Edited by  H. B. Paksoy

Table of Contents:

H. B. Paksoy "Ibadinov's Kuyas Ham Alav"
Peter B. Golden (Rutgers) "Codex Comanicus"
Richard Frye (Harvard) "Narshaki's The History of Bukhara"
Robert Dankoff (Chicago) "Adab Literature"
Uli Schamiloglu (Wisconsin-Madison) "Umdet ul Ahbar"
Kevin Krisciunas (Joint Astronomy Centre) "Ulug Beg's Zij"
Audrey Altstadt (UMass-Amherst) "Bakikhanli's Nasihatlar"
Edward J. Lazzerini (New Orleans) "Gaspirali's Tercuman"
David S. Thomas (Rhode Island) "Akcura's Uc Tarz-i Siyaset"

ISBN: 975-428-033-9
Library of Congress Card Catalog: DS329.4 .C46 1992
173 Pp. (paperback)  US$20 

ISIS Press

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Please refer to the printed version for the footnotes

Qarakhanid Literature 
and the Beginnings of Turco-Islamic Culture

Robert Dankoff

     The two major Qarakhanid literary monuments were the product
of a unique moment in cultural history.  The Diwan Lughat at-Turk
by Mahmud al-Kashgari, probably completed in 1077, is an
encyclopedic lexicon of the Turkic dialects, including citation of
proverbs and poetry, with glosses and explanations in Arabic.  The
Qutadghu Bilig by Yusuf of Balasaghun, written in 1069, is a long
didactic poem in the mirror-for-princes genre.  The languahe which
Kashgari described and in which Yusuf composed is substantially the
same language as that of the Turkic "runic" inscriptions dating
from the eighth century; of the vast translation literature in
Uighur Turkic, mainly of Buddhist content; and of the later
efflorence of Eastern Turkic Islamic literature known as Chaghatay,
with its modern descendants, Uzbek and new Uighur.  Taken together,
the two monuments can be considered examples of an attempt by the
Turks of Central Asia to lay the foundatios for a Turco-Islamic
literary culture.
     The Qarakhanid Turks converted to Islam in the middle of the
tenth century.  Unlike the Seljuks, who began their career as a
band of freebooters, and the Ghaznavids, who started out as slaves,
the Qarakhanids, led by their Khaqans, preserved much of their
Central Asian aristocratic and cultural heritage.  They traced
their ancestry to the legendary hero Alp Ar Tonga, whom they
identified with the arch-enemy of Iran, Afrasiyab.  They cultivated
Turkic language, and also continued to employ the Uighur script
(which they called "Turkic" script)--a rare example of a Muslim
people using a non-Arabic script.
     By the eleventh century, ehile the Iranian component of
Islamic culture was already well advanced, the Turkic one had yet
to be created.  The Qarakhanids played a cultural role for the
Muslim Turks similar to that of the Samanids for the Muslim
Iranians a century before.  In this they again differed from the
Ghaznavids and Seljuks, who both patronied Iranian and not Turkic
     By "culture" here I intend something wider than literature. 
I mean specifically what is connoted by the Arabic term adab. 
Originally the word meant "custom."  In early Islam it came to mean
"high quality of soul, good upbringing, urbanity and courtesy."  It
represented an ideal corresponding to "the refining of bedouin
ethics and customs as a result of Islam and the contactwith foreign
cultures suring the first two centuries A.H."  In intellectual
content, adab meant "profane culture... based in the first place on
poetry, the art of oratory, the historical and tribal traditions of
the ancient Arabs, and also on the corresponding sciences:
rethoric, grammar, lexicography, metrics."  During the period of
high Abbasid culture in the ninth centurythe concept was broadened
to include non-Arab traditions as well, particularly Iranian epic
and narrative, and Iranian gnomic wisdom (andarz), but also Indian
fables and Greek philosophy.  Finally, in the narrower sense of
literature, adab meant belles-lettres; thus it became the basis of
the term for literature (adabiyat) in several modern Islamic
     For what concerns us here, which is the creation of a Turkic
adab, we can see three outstanding elements in the Arab and Iranian
adabs that served as models for the Turkic.  These are, first, the
mastery of the language; second, the transmission of profane
wisdom, particularly as attached to the royal courts, and third,
pride in the national legends, customs and traditions.
     The Arabic philologists of the first few Islamic centuries,
partially for religious reasons, made it their task to collect and
record all the linguistic usages of the Arabs, especially as
preserved and handed down in the poetry and proverbs of the
Jahiliyya.  The study and mastery of Arabic provided the basis not
only of the profane culture, or adab, but also of the Religious
sciences, or ilm.  This might be the reason why grammatical and
lexicographic scholarship lagged in the Iranian cultural sphere. 
>From the early period we have only Asadi's Lughat-i Furs, written
c. 1070, with its limited aim of explaining difficult words used by
Firdawsi and the other New Persian poets.  We shall see in a moment
that Kashgari expresses a rather different orientation to the
question of linguistic scholarship, one that harkens back to the
Islamic ideology which spurred on the Arabic philologists in their
classical period.
     The gerat Iranian contribution to adab culture was the
translation of the Sasanian Royal traditions into a form suitable
for the Islamic context.  The works of Ibn al-Muqaffa are pre-
eminent here; but we may also mention the kitab at-Taj of pseudo-
Jahiz, and the Javidan Khirad of Miskawaih.  This movement added a
stock of Iranian andarz to the Arab amthal (proverbs); also a stock
of epical and historical traditions which the chroniclers tried to
coordinate with their inherited Arabian and Israilitic materials. 
The specific pride in Iranian, versus Arab, civilization, which had
given rise to the Shu'ubiyya phenomenon, emerged triumphant with
the Samanids, and is very clear in the Shah-nameh.  It is
characteristic that when al-Ghazali (d. 1111) set out, toward the
end of his life, to write a mirror for princes, he hose to do so in
Persian and not in Arabic.
     Returning to the Turks, let us briefly examine the Qarakhanid
literary monuments to determine whether they can be interpreted,
each in its own way, as an attempt to create a Turkic Adab.
     In his introductio to the Diwan Lughat at_turk, Kashgari
     When I saw that God Most High had caused the Sun of
     Fortune to rise in the Zodiac of the Turks, and set their
     Kingdom among the spheres of Heaven; that He called them
     "Turk," and gave them the Rule; making them kings of the
     Age, and placing in their hands the reins of temporal
     authority; appointing them over all mankind, and
     directing them to the Right; that He strengthened those
     who are affiliated to them, and those who endeavor on
     their behalf;... [then I saw that] every man of reason
     must attach himself to them, or else expose himself to
     their falling arrows.  And there is no better way to
     approach them than by speaking their own tongue, thereby
     bending their ear and inclining their heart.

