Buzkashi

Afghanistan's National Sport 


By Aziz Jan

 

"bOzkashI" is one of the ancient games played in Afghanistan. The name of this game is perhaps derived from hunting mountain goats by ancient champions n horseback.

On the basis of popular beliefs and legends, one could say this game was played for the first time in the Oxus basin. Our people had earlier domisticated the horse and used to fight the enemy on horseback. Three animals predate others in Afghan history: the horse, the Bacrian camel and the bull.


Buzkashi game watched by thousands of spectators

It is said that Zoaroatoster had his law inscribed on bull's hide in gold and hung it on the gates of Bactria. According to historical evidence, Bactrian camels were used in ancient times but since our subject-matter is the horse, one should say that two types of horses are more wellknown in Afghanistan: one is the "qataghanI" type which is smaller in size but strong and sturdy, the other raised in the steppes of Faryab and Balkh is larger.Both types are used in bOzkashI. However, only special male horses stand the test.

The bOzkashI horses posses special qualities. For instance, when the rider falls off the horse, it waits there for the horseman to mount it again. Some of these horses gallop with a terrific speed as soon as the horseman snatches the careas of a calf as they have already learned the tricks. The price of such horses range between Afs. 20,000 and Afs. 100,000. (The pre-war prices) Those who train bOzkashI horses feed them special food at regular intervals.

This is meant to soften the horse-feed is comprised of oats. A few days prior to bOzkashI, a trainer keeps the horse hungry for part of the day and rides it daily a fairly long distance. This is meant to soften the horse and make it slightly lean to avoid bu{sting when under excessive strains.

The horsemen call their animals after their natural colour. For instance, a grey horse is called "tAragh", an ash blond horse is referred to as "samand", a red one as "jayran" and a white one as "qezel" or "boze".

Regarding the orgin of bOzkashI one could say horsemanship in Afghanistan was customary during the Vedic times. The people in the Oxus basin had domisticated the horse in order to defend their homeeland against the marauding hoards horses doing additioni and subtraction processes.

In short, when horsemen were practising in ancient times, their relatives watched them. At night, the horsemen were told about better techniques which they translated into action next time. Later, when fighting on horseback was discontinued, the horse come to be used as a means of transport in the first place and a vehidle to play bOzkashI in the second.

Wrestling matches always accompanied bOzkashI because usually a hand to hand fightfollowed a cavalary campaign. A horseman had to be strong and adept enough to beat his opponents on the ground as well. Now wrestling is considered as an ancient game like bOzkashI and it is done in sunny days of spring. It is very popular among the people in northern Afghan{stan where every move made by a popular wrestler causes such a great excitement among the crowds. Young men wear "chapan" cloak-like garments and wind shorter turbans around their waists when they attempt wrestling, while their heads must be bare. No foul play is allowed according to unwritten rules of the fames. For instance, one cannot hold one's opponents by the leg or bite him or such likes.

Briefly, our people are still remembering the stories about famous horses and horsemen and great battles in which the latter displayed their mettle as adept horsemen and wrestlers. So bOzkashI may be regarded as an indication of ancient batles. the inhabitants of Balkh, Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Samangan, Jozjan, and Faryab are good bOzkashIlayers and is is played on special occasions such as weddings, the Eids, the new year day and local fairs. Only champions, however participate in important matches on the basis of their horsemanship. But in fairs and so on, every horeback rider can take part. Sometimes, ordinary men in such games help their friends help their friends by whipping the latter's horses so that they may get away from the pitch but other horsemen give them such a close chase. So the horsemen should also be able to throw the calf adeptly into the pitch before he is overtaken by others.

bOzkashI horsemen wear thick hats, quilted dresses and lock long boots and wind strong scarves around their waists.

In Pamir, bOzkashI games are played only in summer to celebrate weddings but elsewhere, there is no set time. bOzkashI is played even on grounds covered with snow and 95 percent of the people turn up to watch it despite the cold or drizzle. They get so excited when the calf is brought to the pitch that sometimes spectator fight spectator like in some football stadiums. Even women shares this exulesance as the watch from roof-tops.

The carcase of the calf is soaked in cold water for 24 hours before the game so that it may be touch enough for the horsemen. Usually, a calf is beheaded, its four legs are cut off from the knee, its insides emptied before soaking. When there is no calf available, they use a goat in this manner.

Winners are awarded prizes of "chapan", turbans, cash or rifles. All horsemen may not own horses. Actually, most of the bOzkashI horses belong to rich men who can afford to buy them and hire trainers. Usually, the owner of the horseman also awards the horseman a prize, as his horse gain much fame in this manner. Mentioni must be made in this connection that famous horseman can get any horses they lay their hands upon to use in a bOzkashI match.

According to unwritten rules of the game, nobody can tie the carcase of his saddle or hit his opponent on the hand to snatch the calf. Like-wise, tripping the opponent by using the rope is forbidden. However, these rules are not stricly observed in local matches.

On the final day of bOzkashI which may take up to a week till a particular team is annonunced the winner, a horse race is arranged which is locally known as "paiga". Horses used in races are different from those meant for bOzkashI. Younger boys are not allowed to participate in such races while race horses are not saddled. They are only covered on the back by a piece of thin cloth. Some even ride on the bare backs of horses and do not control the animals during the race.

When horsemen are carried away by their excitement, they ride their horses on the hills to beat their opponents. But they are still chased by other champs. However, when they return, they are usually bruised or have a broken limb. Sometimes, they choose a site for pitch near a river and a few horsemen conspire to get their opponents drowned. The author remembers a champ named Qader Pahlawan being drawned in one of these games.

Often great horsemen get one arm or leg broken and then mount their horses as soon as the fractures are bandaged. Similarly, a skul fracture, bleeding hands, a cut in the ear, broken nose or a cut in the lips does not hinder the horsemen from continuing the game.

Therefore, bOzkashI champs are too tough to describe them. According to a popular belief, no other nation is as much enthusiastic about a national game as the Afghans are about bOzkzshI.