Published On: Sun, Jan 15th, 2012

‘Mullah Nasruddin’ best-known trickster and wit in human history

He is probably the best-known trickster and wit In human history. Although there are hundreds and thousands of humorous anecdotes about Mullah Nasruddin,

the details about his life are extremely sketchy. A few even claim that Mullah Nasruddin is simply a legendary character around whom countless witty stories have been woven.

But considering the numerous referenced made to him over the past 750 years, there is little doubt about his existence. In fact the oldest Mullah  Nasreddin hodja story occurs in the book Saltukname’ written in 1480, which also contains other folk stories and legends. This book reveals that Nasreddin hodja was born in the Turkish village of Sivrihisar in 1208. Another account claims he was born in the village of Horto near Sivrihisar He moved to Aksehir in 1237, where he died around 1284.

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Mullah Nasruddin was probably a priest who spent his days on earth In extreme poverty.

The title Mullah denotes ‘priest’ In Arabic. Mullah is a legend in many countries of central Asia, Including Afghanistan, Iran Turkey Tajikistan and other nations, with each country claiming he was born there! As lf the prevailing confusion was not enough, the Uzbeks have also staked a claim, saying he was born at Bukhara in Uzbekistan.

Mullah Nasruddin’s stories are also popular in North Africa Greece, Italy, France, Russia, china, Pakistan, The united States and many other countries. To the Turks and Greeks he was Nasreddin Hodja, the Kazakhs call him Koja Nasruddin, for Arabs he is Juha and for Tajiks Mushfiqi. Even the spellings of his name vary in all cultures! The international Nasruddin Hodja festivals ls celebrated in Turkey with great pomp and gaiety every year, between July 5 and 10. in the town where he was Supposedly burled. The celebrations permit writers and Exists an opportunity to present their works of drama, films, music’s animation and paintings to keep alive the memory of the legendary Nasruddin Hodja. Hodja is a title that means (teachers or ‘scholar’. Nasruddin’s graveyard is a pilgrimage site of sorts.

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Many of Nasruddin’s tales indicate the influence of Sufism and some accounts claim he was a Sufi.

His tales reveal facets about the people and lifestyles of ancient times. The comic stories of Mullah Nasreddin hodja can be compared to those of Baron Munchausen of Europe, to sheikh chilli or to our very own Birbal and Tenalirama.His witty tales usually contain some hidden meaning or moral and can be interpreted at various levels. Depending on the raconteur. Nasruddin’s succinct observations concern people from all walks of life – the common man, beggars, kings, the clergy, politicians, scholars, the trading class, warriors and others. In most of his tales, his wife and his donkey are faithful companions, not necessarily in that order of preference!

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The renowned Afghan writer Idries Shah compiled hundreds of his stories in three volumes. Sufis use Mullah Nasruddin’s stories as teaching exercises and scores of his tales come from Sufi sources. Many stories were originally told by great Sufi poets like Jalal-uddin Rumi, Hafiz and Sadi, but were later retold as Mullah Nasruddin tales.

Mullah’s humour is typical and on many occasions ends with a counter-query. Sample this:

One day. Mullah was asked, How is it that you always answer a question with another question?”

Do I ? ” Countered Mullah.”

Another anecdote illustrates this point further:

”Mullah, a roasted chicken just-flew pasta ” a man once accosted Nasruddin excitedly.

How does that concern me ? ” Scowled Nasruddin

”But huzoor, it went inside your house ” the Man replied.

”Then how does that concern you? ” Nasreddin hodja snapped.”

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In some anecdotes, Mullah happens to be the smart joker taking others for a ride. In other tales, he’s the one who gets taken in. In yet others, the Joke seems to swing both ways and one isn’t exactly sure who has taken whom for a ride! Many tales are full of unabashed nonsense and unbridled humour- with Nasreddin hodja playing the wise man, the fool. The victim or the prankster in turns! Finally, to round off the legend of Mullah Nasruddin, before we delve into the actual tales, another poser: How did Mullah Nasruddin come to be so funny?

The legend goes that when Nasreddin hodja was a young boy in school, two of his classmates killed, cooked and ate a lamb, which was probably their teacher’s pet. The teacher was deeply anguished shocked by this outrage and soon discovered who the culprits were. Nasruddin’s classmates confessed that one of them had slit the lambs throat, while the other had flayed and cooked the meat. As for Nasruddin Hodja. His sole role in the despicable affair etc that he had watched and laughed during the entire proceedings.

So the teacher cursed the threesome.. ”Let him who slit the throat of my lamb have his own throat slit. Let him who flayed my lamb himself be flayed. And Let him who laughed be laughed at by the whole world.


Curse or no curse, Nasreddin hodja has since been regaling ample from all over the world. His anecdotes are now being spun in modern avatars, with many tales of Mullah’s exploits in America and England. However, this book deals with his tales of yore.

No matter what Mullah Nasruddin is called – a wise fool or a foolish wise man – there is no doubt that he is the most loved trickster in the world. No wonder, 1996 had been declared Nasreddin Hodja – Year by UNESCO.

For further details consider wikipedia 

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