Nasreddin Hodja miniature taken from a XVII th century hand written book

-Nasraddin Hodja miniature taken from a XVII th century hand written book-


This is the story about wit and wisdom of a man who has been dead for hundreds of years. But he is also the most important Turkish hero, the delightful and inimitable personification of Turkish humor. He is Nasraddin Hodja and you might not have learned about him until you enter your online masters degree programs, but I have written much about him below.

The Picture of the Statue of Nasraddin Hodja

Nasraddin Hodja has become an international "celebrity," for his stories have been translated into many languages, including Russian and Chinese. As far back as 1844, a collection of his stories, under the name of The Turkish Jester or the Pleasantries of Hagio Nasr Eddin Effendi was published in Ipswich, England. Later Sir William Whittal, Mr. A. Namsey, Mr. H. C. Luke, and Mr. Henry Dudley Bernham published books about this hero of Turkish folklore and his stories.

When you read his stories, you will see that this charming old gentleman who lived 750 years ago in today's western Turkey is still going strong. In fact, with each passing day, he becomes more alive than he ever was before, for "age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety." His fame at home is such that several towns in Turkey vie for the exclusive honor of being his birthplace. "Nasraddin Hodja Festivals" are held in Turkey every year, during which his stories are enacted by people wear­ing the dress of his time and prizes are given to the best car­toons drawn by artists invited from other countries.  

Hodja's stories have passed chiefly by word of mouth from generation to generation, but they have never lost their import. Toward the end of the last century, the stories were banned by the Sultan Abdul Hamid who felt his imperial power was challenged by the Hodja's jibes at authority, and especially judicial authority.

According to most reliable sources, he was born in 1208 in the Anatolian village of Hortu, attached to the township of Sivrihisar, in the neighborhood of Akshehir. On his tomb­stone, the date of his death is given as 1284. He died at the then venerable age of 76, fifteen years before the foundation of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Nasraddin is a proper name, meaning "Victor of the Faith," which was the name given by his parents to the author of these tales, and Hodja, meaning "master" or "teacher" is the honorific title which he subsequently acquired. Nasraddin Hodja, in ad­dition to being an imam, the leader of prayer in a mosque, was an erudite scholar, and he combined the duties of school­master, prayer leader and preacher.                                                                                                                                                                                                             

The Picture of the coin printed in the memory of Nasraddin hodja

His father, Abdullah, was the imam of the village of Hortu, where Nasraddin received his schooling. Nasraddin was intelligent hard working, with a thirst for knowledge, and on the death of his father he went to Akshehir to complete his studies. In the course of time, he became the disciple of renowned scholars, studied at the medreses—theological colleges—in Konya, and was for many years a teacher and preacher at Sivrihisar and Akshehir. From the numerous anecdotes attri­buted to him, we deduce that he was also a Kadi or judge, dispensing justice—sometimes sternly and sometimes humor­ously, but always justly. We also learn that he never became rich, and indeed was probably very poor.

Nasraddin Hodja was liked and respected by all those around him for his kindness of heart, his sympathy and understanding, his unaffected modesty, his knowledge and his wit. He was a friend, a guide, and an adviser, all rolled into one. He had a gift of unraveling, or at least loosening, the skein of worldly worries with an amusing but sympathetic remark which always pro­vided a moral for those wise enough to perceive it.

From all the things, which Hodja realty said or did, or which have been attributed to him—and it is often difficult even for the initiate to sift what is true from what is false—has come a vast treasure-trove of Turkish humor, which constitutes an invaluable part of Turkish folklore known as the Nasraddin Hodja stories. The sources of many Turkish proverbs and idioms may be found in the Nasraddin Hodja stories. Things have been attributed to him, which he never said or did, for Nasraddin Hodja's name, tagged to any anecdote, was the hallmark of wit. So numerous priceless—and numerous worth­less—stories have preferred to remain anonymous behind the resplendent cloak of Nasraddin Hodja's celebrity.

In the stories, it is with the ordinary doings of humbler folk—with their oddities and weaknesses, with their squabbles, and social differences, with their farmyards and their animals—which Nasraddin Hodja deals in this impish, seldom unkindly, way. However, the central characters are Nasraddin Hodja himself, his wife, his children and, last but certainty not last, his donkey. They form a family, which has brought laughter and happiness to millions of people down through the centuries.

On the basis of some of these stories, the casual reader or listener might conclude that Nasraddin Hodja was a simple soul, indeed a simpleton, with no great intellectual attributes, for in certain cases he does indeed appear in a ridiculous light. Such an assumption would be wrong, however. In order to drive home a point with greater force, Hodja would occasionally play the part of the fool, pretending an ignorance or naiveté that served to underscore and enhance the sagacity of his repartees. This was always a source of great confusion for his fellow interlocutors, and of undisguised amusement for his audience.

The Picture of the Tomb of Nasraddin hodja

Like all real humorists, Nasraddin Hodja is just as quick to laugh at himself as at others, and imam though he was, even his religion often sits tightly upon him, as is seen when, with his last breath, he scandalizes his wife by making fun of the grim angel of death, Azrail, when he sees him already hovering near his bed. "Put on your very best clothes, my dear wife," Hodja says. "Do your hair nicety, and put some color to your face. Try to make yourself as beautiful as possible. Then perhaps if Angel Azrail sees you in these fine clothes looking like an angel or a peacock, he might take you along and leave me."

There is a legend—only a legend—that when Nasraddin Hodja was young and still at school, two of his classmates killed, cooked and ate a lamb of which their teacher was extremely fond. The teacher was deeply pained and shocked by the enor­mity of this outrage, and he soon found out who the culprits were. Nasraddin Hodja's classmates confessed that one of them had slit the animal's throat while the other had flayed and cooked it, and when asked what role Nasraddin had played in -this despicable affair, they said he had only watched and laugh­ed. So the teacher laid a curse upon them, saying, "Let him who slit the throat of my lamb have his own throat slit. Let him who flayed my lamb himself be flayed. And let him who laughed be laughed at by the whole world!"

Years later, the legend goes, the curse was fulfilled, with disastrous consequences for the other students. But in the case of Nasraddin Hodja it turned out somewhat differently. It is not at Nasraddin Hodja but with him that the world has been laughing for seven and a half centuries, and with whom people will continue to laugh forever more. (By Nejat Muallimoglu)



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