Did You Know These Amazing Facts About Poetry in Afghanistan?

No other nation has poetry flowing through its history and its soul quite as strongly as Afghanistan does. The rich tradition of poetry in Afghanistan dates back thousands of years, and historic and contemporary poems alike are cherished by just about every group in modern Afghan society. To learn more about the special place that this unique art form occupies in the hearts of Afghans, read on for a look at some fascinating facts about poets and poetry in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has produced countless famous and passionate poets.

Poetry has existed in the region that we now know as Afghanistan for more than 3,000 years. It’s therefore hardly surprising that, over the centuries, the region has produced some of the world’s most famous and passionate poets, many of whom are enjoying a newfound popularity with contemporary audiences. These poets include:

Rumi—The 13thcentury Sufi poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, is the most widely celebrated Persian language poet in the world. Born in Balkh in 1207, Rumi lived for much of his life in present-day Turkey, but is still claimed by Afghans as their own beloved poet. His thousands of poems, many of which were inspired by his friendship with the mystic and religious seeker Shams of Tabriz, are known for combining religious themes and imagery, and for exploring spiritual love and transcendence. Rumi’s most important work is the Mathnawi or Masnavi, a six-book spiritual epic that attempts to teach followers of the religious tradition of Sufism to become one with God.

Jami—Two centuries after Rumi, the Persian-language scholar, mystic, and poet Jami was born and spent his life in Herat, which was a noted literary and scholarly center for many centuries. His work explores complex questions of ethics and philosophy using what has been described as a fresh, graceful, and simple style. Many Islamic rulers of the time offered patronage to Jami, but he refused most of these proposals, preferring to live simply as a mystic and scholar rather than as a court poet.

Khushal Khan Khattak—Often referred to as the national poet of Afghanistan, as well as the father of Pashto literature, the 17th century Pashto poet Khushal Khan Khattak was both a poet and a warrior. A renowned military fighter who first served the Mughal empire and later turned against it, Khushal Khan Khattak spent the last years of his life promoting the cause of Pashtun nationalism through his poetry. It is estimated that he wrote some 45,000 poems in total, primarily on subjects such as honor, war, unity, and love.

Poetry readings are a common pastime.

In present-day Afghanistan, poetry is considered one of the highest forms of self-expression, so it’s not surprising that gathering to read and share poems, both old and new, is a popular pastime among Afghans.

In Herat, for example, members of the Herat Literary Association meet weekly to share and discuss their latest works. While these poets come from all walks of life, many are young people looking for an outlet to express their views on life in contemporary Afghanistan. Poems shared at the Herat Literary Association deal not only with weighty subjects such as war and peace, but also with love, friendship, and the realities, both positive and negative, of daily life.

In Afghanistan, poetry can be competitive.

Have you ever thought of poetry as a competitive sport? One of Afghanistan’s most intriguing poetic traditions is “sher jangi,” which translates as “poetry fighting” or “poem battle.” In this game, which is a common form of entertainment in Afghanistan, one person kicks off the contest by composing a verse. The challenger must then reply with a new verse or line which not only responds thematically to the previous verse, but also begins with the same letter as the last word of the previous verse.

The contest continues back and forth until one poet fails to come up with a coherent response. The tradition of sher jangi is at least a thousand years old: once performed by master poets at court, poetry fighting is now popular among adults at parties and gatherings, and as a game for younger boys and girls.

The Kabul Public Library was established by poets.

Of the handful of public libraries that exist in Afghanistan, the Kabul Public Library is the country’s only state-owned public library. It therefore seems entirely fitting that this library was established in 1966 by members of the Association of Poets. An organization that brought scholars, playwrights, teachers, and poets together from all across Afghanistan, the Association of Poets gave Afghan literary artists a sense of support and camaraderie that few had experienced before. The four founding members of the library transformed this wonderful poetic energy into a small but important literary hub that, today, is home to thousands of poetry books, among other resources.

7 Amazing Things You Can Find in Kabul

If there’s one thing you should know about Kabul, it’s that this incredible city is full of surprises. Current news stories usually reveal little about the Afghan capital. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see a place that is home to some truly special and unexpected features.

Some of the most unique things you can find in Kabul include:

Evidence of a long, rich history

Did you know that humans have been living on or near the site of Kabul for over 3,500 years? The first mention of a settlement here appears in the Rigveda, an ancient Hindu scripture which dates back to the year 1500 BCE. The city then makes a further appearance in the writings of the Alexandrian scholar Ptolemy, who lived in the second century CE. This long history makes Kabul one of the oldest settlements in the world, and evidence of its amazing past can still be found in the centuries-old monuments and buildings that survive to this day.

High altitude

Tucked into a narrow valley between the soaring peaks of the Hindu Kush mountain range, Kabul is one of the world’s highest capital cities (only 10 other capitals are located at higher altitudes). Kabul’s elevation is an impressive 5,873 feet above sea level; this is about the same elevation as the city of Denver, Colorado, which is popularly known as the “Mile-High City.”

A century-old bird market

In the heart of Kabul’s old city lies the Ka Faroshi Bird Market. Tucked away behind a mosque, the market occupies a narrow alley that is lined with stalls selling all types of birds. For many Afghans, keeping birds is a passion and a much-needed source of solace and comfort in challenging times. Birds that can be found at the market include canaries, finches, fighting cocks, roosters, and doves, but a particular favorite is the elegant chukar partridge, a reddish-gray bird with a red beak, black stripes on its side, and a distinctive black band across its eyes and throat.

