(abridged version of a lecture given by
YoussefAzemoun at UCLA,
Lake Arrowhead conference on Cultural Heritage of Central Asia,
Only recently did Makhtumkuli, a poet whose poems have been regarded as divine verses among the peoples of Central Asia, assume some recognition outside Turkmenistan and the former USSR thanks to the publication of collections of his poems in Turkish, French, Persian and English. The earliest translation of a selection of poems of Makhtumkuli by Vambery, a Hungarian scholar and explorer, in 1879 painted a wrong picture of the poet, because they were based on a poorly copied manuscript, and the fact that Vambery, who did not know the Turkmen language very well, allowed many mistakes both in the text and the translation. The mistakes were nearly doubled when the same text was taken up by Seyh Muhsin Fani (Hiiseyin Kazim Kadri) who confused the readers with his irrational interpretation of the poems in 1924.
In 1842, Alexander Chodzkol in his book
"Specimens of the Popular Poetry in Persia@', in the introduction to the
translation of three "songs" by Makhtumkuli, misleads his readers by saying
that Makhtumkuli was from the "Tukka" (presumably Teke) tribe of the Turkmens
and that he was a son of a bandit, while it is a well-known fact that Makhtumkuli
was a Gokleng and his father was a poet and scholar.
In 1862 B.Berezin published a poem entitled today as "Hi:q Bilmez" in "Turetskaya Khrestomatiya [Vol.2,].The first article on Makhtumkuli however, was written by Bakulin, Russian Consul in Astrakhan, and published in " Izvestiya Kavkazskogo Otdela Russkogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva@'["News of the Caucasian Department of the Russian Geographic Society'] Volume 1, Tiflis, 1872-1873, ( See this article in English in "The Journal of Makhtumkuli Studies " Volume 1, 1997, pp 9 - I 1).Bakulin received a manuscript of the collection of Makhtumkulis poems from a man called Molia Durdy. This manuscript is kept at the Archives of the Geographical Society in Saint Petersburg. The same Molla Durdy had given Vambery a manuscript which is now kept at the Eastern Collections Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.
Makhumkuli's poems have no title in manuscripts as the tradition is in classical Eastern literature. Berdi Kerbabayev, the famous Turkmen writer, published a transliterated text of Makhtumkuli in Arabic script in 1926. In this collection Kerbabayev gave titles to the poems, using the rhyming word or words of the second line of the first stanza of every poem or the refrain, thus determining the names of the poems he published and setting the rules for other poems of Makhtumkuli which were to be published later.
Archives yield very little information
about Makhtumkuli and what we know about him comes above all from his own
poems and from a wealth of popular stories mainly from people living in
the vicinity of Garry Gala where many G6klengs and people related to Makhtumkuli
live. However, Gara Ishan, a descendant of a brother of Makhtumkuli
called Gulcha of the sixth generation who died aged 53 in 1992 and had
lived in northern Iran, had gathered a wealth of information about Makhtumkuli
by interviewing elders of the Gbkleng tribe and
collecting or copying numerous manuscripts. The information he provided was regarded as valuable and reliable, because it came from many sources and he had a scholarly approach towards presenting the information. Some of his manuscripts have been borrowed and never been returned and the information has been used without Gara Ishan's name being mentioned.We were told that his son Abdullah is ( named after Makhtumkuli's brother who went missing) now looking after his manuscripts and notes.
There is no written record of the date and place of birth of Makhtumkuli, nor does anyone know exactly when he died. In 1959 the 225 th anniversary of his birth was marked establishing his date of birth as 1733. However, when Ahmad Durrani came to power in Afghanistan in 1747, Makhtumkuli wrote an ode to Durrani and according to his established date of birth, he must have been 14 years old when he wrote the poem. The quality of the poem and the message it conveys shows that the poem was written by an older person.
