Kutadgu Bilig

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

6 The Kutadgu Bilig, or Qutadğu Bilig (/kˈtɑːdɡ ˈbɪlɪk/; proposed Middle Turkic: [qʊtɑðˈɢʊ bɪˈlɪɡ]), is a Karakhanid work from the 11th century written by Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib of Balasagun for the prince of Kashgar. Translated, the title means something like "The Wisdom which brings Happiness" or "The Wisdom that Conduces to Royal Glory or Fortune" (Dankoff, 1), but has been translated more concisely as "Wisdom Which Brings Good Fortune".[1] The text reflects the author's and his society's beliefs, feelings, and practices with regard to quite a few topics, and depicts interesting facets of various aspects of life in the Karakhanid empire.

The author[edit]

At several points throughout the Kutadgu Bilig, the author talks some about himself; from this we know a certain amount about him.

The author of the Kutadgu Bilig was named Yūsuf, and was born in Balasagun, which at the time was the winter capital of the Karakhanid empire, and was located near present-day Tokmok in Kyrgyzstan. He was about 50 years old when he completed the Kutadgu Bilig, and upon presenting the completed work to the prince of Kashgar, was awarded the title Khāṣṣ Ḥājib (خاص حاجب), translating as something like "Privy Chamberlain" (Dankoff, 2) or "Privy Councilor." He is often referred to as Yūsuf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib.[2]

Some scholars suspect that the prologue to the Kutadgu Bilig, which is much more overtly Islamic than the rest of the text, was written by a different author—particularly the first prologue, which is in prose, unlike the rest of the text.

The text[edit]


The Kutadgu Bilig was completed in 462 (1069/1070 AD) and presented to Tavghach Bughra Khan, the prince of Kashgar. It was well-known through the Timurid era (Dankoff, 3), but only three manuscripts—referred to by the name of the city they were discovered in—survived to give us our modern knowledge of the text:

  • Herat (Vienna) - A scribe brought the copy to Constantinople in 1474, and it eventually ended up in Vienna. According to Wilhelm Barthold, the copy was made in 1439 in Herat. It was written in the Old Uyghur alphabet.
  • Cairo - The copy was found in a Mamluk library in 1897 in Cairo; the Mamluk ruler of 1293-1341 is mentioned in the copy, which is written in the Arabic script.
  • Namangan - The copy was found in Namangan in 1943, and was probably written in the 13th or 14th century.

The content of the three texts, while generally the same, differs in many finer points, such as word choice.


The Kutadgu Bilig is written in the Karluk (Khaqaniye) language of the Karakhanids, often referred to Middle Turkic or Karakhanid. Its similar to the language of the Orkhon inscriptions, in Old Turkic, but in addition to the Turkic base, has a large influx of Persian vocabulary. Aside from specific vocabulary from Persian and Arabic, Dankoff mentions a good number of calques in the language of the Kutadgu Bilig from Persian.

One of the features of the language of Karakhanid is that its 3rd person imperative always has /s/ instead of /z/, and around half of the Brahmi instances are not -zUn but -sUn. This is often rendered as sU in Kutadgu Bilig:

kutadsu atı ber iki cihân
May he be happy, may his name spread to the two worlds
——Kutadgu Bilig 88

bayat ok bolu ber arka yölek
May Allah become your pillar
——Kutadgu Bilig 90

tuta ber teŋri bu taht birle baht
May god bring you happiness too
——Kutadgu Bilig 92

Despite the prevalence of Islamic wisdom (from hadiths and the Qurˀān), Persian calques, and Persian and Arabic vocabulary, there are no specific references to Islamic texts, nor are Persian or Arabic words used for Islamic concepts. This strengthens the argument that Islam came into Central Asia through wandering Sufis.


The author of the Kutadgu Bilig used the Arabic mutaqārib metre, consisting of couplets of two rhyming 11-syllable lines, often broken down further—the first six syllables forming the first group in each line, and the last five syllables forming another group. This is the earliest known application of this metre to a Turkic language. The original metre is composed of preceding short and long vowels:

Vowel 1 Vowel 2 Vowel 3
short long long
short long long
short long long
short long

Since Turkic language did not differentiate between short and long vowels, he transformed them to open and close syllables, for example:

Vowel 1 Vowel 2 Vowel 3
ya(open) ġiz (close) yir(close)
yı(open) par(close) tol(close)
dı(open) kaf(close) ur(close)
ki(open) tip(close)
be(open) zen(close) mek(close)
ti(open) ler(close) dun(close)
ya(open) kör(close) kin(close)
i(open) tip(close)

(The snow molten, the earth full of fragrance,Taking off the winter clothes, the world is in new elegance.

——Kutadgu Bilig·Volume 4·2)


The Kutadgu Bilig is structured around the relations between four main characters, each representing an abstract principle (overtly stated by the author). Dankoff summarises the specifics nicely in the form of a chart (Dankoff, 3):

Name Translation Occupation Principle
küntoğdı "the sun has risen" / Rising Sun king Justice
aytoldı "the moon is full" / Full Moon vizier Fortune
ögdülmiş "praised" / Highly Praised sage Intellect (or Wisdom)
oðğurmış "awakened" / Wide Awake Dervish Man's Last End


Dankoff suggests that the author of the Kutadgu Bilig was attempting to reconcile the Irano-Islamic and Turkic wisdom traditions present among the Karakhanids, the former with urban roots and the latter with nomadic roots. Certainly the recent move from a more nomadic way of life changed the requirements for a good leader; the Kutadgu Bilig's agenda does appear to include instruction for how to be a good leader. In addition, the author of the Kutadgu Bilig states in the text that he was trying to make a Turkic version of something like the Shāh-nāmeh.

The Kutadgu Bilig is often considered to be part of the Mirror for Princes,[3] a genre of literature which includes works like the Qābūs-nāmeh, written in 1082, and the Siyāset-nāmeh, written in 1090. Alessio Bombaci argues against considering the Kutadgu Bilig part of the Mirror for Princes; not only is the first "full-blown" Mirror for Princes the Qābūs-nāmeh, written over ten years after the Kutadgu Bilig, but there are a couple points on which the Kutadgu Bilig and the other Mirrors for Princes differ:

  • The Kutadgu Bilig offers advice to all men, and not just princes.
  • The names of the characters in the Kutadgu Bilig could be anyone, and aren't the names of any particular historical figures.

While the Kutadgu Bilig is stylistically reminiscent of the Mirror for Princes in a number of ways, there are a good number of other traditions—many Turkic—which it resembles in style:

  • Islamic and pre-Islamic strife poems, found in Arabic and Persian literature,
  • Aytış, responsive song competition between two opponents found today among the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz,
  • Askiya, a similar style of song competition found today among the Uzbeks,
  • Songs between boys and girls, such as Uzbek lapar and Kazakh bedil songs,
  • Wedding songs such as Uzbek yor-yor and Kazakh jar-jar

Aside from the Irano-Islamic and Turkic influences, Dankoff posits some amount of Greek and Buddhist influence on the text.

Selected Online Resources[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Sir Gerard Clauson, An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Turkish, Oxford, 1972, p597
  2. ^ E.J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936. BRILL. 31 December 1987. pp. 911–. ISBN 90-04-08265-4.
  3. ^ Thomas T. Allsen (13 July 1997). Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles. Cambridge University Press. pp. 55–. ISBN 978-0-521-58301-5.


  • [Dankoff] — Yusuf Khass Hajib, Wisdom of Royal Glory (Kutadgu Bilig): A Turko-Islamic Mirror for Princes, translated, with an introduction and notes, by Robert Dankoff. University of Chicago Press, 1983. Pp. 281