You may have not heard of Nasreddin Hodja, but in the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of Europe, Nasreddin Hodja is a famous folk character. His stories have been told across a vast geographic area extending from Hungary through India to China, and from Southern Siberia to North Africa. Over the centuries millions of kids have grown up listening to the stories of Nasreddin Hodja’s legendary wit and droll trickery.
Nasreddin Hodja is portrayed as a wise man and a simpleton at the same time. In all his anecdotes, Hodja finds a way out of the most delicate situations with his wit, wisdom and common sense, often confounding his interlocutor with absurd, and at the same time wise statements.
A statue of Nasreddin Hodja riding a donkey in Ankara, Turkey. Photo credit: Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia
Professor Jeremy Schiff, of Bar-Ilan University, Israel, writes:
Wit, common sense, ingenuousness, ridicule… and the kind of humor that reflects human psychology, exposes the shortcomings of a society, criticizes even state and religious affairs yet always settles matters amicably are the elements which together create a special kind of logic, the Nasreddin Hodja logic.
Nasreddin Hodja is believed to have been born in 1208 in the village of Hortu of Sivrihisar, in present-day Turkey, after which he moved to Aksehir, and later to Konya, where he died in 1284. But according to some, a person named Nasreddin Hodja never lived; he was just an imaginary character created by the natives of Anatolia in the 13th century, and the creation lasted for centuries.
Another statue in Yenisehir, Turkey. Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Indeed, over the years the number of Nasreddin Hodja stories have increased significantly as his tales spread to new lands, where the stories were adopted and modified, told and retold, and became part of the region’s folklore. Today, his stories ranges in several hundreds. Though not all of them are authentic, they are all part of the Hodja folklore.
There are several monuments to Nasreddin Hodja in Turkey, and elsewhere around Europe. Most of them depict Hodja riding a donkey backwards. The story goes that one day Nasreddin Hodja got on his donkey the wrong way, facing towards the back. When people asked him why, he replied, “It’s not that I am sitting on the donkey backwards, the donkey is facing the wrong way.”
Nasreddin Hodja’s statue in Brussels. Photo credit: quarsan/Flickr
Donkeys often feature in Hodja’s stories.
One day, a friend of Mulla Nasreddin came to him and asked if he could borrow his donkey for two hours to go to the town. The Mulla, not really wanting to lend his donkey, thought for a while and then said:
“Dear friend, I would like to help you but I have lent my donkey to another friend.”
All of a sudden the donkey began braying loudly behind the wall of the yard.
“But Mulla,” the friend exclaimed. “I can hear it behind that wall!”
“Whom do you believe,” the Mulla replied indignantly, “the donkey or your Mulla?
Close-up of the statue. Photo credit: Faqscl/Wikimedia
Witticism and humor are the key ingredients of every Nasreddin Hodja story. Here is another example:
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.
A statue of Nasreddin Hodja in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Faqscl/Wikimedia
Sometimes Hodja would make a fool out of himself to humor others.
One day, Hodja climbed a tree, sat on a branch and began cutting the very branch he sat on.
A passerby saw him and yelled, “What are you doing? You are going to fall down.”
Hodja ignored the man and kept on axing the branch. Sure enough, the branch broke and he fell to the ground. In spite of the bruises, Hodja got up and ran to the man.
”Hey you! Since you knew I was going to fall, you should be able to tell me when I will die,” Hodja told the man and wouldn’t let him go without an answer.
A statue of Nasreddin Hodja cutting a tree branch in Aksehir, Turkey. Photo credit: galpay/Flickr
At other times, he went to great lengths to pull another’s leg.
One day, Hodja borrowed a large cauldron from his neighbor, and dutifully returned it. But he left a small pot inside. When his neighbor inquired, Hodja replied that his cauldron had given birth to a little one, and since it would be criminal to separate the child from the mother, the smaller pot should stay with its mother.
The neighbor, knowing Hodja’s eccentric behavior, said nothing, but he was also secretly happy to have acquired a new pot.
Some time later, Hodja asked to borrow the cauldron again.
“Why not?” thought the neighbor to himself. “Perhaps there will be another little pot inside when he returns it.”
But this time the Hodja did not return the cauldron. After many days had passed, the neighbor went to the Hodja and asked for the return of the borrowed cauldron.
“My dear friend,” replied the Hodja. “I have bad news. Your cauldron has died, and is now in her grave.”
The neighbor became furious. “ A cauldron does not live, and it cannot die,” he shouted. “Return it to me at once!”
“One moment!” answered the Hodja. “This is the same cauldron that but a short time ago gave birth to a child, a child that is still in your possession. If a cauldron can give birth to a child, then it also can die.”
And the neighbor never again saw his cauldron.
Often, Hodja himself became the victim of practical jokes pulled by others, who wanted to see how he would get himself out of trouble. And Nasreddin Hodja, to the delight of his fellow villagers, never disappointed.
A statue of Nasreddin Hodja in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: ThalerGy/Panoramio
A statue of Nasreddin Hodja at Incirlik Air Base Turkey. Photo credit: Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski/US Air Force