Mati Kosayev, one of the leading experts on Makhtumkuli says "He is said to have been born in 1733, and he died in the late 1790s." [Edebiyat Tarixining Kabir Meseleleri, Asgabat 1963,1. Other scholars say that he was born in 1733 and died in 1782, aged 59. A. Akhundov- Giirgenli, another Turkmen scholar, says that Makhtumkuli died in 1780 when he was 49 years old [The journal "Sovet Edebiyati" 1939, No.9]. Bertels gives the dates as 1733 and 1782 ["Makhtumkuli", a collection of articles on Makhtumkuli, Ashgabat 19601. These are mainly based on information obtained by Vambery in 1863 from one elderly Gyzyl Akhun who said that Makhtumkuli died 80 years earlier. Both M. K8saev and another Turkmen scholar B.Garryyev have pointed to a poetic dialogue (aydisma) in 1796 - 1797 between Makhtumkuli and Zenubi, another Turkmen classical poet [S. Myradov, "Asirlarig Ciimm(isinden" Ashgabat 1978, P. 12]. M. K6sayev also wrote about the information he had obtained from the library of A. Akhundov-Giirgenli about Annagurban, the great-grand-son of ?Makhtumkuli) (must be of Makhtumkuli's brother; the poet did not have any children; also this person is known as Annagurban Akhun and was the teacher of my father in Gyzyl Arvat, Y.A. ) to have marked the centenary of the death of Makhtumkuli in 1913 with a sadaqa near the tomb of the poet in Iran. This is confirmed by Professor Murat Annanepesov, a distinguished Turkmen historian who, in 1956-1957 when he was a graduate student, saw the text of a letter by Annagurban Akhun written in 1913 to the office of the governor of Garry Gala who had referred it to Ashgabat. In this letter Annagurban Akhun asked for permission to go to Iran for the centenary of the death of Makhtumkuli. This document was in the old Archives building in Ashgabat; the State Archives are now in another building and no one seems to have seen this document ever since. It might have been misplaced. The centenary might have been marked a few years earlier or later. S. Myradov interprets the following verses as a hint for the old age of Makhtumkuli : (Come, what have you done during this eighty- year period?" ["Ussa:da Belli", "Magtimguli, Saylanan Eserler", Turkmenistan Publications, Vol.2 Ashgabat], and (To lead a reasonable life and enjoy it, I need an eighty- year span). ["A:t Isla:rin", ibid.Vol. 1].
Makhtumkuli (pronounced Magtimguli in the Turkmen), was named after his grand-father Magtimguli (1654 - 1720) who was a saddlemaker and made numnah, and was called Magtimguli Yo:na@i.He was a poet and some of his poems have survived. His son, Makhtumkuli's father, was D6wletmamed Azadi, who was also named after his grandfather Dbwletmamed. The word Magtimguli comes from two words "magtitym" from Arabic 'mahdum, meaning "one who is served" and "guli" meaning "the servant of", and in a way it is the translation of Arabic "abdu'l"; Abdullah means "a servant of God" and its translation into Turkmen will be either Alla:guli or Hudayguli. These are names of male persons. A boy born on Friday will be called Jumaguli or Annaguli. The word anna comes from Persian adi.-na. Guli, like a suffix could be added to any name, even names of locations, shrines and so on. There is a mausoleum of an awliya in Garry Gala called Makhdum-i Mu'azzam, a 16th century religious figure who has assumed attributes of a saint. We believe that Magtymguly Yo.nachi's name is connected with Makhdum-i Mu'azzam. Magtym is also the name of a Turkmen tribe and like the Ata, Shykh and Hoja tribes, is said to be of Arab origin. The ancestors of these tribes mainly were involved in the promotion of Islam in Central Asia. Most awliyas or mahdu:ms come from these tribes. These tribes are not much involved in carpet making, the traditional profession of the Turkmens, and they do not have the gdl of their own, like Teke go:l, Yomut go:l and so on as an identity.
Makhtumkuli's place of birth is said to be Hajy
Gowshan, but the poet himself says:
"Tell those who enquire about me That I am a Gerkez, I hail from Etrek and my name is Makhtumkuli."
