4 immortal love stories from Turkish literature

In Turkish folk literature, anonymous stories told by storytellers known as aşık (bards) in public spaces are called folk stories. Revolving around real or similar events, these stories were very popular among the Anatolian people in the 16th century. They filled long nights by deeply touching listeners and have become a tradition.

The folk stories are separated into two groups according to their themes. While the first group of stories tells about heroic events like in “the epic of Köroğlu”, the second group of stories is about love. Let’s take a look at the most famous couples and their heartbreaking dramas.

Layla and Majnun (Leyla and Mecnun)

A miniature of the narrative poem by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi on Layla and Majnun.

Layla and Qays (Kays) fall in love with each other at first sight in their childhood. Qays is so sure of this love and begins to write love poems for his lover. His fondness for Layla leads people who hear of their love to call him “Majnun”, which means “crazy” in Arabic. As the knowledge of their love spreads throughout the community, it becomes impossible to hide it from their parents. With that, Qays finds the courage to ask Layla’s father for his hand. However, the father refuses by informing the young man that his daughter cannot marry a guy named “crazy”.

With unfathomable grief, Majnun disappears into the deserts living a secluded life among wild animals. While in the desert, Majnun replaces his material love for Leyla with divine love and becomes a hermit. Layla is also unhappy and is forced to marry another guy. After the death of her husband a few years later, Layla hopes to be with her one love again and goes in search of Majnun. When she finds him, Majnun does not recognize his material being. It is then that Layla realizes that they will never see each other again in this world. Eventually, she died heartbroken. Hearing his death knell, Majnun comes to his grave and cries over it. Crying to God to take him too, Majnun also died soon after.

One of Majnun’s loyal friends sees the couple in his dream later. In the dream, they are together in the garden of paradise, symbolizing that the duo have reunited outside the limits of time and the material world.

Asli and Kerem

The tragedy of this story mirrors Layla and Majnun. A shah living in Iran has no heirs for his wealth. Seeing his deep sadness, an old dervish offers him an apple for his wife. The next day, when she eats it, a priest’s wife begs the shah’s wife to eat it because she cannot have children either. Sharing the apple, the two women make a deal that their children will marry in the future. The shah’s wife gives birth to a son; the priest’s wife has a daughter. However, when the children grow up, the priest’s family does not want their daughter to marry a Muslim. So the family runs away to other towns but is followed by Kerem because he has already fallen in love with Aslı at first sight. The priest tries to marry his daughter to another man, which leads to the immediate marriage of Kerem and Aslı. With that, the priest gives Kerem a cursed shirt saying it is a wedding present. At night, Kerem tries to take off the shirt, but his buttons snap shut. Eventually, the shirt ignites, burning him alive. When Aslı cries over Kerem’s ashes, her hair also catches fire and she joins her lover in death.

Shirin and Farhad (Şirin and Ferhat)

A work illustrating the story of Farhad and Shirin at the National Museum of Iran.

A work illustrating the story of Farhad and Shirin at the National Museum of Iran.

Another heartbreaking romance, the story of Shirin and Farhad has superhuman elements in it. Living in the Turkish province of Amasya, Farhad falls in love with Shirin, the sultan’s daughter. When he asks the sultan for his daughter’s hand, the sultan demands the accomplishment of a difficult task before giving his consent to the marriage. He says they can only get married if Farhad brings water from behind the mountains to the city, which is impossible. However, Farhad, who is a handsome and strong man, makes a hole in the mountains and manages to build a channel to carry water. Meanwhile, Shirin learns that Farhad is dead. The girl, who cannot stand the grief, commits suicide. On the way back to the palace to meet his lover, Farhad also learns of Shirin’s fate and commits suicide. The lovers are buried side by side.

Zühre and Tahir

The story of Zühre and Tahir is similar to the adventure of Aslı and Kerem. A sultan and a vizier without children disguise themselves and go to the bazaar. In the bazaar, a dervish sees the duo continuing on their way. When the sultan asks the dervish what his wishes and those of the vizier are, the dervish knows that the wish in their heart is the desire to have a child. With that, the sultan asks him for help. The dervish takes an apple from his pocket and divides it in half, presenting one part to the sultan and the other to the vizier. The dervish tells them to eat the apples at night. He also says that the Sultan will have a daughter and the Vizier will have a son. They should name the daughter Zühre while naming the son Tahir and then marry them. He declares that if they do not marry their love will be a saga until the apocalypse. When Tahir and Zühre, who were born and raised around the same time, reach the age of marriage, the dervish’s words are not followed when the sultan’s wife objects. The Sultan’s wife turns the Sultan against Tahir with special magic, and Tahir is sent to the dungeon. Since Tahir refuses to abandon Zühre, it is decided that he will be executed. Tahir wants to pray before the execution and begs God to kill himself there. Tahir dies and Zühre cannot bear the pain of losing Tahir and loses his sanity. When she visits Tahir’s tomb, she also dies.

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