The Myth of the Golden Cradle (Āltūn Bīshīk) Reconsidered

Ron Sela

The Myth of the Golden Cradle (Āltūn Bīshīk) Reconsidered

(60th Meeting of the PIAC, Székesfehérvár 2017)

One of the popular stories in the eastern lands of Central Asia in the nineteenth century – and possibly earlier – evolved in the khanate of Khoqand, centered in the Ferghana Valley (in present-day Uzbekistan). Known as the Golden Cradle (āltūn bīshīk in Turkic), the story provided an ancestral link between the ruling dynasts of Khoqand and their illustrious Inner and Central Asian predecessors, Bābur, Timur, and Chinggis Khan.

While Bābur, so the story goes, was taking flight from Central Asia to Hindustan following his defeat to the Uzbeks, one of his wives who was then in a state of advanced pregnancy was about to give birth. In their haste and fearing imminent danger, the couple was forced to leave the newborn behind, wrapped in gilded materials and precious stones. Unbeknownst to many, the infant was found by several individuals, representing – in some versions – four of the Uzbek tribes in the area, who then decided to raise and care for the child together. The boy, nicknamed Āltūn Bīshīk (“Golden Cradle”), came of age, wed four wives and became a celebrated figure in the Ferghana Valley until his death, circa. 1545. The tribal dynasty that came to rule Khoqand in the eighteenth century, led by the Uzbek tribe Ming, used the story to trace a genealogy directly to Āltūn Bīshīk and his celebrated ancestors and use it, so it has been argued, to legitimize their rule.

In this paper, I build on previous work by T. K. Beisembiev, A. Erkinov, B. Babajanov, Sh. Kh. Vohidov, and others, to offer new ideas on the reasons for the story’s effectiveness, the choice of its protagonists, and the languages in which the story was (or, was not) rendered.