His father, Dowletmamed Azadi (1700-1765) was
a great poet and scholar and author of a a few books of poetry including
"Wdz-i A:za:d", "Behisht-Na:md', a "Mathnawi" and many Rubdis and Gazals.
He was Makhtumkuli's teacher and mentor and the father and the son had
scholarly, yet intimate relations. Makhtumkuli studied in important
madrassahs of Central Asia and finally in Shirgazi Madrassah in Khiwa.
He returned home from Shirgazi and began teaching in his village, plying
the craft of a silversmith. He could not marry Mengli, the girl he
loved. His two elder brothers Abdulla and Muhammetsapa disappeared.
According to a story from a single source he married his sister-in-law
which cannot be true due to the fact that the bodies of his
brothers were not recovered. Not much is known about his married life except the fact that his children died very young. His elegies to his children and a satirical poem about marriage portray the poet's unhappy life. ["Oylengin", ibid p 35]
("If you aspire to be an old ass, Go and get
married!") [The translation is from "Songs from the Steppes of Central
Asia" Fo.M. 1995 p 87] (Note that all versified translations will be from
this book). In another poem on the disastrous family life of a man
with two wives, he recommends a marriage with understanding:
"O Makhtumkuli, let's not that way sink!
Better wed once with understanding. Link
Your life to one. Lord, save us from bad girls,
Or else I'll think- oh, who knows what I'll think."(ibid p 91)
His elegy about his father and disappearance of his elder brothers portrays the sufferings of the poet. The loss of his father deprived him, above all, of a spiritual intimacy.
He suffered a tragic personal and family life amid endemic conflicts among the Turkmen tribes which intensified in the 18 hcentury. Lack of a unifying solidarity among the fragmented Turkmens made them an easy prey for the neighbouring rulers who invaded and plundered the Turkmen territory. We understand from some of his poems that Makhtumkuli was taken captive. A poem entitled "A:Ieme Belgilidir"at first glance looks like a love poem and some interpret it as a poem of divine love. However, as Gara Ishan explained in an interview about Makhtumkuli (the full text of the interview to be published in "The Journal of Makhtumkuli Studies", the poet was taken captive in Mashhad, Iran, and chained and was to be executed. A servant of the ruler was a Turkmen. He helped Makhtumkuli to escape.
Gara Ishan also said that when his village was invaded,
Makhtumkuli lost manuscripts of his poems and other books - the output
of his many years of hard and devoted work - when the contents of his house
were taken away on a camel. Makhtumkuli saw the camel slip, hurling
all his books into the Etrek river, thus making the river "an enemy' of
the poet. He says:
"Making my dear life lost to all that's good, / An evil fate wrought awsome sacrilege,
Hurling the books I'd written to the flood, / To leave me bookless with my grief and rage."
Disturbed by such events and the hostility among the Turkmen tribes, and believing that the whole tragedy of the Turkmens was due to quarrels and disunity among the tribes, in some of his poems he warns his people against internecine strife. Having realised the danger of tribalism, the poet calls on the Turkmen tribes by their names, to unite into one nation state, thus introducing the first political theme into Turkmen literature:
" If Turkmens
would only tighten the Belt of Determination,
/ They could drink Red Sea in their strength.
So, let the tribes of Teke, Yomut, Gbkleng, Yazir, Alili,
/ Unite into one proud nation."
He has written on a variety of themes - mystical, religious, lyrical, social, patriotic, nature and others which make his poems appeal to various strata among the Turkmens and other peoples. Therefore, for the Turkmens and the people of Central Asia Makhtumkuli is something more than a poet; he is so revered that some see him as an awliya- a saint perhaps. This quality made him a national poet even in his own time.
VV. Bartold, a distinguished Russian Orientalist, wrote: "Makhtumkuli, who is a Gokleng, is the national poet of the Turkmens, including the Turkmens of Stavropol..." [SochineniyaVol.II, 1963],"...the only people among the Turkic peoples who have a national poet, are the Turkmens. " [ibid Vol.V, 1968].
