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Nasreddin Hodja

(13th Century)

Legendary wiseman & jokester 

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Nasreddin or Nasreddin Hodja or Mullah Nasreddin Hooja or Mullah Nasruddin was a Seljuq satirist, born in Hortu Village in Sivrihisar, Eskişehir Province, present-day Turkey and died in 13th century in Akşehir, near Konya, a capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, in today's Turkey. He is considered a philosopher, Sufi, and wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes. He appears in thousands of stories, sometimes witty, sometimes wise, but often, too, a fool or the butt of a joke. A Nasreddin story usually has a subtle humour and a pedagogic nature. The International Nasreddin Hodja festival is celebrated between 5 and 10 July in his hometown every year.


Claims about his origin are made by many ethnic groups. Many sources give the birthplace of Nasreddin as Hortu Village in Sivrihisar, Eskişehir Province, present-day Turkey, in the 13th century, after which he settled in Akşehir, and later in Konya under the Seljuq rule, where he died in 1275/6 or 1285/6 CE. The alleged tomb of Nasreddin is in Akşehir.


As generations have gone by, new stories have been added to the Nasreddin corpus, others have been modified, and he and his tales have spread to many regions. The themes in the tales have become part of the folklore of a number of nations and express the national imaginations of a variety of cultures. Although most of them depict Nasreddin in an early small-village setting, the tales deal with concepts that have a certain timelessness. They purvey a pithy folk wisdom that triumphs over all trials and tribulations. The oldest manuscript of Nasreddin dates to 1571.


Today, Nasreddin stories are told in a wide variety of regions, especially across the Muslim world and have been translated into many languages. Some regions independently developed a character similar to Nasreddin, and the stories have become part of a larger whole. In many regions, Nasreddin is a major part of the culture, and is quoted or alluded to frequently in daily life. Since there are thousands of different Nasreddin stories, one can be found to fit almost any occasion. Nasreddin often appears as a whimsical character of a large Turkish, Persian, Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Judeo-Spanish, Kurdish, Romanian, Serbian, Russian, and Urdu folk tradition of vignettes, not entirely different from zen koans.


1996–1997 was declared International Nasreddin Year by UNESCO.


Some people say that, whilst uttering what seemed madness, he was, in reality, divinely inspired, and that it was not madness but wisdom that he uttered.


— The Turkish Jester or The Pleasantries of Cogia Nasr Eddin Effendi



Tales

The Nasreddin stories are known throughout the Middle East and have touched cultures around the world. Superficially, most of the Nasreddin stories may be told as jokes or humorous anecdotes. They are told and retold endlessly in the teahouses and caravanserais of Asia and can be heard in homes and on the radio. But it is inherent in a Nasreddin story that it may be understood at many levels. There is the joke, followed by a moral and usually the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realization.


Examples:


The Sermon

Once Nasreddin was invited to deliver a sermon. When he got on the pulpit, he asked, Do you know what I am going to say? The audience replied "no", so he announced, I have no desire to speak to people who don't even know what I will be talking about! and left.

The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day. This time, when he asked the same question, the people replied yes. So Nasreddin said, Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won't waste any more of your time! and left.

Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mulla to speak the following week. Once again he asked the same question – Do you know what I am going to say? Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered "yes" while the other half replied "no". So Nasreddin said Let the half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the half who don't, and left.


Nasreddin Hodja in Ankara

A neighbour came to the gate of Hodja Nasreddin's yard. The Hodja went to meet him outside.

"Would you mind, Hodja," the neighbour asked, "can you lend me your donkey today? I have some goods to transport to the next town."

The Hodja didn't feel inclined to lend out the animal to that particular man, however. So, not to seem rude, he answered:

"I'm sorry, but I've already lent him to somebody else."

All of a sudden the donkey could be heard braying loudly behind the wall of the yard.

"But Hodja," the neighbour exclaimed. "I can hear it behind that wall!"

"Whom do you believe," the Hodja replied indignantly, "the donkey or your Hodja?"


Taste the same

Some children saw Nasreddin coming from the vineyard with two baskets full of grapes loaded on his donkey. They gathered around him and asked him to give them a taste.

Nasreddin picked up a bunch of grapes and gave each child a grape.

"You have so much, but you gave us so little," the children whined.

"There is no difference whether you have a basketful or a small piece. They all taste the same," Nasreddin answered, and continued on his way.

Nasreddin's ring

Mulla had lost his ring in the living room. He searched for it for a while, but since he could not find it, he went out into the yard and began to look there. His wife, who saw what he was doing, asked: "Mulla, you lost your ring in the room, why are you looking for it in the yard?” Mulla stroked his beard and said: "The room is too dark and I can’t see very well. I came out to the courtyard to look for my ring because there is much more light out here".


Some Nasreddin tales also appear in collections of Aesop's fables. The miller, his son and the donkey is one example. Others are "The Ass with a Burden of Salt" and "The Satyr and the Traveller."


In some Bulgarian folk tales that originated during the Ottoman period, the name appears as an antagonist to a local wise man, named Sly Peter. In Sicily the same tales involve a man named Giufà. In Sephardic culture, spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, a character that appears in many folk tales is named Djohá.


In Romanian, the existing stories come from an 1853 verse compilation edited by Anton Pann, a philologist and poet renowned for authoring the current Romanian anthem.


Nasreddin is mostly known as a character from short tales; whole novels and stories have later been written and production began on a never-completed animated feature film. In Russia, Nasreddin is known mostly because of the Russian work Возмутитель спокойствия by Leonid Solovyov (English translations: "The Beggar in the Harem: Impudent Adventures in Old Bukhara", 1956, and "The Tale of Hodja Nasreddin: Disturber of the Peace", 2009). The composer Shostakovich celebrated Nasreddin, among other figures, in the second movement (Yumor, "Humor") of his Symphony No. 13. The text, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, portrays humor as a weapon against dictatorship and tyranny. Shostakovich's music shares many of the "foolish yet profound" qualities of Nasreddin's sayings listed above.


The Graeco-Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff often referred to "our own dear Mullah Nasr Eddin", also calling him an "incomparable teacher", particularly in his book Beelzebub's Tales. Sufi philosopher Idries Shah published several collections of Nasruddin stories in English, and emphasized their teaching value.


He is known as Mullah Nasruddin in South Asian children's books. A TV serial on him was aired in India as Mulla Nasiruddin and was widely watched in India and Pakistan.