Folklore and legends told through song and storytelling are a centuries-old tradition in Afghanistan and continue to thrive today. Afghanistan has a rich literary tradition as well. During the medieval period literature was written in Farsi/Dari, Pashto, Turkic and Arabic. The royal courts of regional empires such as the Samanids, the Ghaznavids, the Timurids, and the Mughals, were great patrons of Persian literature supporting literary geniuses like Rumi, Rudaki, Abdullah Ansari, Ferdowsi and Jami.
From the un-manifest I came,
And pitched my tent, in the Forest of Material existence.
I passed through mineral and vegetable kingdoms,
Then my mental equipment carried me into the animal kingdom;
Having reached there I crossed beyond it;
Then in the crystal clear shell of human heart
I nursed the drop of self in a pearl,
And in association with good men
Wandered round the Prayer House,
And having experienced that, crossed beyond it;
Then I took the road that leads to Him,
And became a slave at His gate;
Then the duality disappeared
And I became absorbed in Him.
– By Abdullah Ansari
One of the most important works of this period was the Dari epic poem Shah Nameh (The Book of Kings), completed in 1010 by Firdawsi and comprising 60,000 rhyming couplets. Another famous poet, Jalalaluddin Rumi Balkhi (1207-1273, also known as Rumi) from Balkhi, is considered one of the greatest Sufi poets. Much of his writings have been translated from Farsi into English. In the 16th-18th centuries, many literary figures originated from Afghanistan but due to the partition of the region between Safavid Persia and the Mughal Empire, famous poets moved to literary centers. Khushal Khan Khattak, a 17th Century Pashtun poet and warrior, lived in the Hindu Kush foothills. He used verse to express the tribal code. By the late 19th century Pashto sung poetry had been formalized at the royal court into the classical genre known as ghazal, in recognition of the fact that music can be a powerful way to deliver great poetry.
Whenever I have said a word
To any single friend
Immediately the secret’s spread
Till all the world has known.
When the black partridge lifts its voice
From the lush meadow land
He is soon stripped of his regal plumes
By falcon or by hawk.
I’ve many quite devoted friends
The prize of passing years
But to their thousands there’s not one
To call a confident.
– by Khushal Khan Khattak
While Afghan literature can be split into Persian, Turkic, and Pashto, there is a shared tradition and heritage that unites the consciousness of all Afghans and is reflected in the literature. For example, a tradition of military prowess and invincibility presents itself in the literature, whether it is a product of Khyber Pass Pashtuns, Uzbek Central Asians, or Tajik mountain ghazis. In the 20th century, Kabul became the center of publishing. Mahmud Tarzi (1865-1933), a reformer and editor of Kabul’s first literary publication, Seraj ul-Akhbar, was instrumental in developing a modern literary community. Afghanistan has produced several literary figures including Khalillulah Khalili (1907-1987) and Sayed Buhaniddin Majruh. A neo-classicist poet, prose writer, poet laureate, and ambassador, Khalili is defined the Afghan Renaissance man.
Further Reading on Afghanistan – Master Bibliography
Angeles Gallego, Maria. Bleaney, Heather. Contributor, Vogelsang, Willem (2006). BRILL, ISBN 9004077413 Afghanistan, A Bibliography. Thematically indexed bibliography devoted to Afghanistan’s current and past, which helps readers find their way through the volumes of secondary literature available. The bibliography indexes journal articles and book publications.
- Auboyer, Jeannine (1968). The Art of Afghanistan. Feltham, Middlesex, Great Britain: Hamlyn Publishing Group
- Rowland, Benjamin, Jr. (1976). Ancient Art from Afghanistan: Treasures of the Kabul Museum. NY:Arno Press/Ayer Company Publishers
HISTORY AND CULTURE
- Ansary, Tamim (2002). West of Kabul, East of New York. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
- Ewans, Martin (2002). Afghanistan: A Short History of its People and Politics. NY: HarperCollins Gladstone, Cary (Ed.) (2001). Afghanistan: History, Issues, Bibliography. Huntington, NY: Novinka Books/Nova Science Publishers
- Hanifi, Mohammed Jamil (1982). Annotated Bibliography of Afghanistan. (4th ed., rev.). New Haven, CN: HRAF Press
- Hosseini, Khaled (2003). The Kite Runner. Riverhead Books.
- Olesen, Asta (1994). Afghan Craftsmen. Copenhagen: Rhodos
- Pedersen, Gorm (1994). Afghan Nomads in Transition. Copenhagen: Rhodos.