In his mystical poems he attaches importance to "Ha4' (Truth) and the concept of a "perfect man". Words like "pain" and "burning" proliferate in these poems, because in these poems he follows Sufism , and some Sufis summarisc the philosophy of their life in a verse : "Kha:m budam, pukhta shudam, su:khtam" ( I was raw [immature], burned and turned into ashes). He could not tolerate human suffering and social injustice.
Viewing life from the point of view of human morality
became part and parcel of his sense of humanity and his love for people.
It is these feelings that make it impossible for him to become reconciled
to the corruption and injustice of society. In the following lines
he depicts the position of the poor:
"A poor man goes barefoot, showing his need.
/ At meetings they will seat him low indeed,
While if he rides a horse it's called an ass-
/ A rich man's ass, of course, is called a steed!"
His religious poems which were published only after Perestroyka in Turkmenistan, preach the virtues of Islam and prayer and a strong poem entitled "Artsa Gerekdir" about judgement Day which depicts Hell and resurrection so strongly, reminds some readers of Dante's Divine Comedy. He has also a poem on the Twelve Imams which gained him his freedom when he read it in captivity. The poem today is called "Forgive Us". This was the title of the little book containing unpublished religious poems of Makhtumkuli, which came out in 1990. It was prepared for publication by B. Jutdiyev and A. Mulkamanov. The title sounded like a shout for apologising for the Soviet attitude towards these poems!
Makhtumkuli made ingenious use of the everyday language of the people, at a time when the Turkmen language was under the influence of Chagatay, the stilted written language of culture in use throughout Central Asia. He broke the barrier between the literary language before him and the common language of the people, transforming the 18" century literary language and making it accessible to the people. He made a good use of long vowels and elongated vowels, the most distinguished feature of the Turkmen language, thus giving the poems some musicality and simplifying it to the level of the spoken language.
Makhtumkuli used the wealth ofturkmen folklore with some skill. Avoiding verbiage, he expressed his ideas in as few words as possible, and applied proverbs and folk elements whenever appropriate. Many of his verses have themselves turned into proverbs, which sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish real proverbs from Makhtumkuli's inventions. His clarity and simplicity make his striking use of imagery all the more effective. Lucidly written in the form of qoshuq and rooted in folklore, his verses create a musicality which suits Turkmen folk music and makes it easily understood and eagerly taken up by "Bagshys", the folk singers. Imbued with wisdom, the simple yet profound quality of Makhtumkuli's poems, over two centuries dominated the minds of not only the Turkmens, but also most Turkic peoples living in the vast region from the Central Asia to the Transcaucasus.
Makhtumkuli's own manuscript has not been found so
far. There are more than 300 manuscripts containing Makhtumkuli's
poems in the Institute of Manuscripts in Ashgabat and many in private collection
among the Turkmens in Turkmenistan, Iran and Afghanistan. There are
manuscripts consisting of collections of poems of Makhtumkuli in libraries
in Tashkent, Saint Petersburg, Budapest, Berlin, London and other places.
From the manuscripts in Turkmenistan A. Ashyrov has established 700 poems
belonging to Makhtumkuli (presumably including poems recorded from folk
singers and a collection of Gylych Mulliyev's 217 poems attributed to Makhtumkuli)
["Magtimgulining Golyazmalarining Teswiri", Ylym, Ashgabat 1984, p IO].
None of the manuscripts has more than 300 poems. Taking into account
enormous spelling mistakes in most of these manuscripts and discrepancies
among them, it has not been possible to publish a complete and authentic
text of Makhtumkuli since the original text has never been recovered.