     He then quotes the prophetic hadith:  "Learn the tongue of the
Turks, for their reign will be long;"  and goes on to say: "if this
hadith is sound... then learning it is a religious duty; and if it
is not sound, still Wisdom demans it."  The preroration ends with
his dedication of the work to the reigning caliph, al_muqtadi.
     In explaining his methodology in drawing up his work, Kashgari
     I have set it out acording to the order of the alphabet;
     and adorned it with words of wisdom and elegant speech,
     proverbs, verses of poetry, and sentences of prose... I
     originally intended to structure the book along the lines
     of al_khalil... in order to show that the Turkic dialects
     keep pace with Arabic like two horses in a race.... I
     have strewn therein examples of their verses, which they
     utter in their pronouncements and declarations; as well
     as proverbs which they coin according to the ways of
     wisdom, bothin adversity and in felicity, and which are
     handed down from speaker to transmitter.  And I have
     gathered therein much-repeated matters, and famous
     expressions.  Thus has the book attained the utmost of
     excellence, and the extreme of refinement.

The immediately following section is an exposition of the "Turkic"
(i.e. Uighur) script, which "is used for all documents and
correspondence of the Khaqans and the Sultans, from ancient times
to the present, and from Kashgar to Upper Shin (China),
encompassing all the lands of the Turks."  The last sections of the
introduction deal with grammar, dialectology, and linguistic
geography, including the famous map.
     The verses which Kashgari cite are, like the proverbs, oral
and anonymous.  And they are all in the syllabic-counting meters of
Turkic folk poetry.  The scattered, isolated verses, which are
cited to illustrate usage, can be grouped together in "verse
cycles" --groups of stanzas sharing a common rhyming and metrical
scheme and a common theme.  There are fifty or so such cycles,
ranging from one to sixteen stanzas.  A third of these falls in the
class of "wisdom" poetry, and a fith relats to warfare; the rest
are concerned with love, nature, the hunt, etc.  One frequently
cited i a lament on the death of Alp Ar Tonga (identified with
     There are, in addition, two "narrative cycles" which can be
pieced together from Kashgari's historical or legendary notes
connected with the folk etymologies of geographical names and
culture terms.  All these materials relate either to Afrasiyab, or
to a certain Shu, "king of the Turk," who defeated the world-
conqueror DhulQarnayn (Alexander the Great).
     The striking thing about both these cycles is their lack of
resemblance to the Afrasiyab-Turan theme and to the Alexander
romance theme as found, for example, in the Shah-nameh.  Rather, we
have indigenous Central Asian legends relating to Tonga Alp Ar and
to King Shu as national heroes of the Turks.
     Thus: Afrasiyab was the Khaqan; the founder of the royal
dynasty of Khans, Tegins, and Terims; and the father of Qaz,
Barman, and Barsghan, who all founded cities named after them. 
(The city named after Qaz is Qazvin in Iran, originally Qaz Oyni
meaning "Qaz's playground"!)   He himself founded Kashgar (=Ordu
Kand), while his residence was at Barchuq.  Now none of this is
known to the Iranian tradition.  In the Shah-Nameh, for example,
Afrasiyab has a son named Shida and daughters named Manizha and
Farangiz; while his residence is at Qunduz (=Gang), later at
     In Kashgari's version of the Alexander romance, Dhu'l-Qarnayn
gives names to the three main Turkic groups of the age --the
Chighil (=Qarakhanids), the Turkman (=Oghuz), and the Uighur--  all
