Khurshidbanu Natavan was a distinguished Azerbaijani poetess, who grew popular through her relationship-themed ghazals and ruba’yat. As the only heir of Karabakh ruling family, founded by her great grandfather, she was fondly known as the ‘daughter of the khan’ by the general public. Even though she took over the Karabakh Empire at a young age of 13 after her father’s death, she successfully established her literary career apart from managing responsibilities of developing her city, Shusha, and improving its social well-being. She composed her poems in Persian and Azerbaijani, in the form of lyrical ghazals, which is common in Persian, Arabic and Urdu poetry. Her poems were characterized by love, friendship, humanity and compassion. She, however, switched to soulful themes, like grief, misery and pain, and took over the nom de plume, Natavan, after her son’s death. Besides poetry, she was exceptionally good at pencil sketching and attractive embroidery as well. Her landscape sketches were the first-of-a-kind in European style in Azerbaijani art, which perfectly combined the concepts of the Western and Oriental art forms. Some of her known poems are ‘To My Son, Abbas’, ‘Lilac’, ‘Beloved, how could you break the oath to me you swore?’, and ‘Time has plunged me into an ocean of pain and woe…’
Childhood & Early Life
Natavan was born as Khurshidbanu Natavan Mehti Quli Khan Qizi on August 6, 1832, in the fortified town of Shusha (present-day Nagorno-Karabakh), Azerbaijan, to Mehdigulu Khan Javanshir, the last ruler of the Karabakh Khanate.
Being the only child of her parents, she was referred to as the ‘daughter of the khan’ by the general public and ‘one pearl’ in the palace as she was the last successor of the Karabakh ruling family.
She completed her education in Shusha and became well-versed in various European and Oriental languages as well as in music.
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She inherited the responsibilities of social and cultural development of Karabakh at an early age, after her father’s death in 1845.
She invested highly in popularizing the horse breed, Karabakh, which eventually came to be known as the best horse in Azerbaijan, especially those from her stud.
A horse named ‘Khan’, from her stud, won a silver medal at an international show, conducted in Paris in 1867.
In 1869, a Karabakh horse named ‘Meymun’ clinched a silver medal, while another horse ‘Tokmak’ won a bronze and ‘Alyetmez’ got a certificate and was included in the Russian Imperial stud, at an All-Russian exhibition.
She established the first literary society in Shusha and went on to sponsor several more across Azerbaijan, the most popular of them being Majlis-I Uns (Society of Friends) which became a renowned poetic group in Karabakh.
She earned recognition as a great philanthropist, contributing towards the development of Shusha. She set up a water source in Shusha, in 1883, to overcome water woes in the region.
She adopted the pen name ‘Natavan’, a Persian term meaning ‘powerless’, after her son’s tragic death in 1885.
She composed poems in the form of ghazals and ruba’yat in Persian and Azerbaijani languages, with the main themes being gifts of love, grief of loss, natural beauty and misery.
Her popular poems included ‘To My Son, Abbas’, ‘Lilac’, ‘Beloved, how could you break the oath to me you swore?’, and ‘Time has plunged me into an ocean of pain and woe…’
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Apart from her love for music and poetry, she excelled in pencil sketches and decorative embroidery as well, which reflected the European cultural style.
Her focus on making a unique and distinct composition led to the creation of a needlework-embellished album cover for the Islamic calendar, in 1866.
After losing her 15-year-old son, Abbas, to tuberculosis in 1885, she authored an elegy ‘To My Son, Abbas’ as a tribute to the inseparable mother-son relationship, which became one of her most noted poems.
Awards & Achievements
The Alexandre Dumas Museum in Paris houses a hand-crafted pouch given by Natavan to French writer, Alexander Dumas, when she defeated him in a chess game upon his halt in Shusha during his trip through Caucasus, in 1858.
Her embroidery works were regarded as masterpieces and were compared with the works of renowned artists of the East – Behzada and Mani, by poet Hasan Yuzbashi.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1850, she married Khasay Khan Utsmiyev, with whom she had two children – son Mehdigulu Khan ‘Vafa’ Utsmiyev (1855) and daughter Khanbike Khanum Utsmiyev (1856).
Upon her refusal to accompany Khasay to Dagestan, she returned to Shusha and remarried Seyid Huseyn in the 1860s. The couple had five children.
Her 15-year-old son, Abbas, died due to tuberculosis in 1885.
She fell ill and died on October 2, 1897, at the age of 65, in Shusha.
She was interred in the family vault ‘Imarat’ in Agdam, after people carried her body on their shoulders from Shusha on foot, covering a distance of 30 km.
A collection of her works has been preserved in the Museum of Azerbaijan. The household articles embellished with pearls and beads, such as counterpanes, curtains, and covers, are the major attraction.
The Azerbaijani History Museum houses a wide range of her compositions, which includes a hookah-pipe cover decorated with beads and a purse adorned with bead embroidery and Azerbaijani miniature painting.
Her ghazals are compiled in a small format album, with 30 lead pencil drawings depicting the emotions of her poetry through flowers, birds, village scenes, and mountain views, at the Institute of Manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences.
A monument, dedicated to Princess Natavan, has been erected in the centre city of Baku