Apart from the stories about Makhtumkuli's manuscripts having been destroyed
or taken away, a report appeared on I" June 1904 in the No.73 issue of
the newspaper " Turkestan Vedmosty" in Tashkent, entitled "An Interesting
Manuscript" by 1. Belyayev. The report said: "In the Transcaspian
Oblast, near Garry Gala among the Turkmens a large one-volume manuscript
which was written by the famous 18th century poet, Makhtumkuli himself,
is being kept." [Turkmen translation in "Makhtmkuli, a Collection of Articles,
TUSSR Academy of Sciences, 1960, p I I 1. It used to be shown and copied
on certain occasions. It has since disappeared. There are also
stories about a very large book called
"Kulliyat-i Makhtumkuli" (a collection of all works of Makhtumkuli). In 1906 a mullah from Merv talked to Samoilovich of a Kulliyat-i Makhtumkuli kept in Ma:ne which he had copied. The book which he had copied was borrowed by an Ersary mullah and never returned. Samoilovich did not have time to go to Ma:ne [Zapiski Vostochnogo Otdeleniya Imparatorskogo- Russkogo Arkheologicheskogo Obshchestva, Vol. 19, Book 4, Sankt-Peterburg, 19 1 0, p 9]. More manuscripts disappeared or were destroyed during the Soviet period when anything written in Arabic script was regarded as religious. Many buried old manuscripts hoping to uncover them later. Hundreds of valuable manuscripts disappeared, among them possibly extremely valuable manuscripts of Makhtumkuli. We know of two locations where dozens of manuscripts were buried by relatives of Makhtumkuli in Garry Gala before leaving for Iran in the early 1930s. Disappearance of so many manuscripts was a severe blow to Turkmen culture and indeed to the study of the cultural heritage of Makhtumkuli. Only a few manuscripts could constitute a basis for the study of the poems. Some semi-literate mullahs have made more orthographic mistakes while trying to correct manuscripts which they copied. Many Makhtumkuli manuscripts have collections of poems of otherturkmen classical poets.thorough study of manuscripts the second line could be corrected as follows:
Mistransliterations too have added
to the problems. A well-known line that we see in Makhtumkuli in
"Pil hem durar baglasalar gye bile"
"Even an elephant will stand (still) if it is tied by a hair"
Here, the word gyl, meaning hair, is a mistransliteration of the Arabic word gulwhich means a chain that ties the leg to the neck. Only when gyl is read as gul does this verse make sense. There are many more such examples.
Some people, and especially some
folk singers, have attributed poems or songs to Makhtumkuli in order to
have a good audience. Some of these poems could easily be distinguished
from Makhtumkuli's poems through the structure or linguistic aspects of
the poem, or by the meaning or the message a poem might convey. A
poem which says:
'Tangry:nyng dushmany towuk saklagan,
/ Onung ca:yi cehennemdir yaranlar." ('Teki:z Bolar, Yaranlar')
["Magtymguly, Shygyrlar", Vol.Il Turkmenistan Publications, Ashgabat 1994, p 222]
"One who keeps chickens is the enemy of God / His place is Hell, 0 brothers!"
This poem cannot be Makhtumkuli's. Attributing such a poem to MakhtumkLIli is a mistake, and assessing him on the basis of a poem which is not his, is degrading the poet.
There is a manuscript of a collection of poems written in Latin script by Gyluych Mulliyev, who in 1946-1947 when he was 24 years old, claimed that he had memorised the poems from a Makhtumkuli manuscript he had found in Bukhara. This manuscript has never been recovered despite great efforts at he Party level. Gylych Mulliyev wrote down the poems he knew by heart and his manuscript is now kept in the Manuscript Institute in Ashgabat in the file No. 1 123. Written in the 1940s, these poems later prevailed in the collections of Makhtumkuli's poems. None of these poems has been seen in any manuscript of Makhtumkuli in Arabic script.
There has always been an official approach in Turkmenistan towards matters related to Makhtumkuli, which has created confusion in many aspects of the study of the creative work of this poet.
(Full text of this talk is to be
published in the Proceedings of the UCLA Conference on the Cultural Heritage
of Central Asia, October 1998)