On one side of the Lyabi Hauz in Bukhara is the bronze statue of a laughing man astride his donkey (around min 1:30 of the video clip below.)
Nasruddin, or Nasreddin, claimed by many nations and variously called Hodja, Goha, Mollah, J'ha, or Effendi, is the inspired simpleton of Sufi teachings. He lived in the 13th-14th centuries in some Turkic principality of Central Asia. From around the 17th century, many of his stories start to figure the despotic Timur. (It is not clear why.) Timur typically represents arbitrary authority and oppressive power in the Hodja corpus.
Central Asia lay smoldering at the feet of Timur's armies. One day there were rumors that Timur was heading for Mullah's village. Hearing this, Nasruddin in his Friday sermon called for a collective prayer "Let us all pray Timur the Lame dies before before he reaches us," All the villagers said amin loudly.
A man stood up from among the worshipers and asked, "Have you ever seen Timur?".
Mullah replied, "No, and I have not seen you before either".
The man said, "You are right, because I am Timur".
The Mullah was stunned by the news, and his congregation started shaking like leaves. He tried to say as calmly as he could "Let us pray once more collectively, this time our Janaza (funeral prayer)".
"How can you say your own Janaza, you fool", asked Timur, "Janaza is prayed by the living for the dead".
"Yes, my lord but you see" replied Mullah "We are all about to be dead with no one to say the Janaza for us. So we have to take care of our Janaza ourselves".
Timur laughed, pardoned the Mullah and gave a war elephant as his gift to the village.
The villagers soon discovered that the elephant ate their crops and trampled what he could not eat. The beast was of no use in their lives. However, they could not kill or sell the gift of Timur out of fear of his wrath. Naturally, they blamed the Mullah and demanded he find a solution. The Mullah was scared but reulctantly agreed on condition that all villagers should accompany him to petition Timur, so he would not be the only one to stick his neck out. His congregation faithfully promised to support him.
Timur was in a bad mood and shouted at the Mullah as he saw him. "What do you want?"
"Sire, it is about the elephant you gave us ..." the Mullah quavered.
"What about the elephant? Is my gift no good to you?" Timur's face darkened ominously. The villagers immediately took to their heels and disappeared over the horizon.
The Mullah turned and found no one behind him. Feeling cheated, he decided to take revenge.
"Oh, he is good alright, my lord!" the Mullah said, "It's just that he is all alone and feels sad. I was wondering if you can provide him with the company of a few female elephants".
Timur was in an inquisitive mood. "Hodja," he asked, "can you teach your donkey how to read?"
"Yes I can Great Timur."
"Come on now Hodja! How can you teach a donkey to read?"
The Hodja was adamant. "If you give me five years' time and 5000 gold coins, then I can also teach my donkey how to read."
"But if in five years' time, your donkey cannot read, then I will punish you most severely for trying to make a monkey out of Great Timur."
Nasruddin Hodja and Timur agreed on the terms, the Hodja took the 5000 gold coins and left Timur's luxurious palace. Hodja's friends who witnessed the deal were horrified.
"Hodja Effendi, what have you done! You know all a donkey can do is bray! Five years from now Timur will have your head chopped off!"
Nasruddin Hodja was very serene. "My dear fellows," he said calmly, "before five years are up, either I will die or Timur will die. Even if neither, the donkey will surely die!"
One day Nasruddin Hodja was called before Timur. Since Timur was famous for his barbarity, the Hodja, even though he was called to the Amir's presence often, feared him as much as the rest of men. This time, he decided to take some beets to Timur to put him in good humor. As he was on his way with his basket full of beets under his arm, he ran into a friend.
"Where to, Hodja Effendi?"
"Timur called for me. I am taking him beets."
The friend was horrified.
"Hodja Effendi, beets don't make a good gift! You'd be better off if you took him figs." Nasruddin took the counsel, went home and re-filled his basket with figs. Sadly, the Hodja had no idea that the dreaded ruler loathed figs. When he offered his basket of figs to him, Timur ordered his men to throw the figs one by one at Hodja's head. As the men showered the Hodja with one fig after another, the Hodja didn't seem to be distressed at all. He was laughing and praising Allah.
"What are you laughing at?", Timur roared, "Are you making fun of me? What are you being so thankful for?"
"Great Timur,' answered the Hodja, "I am grateful to my good friend and am thanking him. What would have been happening to me now, had I brought you beets instead of figs?"
If you want special illumination, look upon a human face:
See deeply, within laughter, the essence of ultimate truth.
- Jallaludin Rumi.