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Kutadgu Bilig

Found in: Turkish literature

The Kutadgu Bilig, or Qutadgu Bilig , is a Karakhanid work from the 11th century written by 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" , but is often translated more concisely as "(The) Wisdom of Royal Glory". 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. While not produced in Turkey, and more accurately referred to as Turkic literature, the Kutadgu Bilig is often considered to belong to the body of Turkish literature.

Historical, Cultural, and Religious Context

In 740, the Uyghurs revolted against Bilge Qagan. They, the Karluks, and the Chigils left the region around the Altay Mountains in what is today Mongolia and moved south to what is today Xinjiang. Some time thereafter, the Uyghurs ousted the Karluks and Chigils, who moved west, and there established the Karakhanid empire, with capitals in Kashgar and Balasagun.

In 961, the Karakhanids officially adopted Islam, most likely introduced by Sufis. By that point, the Uyghurs, whose empire shared a border with Karakhanids, were Buddhist. As of 999-1000, The Karakhanids' capital was in Balasagun. Together with the Samanids of Samarkand they considered themselves the defenders of Islam against the Buddhist Uyghur Karakhoja Kingdom of Turpan and Hami and the Buddhist Scythian-Tocharian kingdom of Khotan.

Between the time they left Mongolia and their adoption of Islam, most of the tribes of the Karakhanid empire had become quite a bit more sedentary.

The Author

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 Yusuf, and was born in Balasagun, which at the time was the winter capital of the Karakhanid empire, and was located near present-day Toqmoq 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 Kha ajib ( ), translating as something like "Privy Chamberlain" or "Privy Councilor." He is often referred to as Yusuf Kha ajib.

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 authorparticularly the first prologue, which is in prose, unlike the rest of the text.

The Text


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 , but only three manuscriptsreferred to by the name of the city they were discovered insurvived 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 Bartoldt, the copy was made in 1439 in Herat. It was written in the 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 Uyghur-Karluk (Khaqaniye) language of the Karakhanids, often referred to Middle Turkic or Karakhanid. It's 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.

Despite the prevalence of Islamic wisdom (from hadiths and the Quran), 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 Perso-Arabic mutaqarib metre, consisting of couplets of two rhyming 11-syllable lines, often broken down furtherthe 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 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's translation of the name of each section (bab) follows, with the line numbers of the original text in parentheses:

Verse prologue (1-77)

Prose prologue

In praise of God (1-33)

In praise of the Prophet (34-48)

In praise of the four companions (49-62)

Ode to spring and praise of Ulug Bugra Khan (63-123)

On the seven planets and the twelve constellations (124-147)

That man's chief glory is wisdom and intellect (148-161)

On the tongue: Its merit and emerit, its benefit and harm (162-191)

The author's apology (192-229)

In praise of doing good [and the benefits thereof] (230-286)

On the virtue and benefit of wisdom and intellect (287-349)

On the title of the book and on his own old age (350-397)

Beginning of the discourse: On King Rising Sun (398-461)

Full Moon comes to serve King Rising Sun (462-580)

Full Moon presents himself before King Rising Sun (581-619)

Full Moon tells the king that he is Fortune (620-656)

Full Moon describes Fortune to the king (657-764)

King Rising Sun demonstrates Justice to Full Moon (765-791)

King Rising Sun describes himself as Justice (792-954)

Full Moon explains the virtues of the tongue (955-1044)

On the inconstancy of Fortune (1045-1157)

Full Moon gives counsel to his son Highly Praised (1158-1277)

Full Moon's admonition to his son Highly Praised (1278-1341)

Full Moon writes a testamentary letter to King Rising Sun (1342-1547)

King Rising Sun summons Highly Praised (1548-1580)

Highly Praised presents himself before King Rising Sun (1581-1590)

Highly Praised enters the service of King Rising Sun (1591-1849)

Highly Praised gives the king a description of Intellect (1850-1920)

The qualifications of a prince (1921-2180)

The qualifications of a vizier (2181-2268)