of them provided with Persian (!) etymologies.  He also furnishes
the name for a place (Altun Qan), a title (Oga), another tribe
(Qalach), and a food (Tutmach)--all these with good Turkic
etymologies.  But Dhu'l-Qarnayn is not the hero of the legend, for
he is defeated by the Turkic king Shu, founder of the capital of
Balasaghun.  The idea of Alexander as the enmy reflects a pre-
Islamic Iranian view (Iskandar-i mal'un); in the Shah-Nameh and
later Iskandar-namehs he is the invincible hero, even (under
Koranic influence) akind of Prophet.
     Finally, Kashgari at one point relates a ghazi legend, which
in turn can be connected with four groups of verses that originally
must have been part of one larger verse cycle, perhaps interspersed
as songs within a prose narrative as in the later Turkish minstrel
cycles of Dede Korkut and Koroglu.
     So in the Diwan Lughat at-Turk we do have, in germ, Turkic
epic materials.  While it is a historical fact that these were not
embroidered and developed in a pan-Turkic epic tradition, in the
manner of the Shah-Nameh, some elements did survive in different
dress.  Thus, some of the Alexander-romance material turns up again
in the legends of Oghuz Khan.  Similarly the ghazi legend, relating
the miraculous victory of a Muslim Turkic hero over a group of
infidel Turkic tribes, survives to some extnt in themes
incorporated into the Tazkare-i Satuq Bughra Khan.
     From Kashgari's point of view, these poems and legends were
only so many cultural materials, to be recorded in his Diwan along
with data on Turkic ethnography and folklore, social organization
and kinship structure, calendars, recipes, and folk remedies.  He
saw it as his task to prsent these materials in a coherent way, for
he was convinced of the supremacy of the Turks in God's design, and
of the need for non-Turkic Muslims to know the language and the
lore of their Turkic brothers in the faith.  Indeed, Kashgari
succeeded in doing for the Turks what the Arab philologists in the
first centuries of Islam had done for the Arabs: namely, to
organize and elucidate their linguistic, genealogic, and cultural
     We can say something very similar about Qutadghu Bilig: that
Yusuf of Balasaghun attempted, with some measure of success, to
establish the Central Asiatic Turkic tradition as a legitimate
element within the parameters of Islamic culture, just as his
counterparts from Ibn al-Muqaffa to Firdawsi had done for the
Iranian trdition.  But unlike Firdawsi Yusuf took as his starting
point, not the sagas and epics that were current at his time, but
rather the heritage of "royal wisdom" (qutadghu bilig) preserved in
Qarakhanid ruling circles, which he tried to amalgamate with the
Irano-Islamic ideals of statecraft preserved in Arabic and Persian
     Thus as authorities for the wisdom sayings scattered
throughout the text, Yusuf cites only various Turkic princes and
poets, but also "an Arabic saying" (line 5809), "an Iranian sage"
(line 3265), and the Sasanian king Nushirvan, the model of just
sovereignity (line 290).  "If you observe well," he states in the
introductory portion of the work (Lines 276-282),
     you will notice that the Turkish princes are the finest
     in the world.  And among these Turkish princes the one of
     the outstanding fame and glory was Tonga Alp Er.  He was
     the choicest of men, distinguished by great wisdom and
     virtues manifold.... The Iranians call him Afrasiyab, the
     same who seized and pillaged their realm...
          The world-conqueror requires great virtue indeed,
     and mind and wisdom, in order to rule.  The Iranians have
     written this all down in books--and who could understand
     it if it were not written down?

