Nasreddin Hodja (Hoca in Turkish; the letter ‘c’ is pronounced as ‘dj’) was a Muslim humorist from Turkey (in the 13th century C.E.). As many as 350 anecdotes have been attributed to the Hodja, as he most often is called. Hodja is a title - meaning teacher or scholar (“Hodja” or “Hojjat” literally means “Proof,” e.g., of learning or in Islam). These stories about Molla Nasreddin are enjoyed throughout the world, not just among Turkish speakers where the anecdotes originated. Azerbaijanis and Iranians know this comic sage as "Molla Nasreddin." Turks and Greeks call him "Hoja Nasreddin." Kazakhs say "Koja Nasreddin;" Arabs, "Juha;" and Tajiks, "Mushfiqi." Other spelling variations for Nasreddin include: Nasrettin, Nasrudin, Nasr-id-deen, Nasr-eddin, Nasiruddin, Nasr-ud-Din, Nasr-Eddin, Nasr al-Din and Nasr-Ed-Dine. Molla is also written as Mulla. The many spelling variations for Hodja include: Hoja, Hojja, Hodscha, Hoca, Chotza, Khodja, Koja and Khoja.
Nasreddin Hodja’s stories are well known from the shores of Aegean to the Eastern reaches of Sinkiang, where he is known as "Effendi." One of his statues adorns a city square in
, depicting the
esteemed Hodja riding his donkey backwards, as told in one of his anecdotes. It
should be pointed out here that some variations of the anecdotes exist in the
way they are told through time and space. Many a punch lines from his anecdotes
have long since reached the status of proverbs. Mark Twain's Library
of Humor of the late 19th century includes a story attributed to
The historical Nasreddin Hodja can be considered a populist philosopher, wise and witty man. The stories attributed to him display a biting sense of humor and the anecdotes themselves have satirical qualities that go immediately to the heart of the matter. Molla's observations involve people from all walks of life, from beggar to king, politician to clergy, and scholar to merchant. His stories often point to an obvious truth which has been taken for granted and usually include an unexpected twist that makes his ideas witty and fresh. Though Molla often appears as a fool, he usually is the one who cleverly exposes other people's foolishness. Subtleties of his pronouncements may not be apparent at first, but cannot be dismissed off-hand even by the most skeptical.
The stories are eternal; they deal with social issues, which are fundamental to human nature, social injustice, class privilege, selfishness, cowardice, laziness, incompetence, ignorance, narrow-mindedness and all kinds of fraud. Though most of the stories are set in the 13th century teahouses, bath houses, caravanserai and market places, Molla's observations about human nature are so insightful and told so cleverly that they have the power to amuse and captivate us centuries later. The incidents and characters in these stories illustrate the comic, eccentric and inconsistent aspects of human beings through Nasreddin Hodja's astute observations.
There is some controversy around Hodja’s birth and death dates. According to most accounts, he was a village Imam (cleric) during Seljuk times, and was born in 1208 C.E. in Hortu village near Sivrihisar in
and died in 1284 C.E. (683 AH) at the age of 76.. However, the
most reliable document is the date 1383 (796 AH) found inscribed on the wall of
his tomb in Aksehir. It indicates that Hodja died before 1393. This latter date
seems to agree well with his encounter with the Mongol Emperor Timur. [The
encounter must have been after Timur had defeated Sultan Yildirim Bayazit
("Bayazit the Thunderbolt") in the last decade of the 14th century.]
As a young boy he must have enjoyed a free country childhood and lived in one of the cottages with adobe walls and flat baked earth roofs, typical of this region. He received his early education from his father, the village imam, and went on to study at the madrasa (Islamic school). After working as a village imam for some years, he moved to the town of
There he is known to have studied under such notable scholars of the time as
Sayyid Mahmud Hayrani and Sayyid Haci Ibrahim. Later he became a professor at
the madrasa in Aksehir and served as kadi (Judge). Aksehir
Nasreddin Hodja was buried in Aksehir, near present day
province in the , in a tomb that symbolizes the absurdity in
life, which he had loved to expose while alive. It is protected against
the elements by a large diameter ribbed dome, supported by many slender
columns. An imposing gate, leading to the area covered by this dome, is most
visible. Two rectangular stone posts provide the anchor for the tastefully
designed wrought-iron door. The two wings of the ornate gate are tightly shut
and secured with an enormous padlock. However, there is no surrounding fence
and the gate stands alone on its site. Once his name is invoked, the tradition
demands that seven anecdotes from Nasreddin Hodja be told. Turkish
Immortalized by his humorous and thought provoking words and actions, Nasreddin Hodja was a man of the people who perceived the world through their eyes. This won him a deep love, which has lasted for centuries. In the pessimistic and strife-torn world of the Middle Ages, Nasreddin Hodja radiated optimism. Yet this certainly did not prevent him from attacking injustice with stinging words. In his accounts he always seeks a peaceful way to get his message across, getting the better of his antagonists without argument or fight.
He loved life, and despite being a man of religion disliked nonsensical debates on religious subtleties. When he was asked about where the mourners should stand when carrying the coffin at a funeral, he retorted, "As long as you are not the one inside it doesn't matter a jot!"
Nasreddin Hodja never let trivial matters worry him. When a kite seized the liver he was carrying home for supper, he shouted, "You're wasting your time, I've got the recipe!" His affection extended to animals, and in many anecdotes we find him talking to his donkey like a friend.
One day a man stopped him and said, "Hodja, a roasted stuffed turkey just went past." Nasreddin Hodja replied, "What has that got to do with me?" "But it went to your house,” said the man. "What has that got to do with you?" retorted Nasreddin Hodja.
His optimism is illustrated by one of his most famous stories.
One day a man found him pouring the remains of his yogurt into
. "Hodja, what are you
doing?" the man asked. "I am turning the lake into yogurt," he
replied. When the man laughed at him, he said, "But you never know perhaps
it might." Aksehir Lake
This endorsement of hope against all odds has remained valid in every era. And we probably need such rays of hope to illuminate our path more so in our time when perpetual war, bloodshed, meanness, injustice, bigotry, insolence and sycophancy have become norms rather than exceptions. Nasreddin Hodja’s anecdotes and stories can surely help us to hope and dream big.
I remember how much I, as a child, growing up in Bangladesh, enjoyed reading stories and anecdotes of Nasreddin Hodja. You can find the largest collection of stories about Nasreddin Hodja in my book “ANECDOTES of Molla Nasreddin Hodja for Children of All Ages”, which has been published by Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, India. I hope you enjoy reading those stories.