When Sweet­ness speaks

The din of war has given way to the sweet­ness of lan­guage that po­ets spread through mushairas held across the coun­try.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid

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.

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