- Saberi, Helen (2000). Afghan Food and Cookery: Noshe Djan. NY: Hippocrene Books
- Shah, Sirdar Ikbal Ali (1982). Afghanistan of the Afghans. London: Octagon Press
- Chaffetz, David (1981). A Journey Through Afghanistan: A Memorial. Chicago: Regnery Gateway
- Cresson, Os (2002). We Felt Their Kindliness: An American Family’s Afghan Odyssey (1949-1951). Haddonfield NJ: Emerald Pademelon Press
- Klass, Rosanne (1964). Land of the High Flags: A Travel-Memoir of Afghanistan. NY: Random House
- Girardet, Edward & Jonathan Walter (1998). Afghanistan (Essential Field Guides to Humanitarian and Conflict Zones). Geneva: International Center for Humanitarian Reporting
- Newby, Eric (1958, 1998). A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Footscray, Australia: Lonely Planet
- Stark, Freya (1970). The Minaret of Djam: An Excusion in Afghanistan. London: John Murray
- Stewart, Rory (2006). The Places In Between. Harvest/Harcourt
- Toynbee, Arnold J. (1961). Between Oxus and Jumna. NY: Oxford University Press
- Doubleday, Veronica (1988). Three Women of Herat. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
- Grima, Benedicte (1992). Performance of Emotion Among Paxtun Women (Modern Middle East, No. 17) Austin: University of Texas Press
- Hosseini, Khaled (2007). A Thousand Splendid Suns. Riverhead Books.
- Latifa, with Shekeba Hachemi (2002). My Forbidden Face, Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story. NY: Talk Miramax Books/Hyperion
- Zoya, with John Follain & Rita Cristofari (2002). Zoya’s Story: An Afghan Woman’s Struggle for Freedom. NY: William Morrow
Afghan cuisine is an appetizing cross between the flavors of the Mediterranean, Middle East, Iran and India. It contains several rice dishes that are often served with a assortment of thick, curried sauces cooked with lamb, beef and chicken. Spinach and eggplants constitute two commonly eaten vegetables. Traditional Afghan fare is rich in spices like as cardamom, which lends a sweet, aromatic quality to drinks and dishes.
A quintessential Afghan dish, Qabili Palao consists of raisins, carrots, and lamb with browned rice. Variations in the dish include the addition of sliced almonds or pistachios. Another important savory dish is Aushak – a leek-stuffed dumpling that is served over a garlic yogurt sauce and layered with a thick ground-beef tomato sauce with dried mint and crushed red pepper sprinkled on top. Appealing to their meat-centric gastronomy, Afghans also enjoy kabobs, which are skewers of meat heavily marinated in a delectable concoction of herbs and spices.
Afghan desserts are robust in flavor, often drawing upon fragrant ingredients, such as rosewater and cardamom. A popular treat is a creamy, custard-like dessert similar to the Italian Pannecotta with a crushed pistachio topping. With its mélange of flavors, Afghan cuisine offers food to appease even the most demanding palate.
Afghanistan’s music tradition is expressed through three outlets: the art music specific to Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar, the modern genres of popular music on the radio, and a plethora of regional ‘folk music’ styles characteristics of various ethnic groups inhabiting different parts of the country.
The music of Afghanistan is connected to the music of India and other Central Asian countries, though Iranian influences are also evident. The diversity of peoples including Tajiks, Pashtuns, and Uzbeks has given Afghan music a very rich musical heritage. In some ways, Afghanistan is a microcosm of all the different musics of Islamic Asia, the classical pieces of Transoxiana (modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), the love and spiritual poetry of India and Pakistan, the folk music of Turkmenistan, and a host of other styles from other cultures.
Whether at a home, a teahouse, a horse race, or a wedding, the same instruments dominate Afghan music. Along with the dutar and zirbaghali, there are variations on the fiddle (ghichak), the flute (badakhshani), and cymbals. The rubab, a lute-like instrument, is sometimes considered the national instrument of Afghanistan, and is called the “lion” of instruments. The most famous player of the rubab is Mohammed Omar, while modern performers include Essa Kassemi and Mohammed Rahim Khushnawaz. Uzbeks and Tajiks share a preference for the dambura, which is a long-necked, plucked lute. At home, women often play the daireh, a drum. Of course, one of the most important instruments in Afghanistan is the human voice.
Afghan folk music is traditionally played at weddings, holidays such as the New Year celebration, and rarely for mourning. Wedding music plays a vital part in Afghan folk music. A traveling people known as Jat, related to Gypsies, sell instruments door-to-door and play their own variety of folk music. The Jats frequently play for weddings, circumcisions and other celebrations as well. Afghan songs are typically about love, and use symbols like the nightingale and rose, and refer to folklore like the Leyla and Majnoon story.
The classical musical form of Afghanistan is called klasik, which includes both instrumental (ragas, naghmehs) and vocal forms (ghazals). Many ustad, or professional musicians, are descended from Indian artists who emigrated to the royal court in Kabul in the 1860s. Radio broadcasting was introduced to Afghanistan in 1940 and fostered the growth of popular music. Modern Afghan popular music used orchestras featuring both Afghan and Indian instruments, as well as European clarinets, guitars and violins. Parwin became, in 1951, the first Afghan woman to broadcast on the air on Radio Afghanistan, while Ahmad Zahir, Mahwash, and Biltun found large audiences.
