 ghazals, one mustazod, three muhammases, one musaddas, one tarjeband, one tarkibband, 50 qit'as, and 52 problems. Overall, the diwan has 759 poems and is 5,423.5 verses long. Navodir ush-Shabob was compiled between 1492 and 1498.

Nazm ul-Javohir – Nava'i's work written in 1485 in appreciation of Husayn Bayqarah's risala. In Nazm ul-Javohir, the meaning of every proverb in 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 – Nava'i's qasida written in Persian. The qasida was influenced by Khaqani's and Khusrow Dehlawī's works. The Russian historian Yevgeniy Bertels believed that Nasim ul-Huld was written in response to Jami's Jilo ur-ruh.

Risolai tiyr andohtan – a short risala that has only three pages. The risala, which seems to be a commentary on one of the hadiths, was included in Nava'i's unfinished work Kulliyot. Kulliyot was published as a book in 1667–1670 and consisted of 17 works. In his book Navaiy, Yevgeniy Bertels chose Risolai tiyr andohtan as the last work in his list of 22 works by Nava'i.

Rukh ul-Quds (The Holy Spirit) – the first qasida in Nava'i's Persian collection of qasidas entitled Sittai zaruriya. Rukh ul-Quds, which is 132 verses long, is about divine love.

Sab'ai Sayyor (Seven Travelers) – the fourth dastan in Nava'i's Khamsa. Sab'ai Sayyor is divided into 37 chapters and is 8,005 lines long. The poem was written in 1485.

Saddi Iskandari (Alexander's Wall) – the fifth dastan in Nava'i's Khamsa. In this work, Nava'i positively portrays the conquests of Alexander the Great and expresses his views on governance. Saddi Iskandari was written in 1485 and consists of 88 chapters and is 7,215 verses long.

Siroj ul-Muslimin (The Light of Muslims) – Nava'i's work about Islamic Law. Siroj ul-Muslimin was written in 1499 and discusses the five pillars of Islam, sharia, namaz, fasting, the Hajj pilgrimage, signs of God, religious purity, and zakat. The work was first published in Uzbekistan in 1992.

Tarixi muluki Ajam – Nava'i's work about the Shahs of Iran. The work describes the good deeds that the Shahs performed for their people. Tarixi muluki Ajam was written in 1488.

Tuhfat ul-Afkor – Nava'i's qasida in Persian written as a response to Khusrow Dehlawī's Daryoi abror. This work was also influenced by Jami's qasida Lujjat ul-asror. Tuhfat ul-Afkor is one of the six qasidas included in Nava'i's collection of poems Sittai zaruriya.

Favoid ul-Kibar (Benefits of Old Age) – the fourth diwan in Nava'i's Hazoin ul-maoniy. The work consists of 650 ghazals, one mustazod, two muhammases, one musaddas, one musamman, one tarjeband, one sokiynoma, 50 qit'as, 80 fards, and 793 poems. Favoid ul-Kibar is 888.5 verses long. It was written between 1492 and 1498.

Farhod wa Shirin (Farhad and Shirin) – the second dastan in Nava'i's Khamsa. Farhod wa Shirin, which was written in 1484, is often described as a classic Romeo and Juliet story for Central Asians. The poem is divided into 59 chapters and is 5,782 verses long.

Fusuli arba'a (The Four Seasons) – the common title of the four qasidas written in Persian by Nava'i. Each qasida is about one of the four seasons – Spring (57 verses), The Hottest Part of Summer (71 verses), Autumn (35 verses), and Winter (70 verses).

Hazoin ul-Maoniy – the common title of the four diwans that include Nava'i's completed lyric poems. Hazoin ul-maoniy consists of 2,600 ghazals, four mustazods, ten muhammases, four tarjebands, one tarkibband, one masnaviy (a poetic letter to Sayyid Khsan), one qasida, one sokiynoma, 210 qit'as, 133 ruba'is, 52 problems, 10 chistons, 12 tuyuks, 26 fards, and 3,132 poems. Hazoin ul-Maoniy is 22,450.5 verses (44,901 lines) long. It was finished in 1498. Sixteen different lyrical genres are used in this collection.

The top exterior of Nava'i's Khamsa (Five Poems) on display at the Walters Art Museum. This copy dates to the 16th century.

Khamsa – the common title of the five dastans by Nava'i that were written in 1483–85. With this work Nava'i established a precedent for quality literature in Chagatay. The five dastans included in Nava'i's Khamsa are:

  1. Hayrat ul-Abror (Wonders of Good People) – 64 chapters, 3,988 verses long; written in 1483;
  2. Farhad wa Shirin (Farhad and Shirin) – 59 chapters, 5,782 verses long; written in 1484;
  3. Layli wa Majnun (Layli and Majnun) – 36 chapters, 3,622 verses long; written in 1484;
  4. Sab'ai Sayyor (Seven Travelers) – 37 chapters, 8,008 verses long; written in 1485;
  5. Saddi Iskandari (Alexander's Wall) – 83 chapters, 7,215 verse long; written in 1485.

