Natavan: Azerbaijan’s Greatest Poetess

Natavan. Poetess, Philanthropist, Princess. Born on August 15, 1832, Khurshid Banu Mehdi Quli khan was born in Shusha, Karabakh. Her grandfather, Ibrahim Halil Khan, founded Shusha and was the last independent Karabakh khanate. Khurshid Banu spent her childhood in Shusha, receiving an exemplary education that included literature, arts and crafts, and the study of Russian, Persian, and Arabic. Her education no doubt heavily influenced the significant contributions she would later give to Azerbaijani culture. While best known for her lyrical poetry, Natavan also received acclaim for her embroidery, paintings, drawings, and social work done for her native town of Shusha.

The most notable poetess in Azerbaijan’s history, the princess is acclaimed for her lyrical ghazals. Originating in Arabic poetry of the 6th century, ghazals are composed of a rhyming couplet and refrain with each line also sharing the same meter. Natavan began to write poetry in the 1850s, evoking themes such as love, nature, and beauty. However, after her son died prematurely at the age of sixteen, her poetry became darker and more pessimistic.

In addition to her personal literary work, Natavan also held interest in poetry being written by her contemporaries. She created Shusha’s mejlisi-uns (“Society of Friends”) in 1872, which produced a forum for poets and musicians to share ideas and debut their latest works. Coinciding with the development of mejlisi-uns, Khurshid Banu changed her penname from “Khurshid” to “Natavan” for the first time. Her new poetic signature translates into “helpless,” probably reflecting emotional turmoil from her personal life. Natavan financially supported the forum, which invited poets and musicians from all over Azerbaijan to partake in the meetings at Shusha. It is during this time that Shusha became a flourishing cultural capital with many reverberating cultural developments still expressed in modern Azerbaijani culture.

Hurshidbanu_Natavan_with_her_children

Natavan with her son, Mehdi Gulu khan, and her daugheter, Fatma Bike.

Natavan’s influence resonates beyond Azerbaijani literary circles. Scholars have argued that she influenced Uzeyir Hajibeyov, one of Azerbaijan’s most renowned composers. Since Hajibeyov’s father was employed by Natavan and his mother grew up in the same household, Hajibeyov spent part of his childhood listening to the musical and poetic meetings held by the mejlisi-uns. He no doubt heard Natavan sharing her newest poetry at the meetings she organized.

Known for a progressive outlook, many of Natavan’s literary and artistic works incorporate prominent themes found in the Age of Enlightenment. She was known for blending the Orient and West to produce a new genre in art. While she often depicted scenes from her native homeland, such as mountain landscapes, village and town scenes, sea shores, and decorative flowers, Natavan often painted these images using Western styles and techniques.

As if her cultural contributions were not enough, Natavan was also a dedicated philanthropist for residents of Shusha. After the death of her second husband, she became increasingly invested in social works. Natavan created a public park for Shushsa residents to enjoy. The princess additionally installed Shusha’s first pipe system as a way to provide water to residents. She proposed a second system to be installed from the Araz River to the Mil plain, but never saw it come to fruition during her lifetime.

A gifted and influential poetess, dedicated philanthropist, and Princess of Karabakh: Natavan Khrushid Banu.

Post Written by Athena Smith, Karabakh Foundation Cultural Affairs Coordinator

Additional Sources

Mammadova, Farida and Vasif Guliyev, editors. Old Shusha. Baku: Şərq-Qərb, 2009. pp. 240-252.

Naroditskaya, Inna. “Azerbaijan Female Musicians: Women’s Voices Defying and Defining Culture.” Ethnomusicology. Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 241-242.

Efendi, Togrul. “Natavan: The Artist Princess.” Visions of Azerbaijan. Summer 2009, Volume 4.2. pp. 72-74.

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