Attan is a form of dance that originated in the in the old Arian culture, in the east, west, and southern parts of Afghanistan, as parts of Iran and Baluchistan. Attan began as a folk dance conducted by Afghans in times of war or during weddings or other celebrations (engagements, new year, and informal gatherings). It is considered the national dance of Afghanistan.
Afghan Rugs and Carpets
Carpet weaving has always been an integral part of the Afghan heritage for centuries and with ethnic diversity drawn from varied other cultures as Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan, it has been possible to translate all through the hands of the Afghan weavers. Afghan rugs, like Afghanistan itself, represent a diverse range of cultures and artistic sensibilities. With some drawing heavily on Persian influences, others from more Oriental styles, and still others reflecting the unique war history of Afghanistan. An Afghan rug is both an amazing piece of art and a pinnacle of craftsmanship. Afghan rugs are solid, durable and often charming. They reflect the heritage of cottage-based craftsmanship passed through generations of families. Carpets from Afghanistan can be divided into two branches:
• Turkmen Carpets (also known as Turkoman)
• Baluchi Carpets
Most of these carpets have more in common with the tribal weavings of Central Asia in terms of colour, design, and weave than with their sophisticated Persian counterparts. Most Afghan weavers make rugs that are about the same as those they have woven for decades. Their carpets are often woven on small portable looms and are mainly produced to adorn the tents they live in. Most are made up of Persian knots and many features vegetable-dyed hand spun Afghan wool. Natural dyes are still used, but since the 1950s pre-dyed wool yarn readily found in the towns and villages are often substituted for or combined with the natural dyes. Various qualities of pile carpets are available, ranging from coarse to medium in weave, including felted wool carpets (namads), flat non-pile fabric woven carpets (kilims), and pile and knotted carpets made from wool, silk, and cotton. As a testament to the meticulous nature of the art, one large Afghan carpet typically takes six to nine months to weave.
Afghan carpets usually refer to rugs traditionally made in Afghanistan. However, many of these carpets today are also woven by Afghan refugees who reside in Pakistan and Iran. Between 1979 and 1992, at least a million Afghans, including hundreds of thousands of rug-weavers, fled Afghanistan during its war with the Soviet Union and subsequent civil war, settling especially in Pakistan and Iran.
In the early 1980’s, an Afghan rug style appeared that was unique from other Persian rug styles. This type of rug came out of the violent occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and is known as a war rug or Afghan war rug. While this type of rug's woven in a classic Persian style, it is the subject matter of the Afghan war rug that makes it so fascinating. Rather than basic geometric designs or historical patterns, the war rug contains iconic imagery of war. An Afghan rug of the war style might contain helicopters, light weaponry, heavy artillery, and tanks, all on the background of a more traditional rug style. The rugs are fascinating and vivid in their depiction of Soviet tanks and missiles, and they offer an interesting glimpse into an artistic culture besieged by war in the modern era. In the wake of the US invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government, a new wave of Afghan war rugs appeared, incorporating the military imagery of that action. Afghanistan has always been famous for rugs. The impact of several decades of political turmoil has made an impact on its national art. Artisans have been weaving what are known as "war rugs" that depict weapons, military vehicles, and even the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Notice the dove in the center of the third carpet, indicating that the rug's maker isn't celebrating the attacks.
Nowruz in Afghanistan: Everything You Need to Know
Nowruz is a traditional festival of Spring; it starts on the day of the vernal equinox, and marks the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The name ‘Nowruz’ comes from the ancient Avestan language meaning ‘new day’ and the festival symbolizes the rebirth of nature, new life and new beginnings.
When exactly is Nowruz celebrated?
The precise moment when the Earth's equator passes through the centre of the Sun's disk, making the length of the day and the night exactly equal, is calculated every year and this dictates when the festival is celebrated. Usually, the equinox happens sometime between 19th March and 21st March.
Where is Nowruz celebrated?
Although Nowruz has Persian and religious Zoroastrian origins, the festival has been celebrated by a diverse array of communities for thousands of years. Today, 300 million people celebrate the festival worldwide, including most in Afghanistan, to promote the values of peace and solidarity both within families, among friends and across communities.
Nowruz in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, celebrations usually last around two weeks, culminating on the first day of the Afghan New Year, March 20th - this year will be the year 1399! Preparations for Nowruz traditionally start after Chaharshanbe Suri (the last Wednesday before the New Year) and the following day is Farmer’s Day, which is marked across the country with ceremonies and displays of agricultural products and livestock. A large, multi-day exhibition is held in Badam Bagh, Kabul each year, at which new ideas and practices, as well as products, are traded between farmers.
People are happy during Nowruz. They buy new clothes for their children. They host parties for their friends and family and they cook a traditional food named “Samanak” on Nowruz days. The girls and women sing songs during the cooking of Samanak. It is a happy time!