Lush gardens

Among outsiders, Kabul may have a reputation as an arid desert city, but in fact, the capital is home to many beautiful green spaces. The largest and best known of these is Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, an 11-hectare oasis of peace and tranquility in the heart of Kabul. The gardens were founded in the early 16th century by Babur, the first Mughal emperor who used Kabul as his capital city for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast, Babur designed his gardens according to the traditional principles of Islamic gardens, which include key features such as a quadrant layout, flowing water, shade, abundant foliage, and perimeter walls. Although they fell into disrepair, Babur’s Gardens have been spectacularly restored with the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Open to visitors since 2008, the gardens stand today as one of Kabul’s most beloved public spaces, and a home for cultural performances and other special events.

A museum dedicated to land mines

Many of Kabul’s museums, such as the National Museum of Afghanistan, highlight and celebrate the country’s rich cultural history, but some also commemorate the more sobering aspects of Afghanistan’s recent past. Among these is the OMAR Mine Museum, which teaches visitors about the history of landmines in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. This museum, operated by the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, features displays about the different types of mines and military hardware that have been used in Afghanistan, and the ongoing work being done to remove mines and make the land safe for use again.

An unusual mosque

In the center of the city, just off the Kabul River, sits one of the most surprising examples of Islamic religious architecture to be found anywhere in the world. Built in the 1920s, the Shah-e Doh Shamshira Mosque boasts two stories, a lemon-yellow façade, and Italianate stucco detailing: all very unusual features for an Islamic place of worship. The design for the mosque was modeled after Istanbul’s Ortakoy Mosque, and some describe the overall effect as “Afghan Baroque.”

A skate park

When Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan first came to Kabul in 2007, they couldn’t have foreseen that over a decade later, they would be running a hugely popular skateboarding school and international charity. Today, Skateistan continues to pursue its mission of using skateboarding to engage Afghan children, and to help increase their access to education, health care, and cultural opportunities. The school and skate park, which serves around 300 students, is built on land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Featured Image courtesy Teseum | Flickr

A Delicious Look at 3 Famous Afghan Fruits

Did you know that Afghanistan has long been famous for its many delicious types of fresh fruit? Despite the popular image of Afghanistan as an arid, rugged desert, the country in fact possesses fertile soil and a warm and dry climate that provide the perfect growing conditions for a rich variety of fruit.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, at least 1.5 million tons of fruit are produced every year, two-thirds of which are consumed within the country. Read on to learn more about some of Afghanistan’s most popular and delicious fruits: grapes, melons, and pomegranates.

Grapes

Given their high productivity and significant commercial value, it’s not surprising that grapes are one of the most attractive horticultural crops in Afghanistan. Grape production tends to be concentrated in a handful of central Afghan provinces, where lush green vineyards are a common sight. Hussaini, taifi, kata, and kasendra are among the more popular varietals for fresh grapes; varieties for raisin production include the keshmeshi and shondakhanai.

A unique way to keep grapes fresh

In order to keep grapes fresh for months after they are harvested, some Afghan farmers rely on a preservation technique developed centuries ago in Afghanistan’s rural north. Known as kangina, this method involves packing fresh grapes into homemade mud containers, which are then sealed with more mud and stored in a dry, cool place. The clay-rich mud keeps air and moisture away from the grapes and insulates them from the cold, thus allowing them to stay perfectly fresh for around six months. Typically, grapes are preserved using kangina in the autumn so that they can then be eaten fresh at Nowruz, or new year, which falls on the spring equinox.

Transforming grapes into raisins

Grapes that are not eaten right away or preserved using the kangina method are dried and made into raisins. This drying process can take place naturally in the sun, but it’s also common for grape growers to dry their fruit in traditional “raisin rooms” known as keshmesh khanas. While fresh grapes are certainly delicious, raisins are usually easier to store and preserve, and often fetch a higher price than their fresh counterparts.

Melons

Along with grapes, melons are one of Afghanistan’s most prized fresh fruit exports, as well as a popular crop for domestic consumption. Kabul in particular is renowned for its bountiful melon market. While melons are grown all over the country, the best melons are generally agreed to come from Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

Dozens of different varieties

Melons of all shapes, sizes, and colors are grown in Afghanistan; in fact, the country produces an estimated 38 varieties of melon. Some of the most famous types include the sawzmaghz, a green, not-too-sweet melon that is prized for its thirst-quenching properties; the zormati, a round, medium-sized bright yellow melon that smells strongly of flowers; the qashoqi, a large, pale yellow melon with pulp so soft that it must be eaten with a spoon; and the arkani (or qoter), which has a very thick and resistant skin that allows the melon to be easily transported or stored through the winter. Watermelons are also widely grown.

The preferred fruit of royalty

Afghan melons were a particular favorite of Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal dynasty who made Kabul his capital for two decades in the early 16th century. When the Mughals shifted their capital to the Indian city of Agra, Babur, who was also an avid gardener, had melon seeds and an expert agronomist brought with him so that Afghan melons could be grown in the royal gardens there.

Pomegranates

Embedded in myths and stories over thousands of years of human history, few fruits are more famous than the pomegranate, and Afghanistan’s pomegranates are particularly renowned. Pomegranates are grown all over the country—the season lasts from October to January—but an especially prized variety is the Kandahar pomegranate, which boasts an exceptional sweetness and hefty size. This pomegranate can weigh up to one kilogram!

A medicinal fruit

The pomegranate has long been valued for its many health benefits, and it is still an important medicinal ingredient in many Afghan households today. Just about every part of the pomegranate, including the leaves, flowers, and bark of the tree, can be used for a medicinal purpose. For example, dried pomegranate skin can be ground into a powder to treat anemia, while the juicy pomegranate seeds, known as arils, can help prevent a great variety of conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

A fruit worth celebrating

A special festival celebrating the red pomegranate blossom is held in mid-February in the Kandahar region. During the festival, which is known as the Anar Gul, poets gather together to honor the pomegranate, often by reciting verses featuring the fruit that are drawn from Afghanistan’s rich poetic heritage.