The qualifications of an army commander (2269-2434)

The qualifications of a grand chamberlain (2435-2527)

The qualifications of a gatekeeper (2528-2595)

The qualifications of an envoy (2596-2671)

The qualifications of a royal secretary (2672-2742)

The qualifications of a treasurer (2743-2827)

The qualifications of a chief cook (2828-2882)

The qualifications of a cupbearer (2883-2956)

The rights of the servants over the prince (2957-3186)

King Rising Sun writes a letter to Wide Awake (3187-3288)

Highly Praised goes to see Wide Awake (3289-3317)

Wide Awake debates with Highly Praised (3318-3511)

Wide Awake recounts the world's faults to Highly Praised (3512-3645)

Highly Praised tells Wide Awake that the next world is won through this world (3646-3712)

Wide Awake sends a letter to the king (3713-3895)

King Rising Sun sends a second letter to Wide Awake (3896-3970)

Highly Praised and Wide Awake debate a second time (3971-4030)

The proper manner of serving the prince (4031-4164)

How to conduct oneself with nobles (4165-4319)

How to conduct oneself with commoners (4320-4335)

Associating with descendants of the Prophet (4336-4340)

Associating with scholars and Ulema (4341-4354)

Associating with physicians (4355-4360)

Associating with diviners (4361-4365)

Associating with dream interpreters (4366-4375)

Associating with astrologers (4376-4391)

Associating with poets (4392-4399)

Associating with cultivators (4400-4418)

Associating with merchants (4419-4438)

Associating with stockbreeders (4439-4455)

Associating with craftsmen (4456-4468)

Associating with the poor (4469-4474)

How to choose a wife (4475-4503)

How to raise children (4504-4526)

How to deal with underlings (4527-4572)

The etiquette of going to feasts (4573-4643)

The etiquette of inviting to feasts (4644-4679)

Wide Awake tells Highly Praised that he has renounced the world and accepted his lot (4680-4933)

King Rising Sun sends for Wide Awake a third time (4934-5030)

Wide Awake comes to Highly Praised (5031-5034)

King Rising Sun meets with Wide Awake (5035-5131)

Wide Awake gives counsel to the king (5132-5466)

Highly Praised tells the king how to govern the realm (5467-5631)

Highly Praised regrets his past life and intends to repent (5632-5720)

Wide Awake counsels Highly Praised (5721-5761)

Justice for justice, humanity for humanity (5762-5952)

Wide Awake falls ill and summons Highly Praised (5953-5992)

Highly Praised tells Wide Awake how to interpret dreams (5993-6031)

Wide Awake tells his dream to Highly Praised (6032-6036)

Highly Praised interprets Wide Awake's dream (6037-6046)

Wide Awake interprets the dream differently (6047-6086)

Wide Awake gives advice to Highly Praised (6087-6285)

Testament tells Highly Praised of Wide Awake's death (6286-6292)

Testament consoles Highly Praised (6293-6298)

Highly Praised mourns for Wide Awake (6299-6303)

The king consoles Highly Praised (6304-6520)

[Ode I] On old age and the loss of youth (6521-6564)

[Ode II] On the corruption of time and the treachery of friends (6565-6604)

[Ode III] The author of the book gives counsel to himself (6605-6645)


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 Shah-nameh.

The Kutadgu Bilig is often considered to be part of the Mirror for Princes, a genre of literature which includes works like the Qabus-nameh, written in 1082, and the Siyaset-nameh, 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 Qabus-nameh, 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 traditionsmany Turkicwhich it resembles in style:

Islamic and pre-Islamic strife poems, found in Arabic and Persian literature,

Ayti, 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

Robert Dankoff Includes bibliography.

Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative Includes scanned copies of the Kutadgu Bilig in various languages.

Kutadgu Bilig Article about the Kutadgu Bilig in Turkish (page in Windows Turkish encoding).


[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

See also

Turkish literature

Robert Dankoff

Alessio Bombaci

Yusuf Has Hajib

Mirror for Princes

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Kutadgu Bilig