Hamsat ul-Mutaxayyirin – Nava'i's work about Jami written in 1494. The work consists of an introduction, three sections, and a conclusion. In the introduction, Nava'i writes about Jami's genealogy, birth, upbringing, studies, and about how he became a scientist and a poet. The first part tells about Jami's spiritual world, and his ideas about creative works; the second part reveals the closeness between Nava'i and Jami in creative collaborations. The conclusion sheds light on Jami's death. It includes Nava'i's eulogy in Persian that consists of seven sections of ten lines.

Gharoyib us-Sighar (Wonders of Childhood) – the first diwan in Nava'i's Hazoin ul-maoniy. The work consists of 650 ghazals, one mustazod, three muhammases, one musaddas, one tarjeband, one masnaviy, 50 qit'as, 133 ruba'is, and 840 poems. Gharoyib us-Sighar is 5,718.5 verses (11,437 lines) long. It was compiled between 1492 and 1498.

Hayrat ul-Abror (Wonders of Good People) – the first dastan in Nava'i's Khamsa. The work is divided into 64 chapters and is 3,988 verses long. Hayrat ul-Abror was written in 1483.

Influence of Nava'i

Nava'i had a great influence in areas as distant as India to the east and the Ottoman Empire to the west. His influence can be found in Central Asia, modern day Turkey, Kazan of Russia, and all other areas where Turkic speakers inhabit.

  • Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire in India and the author of Baburnama, was heavily influenced by Nava'i and wrote about his respect for the writer in his memoirs.
  • The Ottomans were highly conscious of their Central Asian heritage; Süleymân the Magnificent was impressed by Nava'i and had Divan-i Neva'i, Khamsa, and Muhakamat added to his personal library.[13]
  • The renowned Azari poet Fuzûlî, who wrote under the auspices of both the Safavid and Ottoman empires, was heavily influenced by the style of Nava'i.
  • Nava'i is considered the national poet of Uzbekistan in Uzbek culture.[14]


Ali-Shir Nava'i monument in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Nava'i is one of the most beloved poets among Central Asian Turkic peoples. He is generally regarded as the greatest representative of Chagatai language literature.[2][3] His mastery of the Chagatai language was such that it became known as "the language of Nava'i".[2]

Although all applications of modern Central Asian ethnonyms to people of Nava'i's time are anachronistic, Soviet and Uzbek sources regard Nava'i as an ethnic Uzbek.[15][16][17] Maria Subtelny has proposed that Ali-Shir Nava'i was a descendant of Bakhshi scribes,[18] which has led some sources to call Nava'i a descendant of Uyghurs.[3][19][20] However, other scholars such as Kazuyuki Kubo disagree with this view.[21][22]

Soviet and Uzbek sources hold that Nava'i significantly contributed to the development of the Uzbek language and consider him to be the founder of Uzbek literature.[15][16][23][24] In the early 20th century, Soviet linguistic policy renamed the Chagatai language "Old Uzbek", which, according to Edward A. Allworth, "badly distorted the literary history of the region" and was used to give authors such as Ali-Shir Nava'i an Uzbek identity.[14]

Many places and institutions in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries are named after Ali-Shir Nava'i. Navoiy Region, the city of Navoiy, the National Library of Uzbekistan named after Alisher Navoiy,[25] the Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, Alisher Navoiy station of Tashkent Metro, and Navoi International Airport – all are named after him.

Many of Nava'i's ghazals are performed in the Uyghur Twelve Muqam, particularly in the introduction known as Muqäddimä.[26] They also appear in popular Uzbek folk songs and in the works of many Uzbek singers, such as Sherali Jo‘rayev. Ali-Shir Nava'i's works have also been staged as plays by Uzbek playwrights.[5]


  1. ^ In the early new Persian and the eastern contemporary variants of the Persian language, there are two different vowels ī and ē which are shown by the same Perso-Arabic letter ی, and in the standard transliteration, both of them are usually transliterated as ī. However, when the distinction of ī and ē is considered, his first name should be transliterated as Alī-Shēr.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d
  3. ^ a b c d Subtelny 1993, p. 90-93.
  4. ^ Subtelny 1993, p. 90.
  5. ^ a b Subtelny 1993, p. 92.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Subtelny 1993, p. 91.
  10. ^ Ali Shir Nava'i Muhakamat al-lughatain tr. & ed. Robert Devereaux (Leiden: Brill) 1966
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ a b Valitova 1974, p. 194–195.
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Nathan Light. Intimate Heritage: Creating Uyghur Muqam Song in Xinjiang. Berlin. Lit Verlag, 2008.


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External links

  • A website about Ali-Shir Nava'i
  • Ali-Shir Nava'i on UzLib on-line library
  • at HarvardMuhakamat al-LughatainCopy of
  • in ChaghatayMahbub ul-Qulub
  • "Chaucer of the Turks" by Barry Hoberman
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