When Sweetness speaks
The din of war has given way to the sweetness of language that poets spread through mushairas held across the country.
Has the thunder of guns been replaced by the softness of
Poetry is a deep-rooted tradition in Afghanistan and one that remains the most accepted despite the war that has ravaged the country senseless. It is one of the most loved forms of art in Afghanistan. Now restive provinces are bringing back the tradition of poetry evenings – popularly known as mushairas – to the country. This year, these mushairas are all about welcoming spring to the region. The first one kicked off in Kandahar, once the Taliban government’s capital, in face of threats and stereotypes of conservatism associated with this southern province.
The history of poetry in Afghanistan is long. It flourished during the reign of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, who ruled from 998 to 1030, and was a man of literature and poetry, with more than 700 poets living in his palace. But 100 years before the Sultan of Ghazni, Persian literature was born
in the court of the first Persian king, Yaqub, in Nimruz, a western province of Afghanistan. It is said that one day a poem was recited in Arabic to praise him, but as Yaqub didn't understand Arabic he ordered that no poem should be recited in a language he did not know. So the literary men of the court were forced to compose poems in Farsi, the language of the king. And the rest is history.
While the tradition is longstanding across Afghanistan, poetry evenings have their own character in every region – usually they are named after the iconic features specific to the region; for example, a flower, fruit or geographical feature that is unique to the area. Kandahar’s poetry evening, for instance, is named after the flower of the pomegranate fruit for which the province is famous. Known as the ‘Anargul’ mushaira, it saw the participation of more than 500 poets, writers and other artists as well as countless spectators this year.
The country's new Information and Culture Minister Abdul Bari Jahani, himself a well-known poet from Kandahar who wrote the national anthem, had his own message read to the audience in the mushaira this year. “Such evenings play a pivotal role in enriching our culture and promoting the tradition of unity, it is the duty of every of poet and other artists to play their role in this regard,” said Jahani's message. Much like the spring mushairas held before, this year’s poetry evening in Kandahar also focused on the desire for peace, love for the homeland and romantic emotions.
Similarly, the mushaira held in Maidan Wardak, situated just a hundred miles from Kabul, was named after the delicious apples in this central Afghan province, given that locals take great pride in their various juicy varieties of apples. Hence their festival is named after the annual apple flower.
Elsewhere in the country, the eastern Nangarhar province has given this honour to the orange flower for which the province is known. “De Narang Gul (orange flower) Mushaira” has been celebrated quite frequently thanks to the relative peace in this part of the country of late. Afghans in the northern Kunduz province enjoy the annual event named after the red tulip flowers that turn the countryside of this province like a red carpet in spring. Similarly, in the south-eastern Paktia province, locals embrace spring by organizing the annual festival named after the pinetree flowers while in eastern Kunar province it is named after the all-year flowing Kunar River that provides water for life to most parts of this lush green province.
The fact is poetry is everything to the Afghans. Regardless of their ethnicity, whether they are Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani, Baluch, or any other of the hundreds of sub-ethnic groups, Afghans are threaded together by poetry. Mothers lull their kids into sleep with spontaneous poetry who learnt to be poets from their own mothers. In fact, when these children start going to school, the first Persian text they are introduced to is that of Hafiz. Known as Diwan-e-Hafiz, the tome is by the 14th century poet from Shiraz (modern-day Iran) that details everything from poetry to philosophy. Once the children get older, they are introduced to some of the other poets including Saadi (from Shiraz) and Bedil (from Delhi). Evening and long nights of winter are dedicated to Shahname (Book of the Kings) by Firdausi. Shahname is the greatest Persian work of poetry and is compared to Homer's Odyssey. It is an epic poem written a throusand years ago with an antiArabic ideology, aimed to preserve the Persian language and culture.
Poetry permeates all levels of Afghan society to the extent that when the mullahs want to make a statement but are sometimes unable to back it up by reason, they quote a verse and end the discussion there. Despite the civil war that wreaked havoc in the country for years, it is heartening to note that the much-loved tradition of mushairas is finally making a comeback in Afghanistan – here’s to hoping the tradition continues.