     Among the proverbs quoted by Kashgari in the Diwan Lughat at-
Turk (fol. 465) is: yash ot koymas, yalawar olmas "Fresh grass does
not burn, the messenger does not die."  Kashgari goes on to say
that this is so.
     even though his message may contain treachery or
     coarseness on the part of the sender.  This is similar to
     the words of the Exalted [Koran 5:99] "It is only for the
     Messenger to deliver the Message."

     Conceivably this Turkic proverb was in Yusuf's mind when, in
an appropriate context in the Qutadghu Bilig (lines 3817-3819) he
appeals to the authority of the Khan of the Turks (Turk Hani) for
the following lines:
     yalawacqa bolmas olum ya qiyin
     esitmis sozin cin tagursa tilin
     yalawac tedukum bu tilci turur
     bu tilci sozin aysa olmas qalur

     "The messenger deserves neither death nor punishment, so long
as he faithfully reports what he has heard.  For this messenger is
merely a spokesman, and when the spokesman transmits his message,
he is not killed, but is left alone."
     The major issue in Qutadghu Bilig is the conflict between the
political ideals of the community and the religious conscience of
the individual.  The conflict is dramatized in the form of a debate
between two brothers, one of them a statesman and chief advisor to
the king, the other a recluse and mystic.  The statesman is called
"Highly Praised" (Tk. Odgulmis, a translation of the Arabic name
Muhammad), while the recluse is named "Wide Awake" (Tk. Odghurmis--
cf. Ar. Yazqan, which was already used as an allegorical name by
Ibn Sina).
     Highly Praised knows what is best for the world's governance. 
In response to the king's queries, he describes the qualities and
duties of the various courtiers: prince, vizier, commander,
ambassador, secretary,treasurer, cook, etc.  To Wide Awake,
ignorant in the ways of the world, he explains how one must conduct
oneself with the various classes of the society; courtiers and
commoners, scholars, physicians, diviners, astrologers, poets,
farmers, merchants, stockbreeders, craftsmen, beggars.  He also
gives advice on how to choose a wife, how to raise children, how to
behave as host and as guest, and how to interpret dreams.  He is
the perfect adib, the personification of worldly wisdom.
     Wide awake knows what is ultimately best for man's soul.  In
pursuit of complete devotion to God, he has adopted a life of
powerty, renunciation, and solitude.  He personifies, as Yusuf
tells us (line 357), aqibet: Man's Last End.  In the Mirror-for-
Princes scheme, Wide Awake provides a leaven of otherworldly goals
and ideals, without which the ruler's life would be vain.  The
ultimate reconciliation of the brothers, in the king's presence,
demonstrates one of the deep rooted themes of the Irano-Islamic
statecraft tradition: that just sovereignity and right religion are
twins, born of the same womb, and cannot be separated.
     I have tried to show that the two major Qarakhanid literary
monuments, judged on their own terms, were successful in laying a
foundation for a Turkic adab: the one in the areas of linguistic
scholarship and the recording of national lore; the other in the
area of royal wisdom.  But in terms of historical development of
Turkic culture, the efforts of Kashgari and of Yusuf of Balasaghun
were practically fruitless.  No Turkic Firdewsi came along to
celebrate the pre-Islamic exploits of Alp Ar Tonga.  The lively
epic and historiographic traditions developed later by the Ottomans
in the west and by the Timurids in the east were entirely based, on
the one hand, upon the Oghuz settlement of Anatolia, and on the
other hand, upon the exploits of the Chingissids, Temurids, and
     As far as we know, only one Islamic historian ever attempted
to incorporate Kashgari's legends about King Shu and Dhu'k Qarnayn
into a grander scheme--viz. Badraddin al-Ayni in the first volume
of his thirty-volume world history, written in 1422.  As for
Qutadghu Bilig, the only one to quote it in later Turkic
literature, again so far as we know, was Rabghuzi in his Qisas al-
Anbiya, written in 1310, where we find a paraphrase of Yusuf's,
chapter "On the Seven Planets and the Twelve Constellations.  It is
true, judging by the three extant MS copies, that Qutadghu Bilig
did enjoy a certain vogue as late as the Timurid period.  But it
never served as the basis for an elaboration, or even an imitation;
in contrast, say, to the Persian Qabus-nameh, a mirror for princes
written in 1082, which was translated into Ottoman Turkish no less
than five times in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
     To conclude: if I am right that Dian Lughat at-Turk and
Qutadghu Bilig represent the budding of a Turkic adab; still, in
terms of the historical development of Turco-Islamic culture, the
labors of Kashgari and of Yusuf of Balasaghun did not bear fruit. 
To revert to my original image, they laid a foundation, but the
edifice was not built---or, to be more exact, an edifice was built
later on (especially by the Ottomans in the west and the Timurids
in the east), but on a different foundation.

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