Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Performer of Tajik epic stories (dostons) about Chambuli Maston © National Museum of Tajikistan, 1950

Epic Stories that Bridge Ancient and Present Worlds in Tajikistan

The national variety includes epics that have been formed to admire ancient heroes. These epics goes back to the formation of the Eastern-Iranian group of nations, who were ethnic ancestors of the Tajiks.

Epos forms a considerable part of Tajik cultural heritage. The process of developing oral epic traditions in Tajik culture originates in antiquity, going back to the mythology of ancient Iranian nations.

“Avesta,” a well-known written source, includes mythological notions of the universe and ancient Iranian nations, particularly the Tajiks. The fragments of the memorial contain the earliest epic elements about battles1Авеста (Аvestа) (in Tajik language). Book 1. – Dushanbe: 2014, 839 pp. 60-63. and that afterward form the plots of the most ancient oral and written stories. For example, an Avesta type of the first man (Gaya Maretan / Gev Mart / Gev Mars)2Бундахиш (Bundahish) (in Tajik language). – Dushanbe: Ejod, 2006, pp. 42-43., created by Ahura Mazda, is presented as a figure of the first king—Kayumars—with some changes in the oral epic stories (doston) and later in “Shahname” by Firdawsi. The first king ruled a society where people, animals, and birds were in a primordial harmony and brotherhood.

The further development of the earliest epos is traced in mythological plots as poems about Tahmuras (Avesta: Tahma Orupa), Jamshed (Avesta: Yima), and Zahhok (Avesta: Aji Dahaka), and further still in character plots passing into an athletic period (the story about Faridun and his sons, for example). At this point, the initial stage of the epic elements’ origins are complete, and a new stage begins serving as a period of developing the genre.

Epic stories (hamosa) come from oral traditions, and they are now generally accepted in literature today as described by Z. Safo in his fundamental investigation Hamosasaroi dar Iron, the following varieties take place in Tajik-Persian literature:

  1. National—hamosai milli
  2. Historical—hamosai ta’rikhi
  3. Religious—hamosai dini.3Safo, Zabiholla. “Epos in Iran”, Tehran: Firdaws, 2011, pp. 6-7.

The national variety includes epics that, in an artistic mind of nation, have been formed to admire and glorify ancient heroes. The core of these epics goes back to the formation of the Eastern-Iranian group of nations, who were ethnic ancestors of the Tajiks. The epics are generally devoted to athletes and knights who defend kindness. The songs, stories, legends, and later poems were composed in their honor. In these works, a key aim, defending the fatherland and native fireplace, was expressed and propagated by glorifying courage, heroism, and athletic deeds. A considerable part of Tajik epic heritage is of this type. Traditions of the pre-Islamic period continued from the early to middle Islamic period of Tajik culture (ninth to fourteenth centuries).

Today in Tajik culture, national epic stories are forms of declaiming. They are performed as song with elements of drama. The following epics are popular:

  • The cycle of stories (dostons) about Rustam is the most popular epic memorial that has survived in oral cultural traditions, most notably in naqqoli, shohnomakhoni, and others.
  • The story about Suhrob is a well-known Tajik epic in the tragedy genre.
  • The story about Barzu is a cycle of epics about the Som Narimon family. Barzu, who is the son of Suhrob and the grandson of Rustam, is glorified a main hero. The oral versions that have survived have are in prose but decorated with poetical fragments4Рустам ва Барзу (Rustam and Barzu) (in Tajik language). // “Mardumgiyoh” (Scientific Journal of Folk culture). – Dushanbe: 1993, №2, pp. 91-95..
  • The story about Bonugushasp includes the texts of epic character, where the feats and athletic deeds of Bonugushasp, the daughter of Rustam, are eulogized and glorified.
  • Amir Hamza is a folk epos. It is also known as other names, including Dostoni Amir Hamza (Story about Amir Hamza), Rumuzi Hamza (Hamza’s Symbols), Qissai Amir Hamza (Legend of Amir Hamza), and Hamzanoma (About Hamza).

The second variety, which includes stories of historical character, is observed from the twelfth century. It rose to prominence in the early Middle Ages and it gave place to the themes glorifying historical personalities and figures.

The third variety includes the epic stories of religious character, which arose during the Islamic period. Khovarnoma (also Khovaronnoma), Sohibqironnoma, and others epics are in this category. Today, these are in the genre na’t / maddoh in Tajik literature and culture. Na’t represents a cyclic form of pieces. In the Tajik musical culture, this vocal tradition of epos is under the name na’tkhoni / maddohkhoni.

Unfortunately, there are many unsolved questions regarding epic stories, and there is relatively little research on them. Overall, the subject has been largely ignored.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Авеста (Аvestа) (in Tajik language). Book 1. – Dushanbe: 2014, 839 pp. 60-63.
2. Бундахиш (Bundahish) (in Tajik language). – Dushanbe: Ejod, 2006, pp. 42-43.
3. Safo, Zabiholla. “Epos in Iran”, Tehran: Firdaws, 2011, pp. 6-7.
4. Рустам ва Барзу (Rustam and Barzu) (in Tajik language). // “Mardumgiyoh” (Scientific Journal of Folk culture). – Dushanbe: 1993, №2, pp. 91-95.