HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN TAJIKISTAN

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajiks observe Muslim holidays: namely Ramadan (the month-long period of fasting), Eid al Fitr (the feast after the end of Ramadan) and Feast of Sacrifice (the Islamic feast marking the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca). Weddings, funeral and circumcision parties can be major events. Parties are also held to mark births, name-giving and first haircuts. These celebrations are called tos. They have traditionally featured music.

Navrus, the traditional Iranian new year celebrated at the vernal equinox, is the biggest holiday of the year. Celebrated at the spring equinox, it marks new life and new hopes for all who love and celebrate this holiday. Entire villages prepare for this festival, cooking dishes exclusive to this season – the tables full to bursting! The same goes for Qurban Eid when an average family might have seventy to eighty people visiting them a day, not including the children who come around in the early morning for sweets! [Source: centralasiacultures.com]

Some Tajik festivals are in line with Muslim celebrations; others go back further to their Persian, Zoroastrian roots. The beginning of the Fasting Month marks the end of a year. On this day, every family will make torches coated with butter. At dusk, the family members get together, have a roll call and each will light a torch. The whole family will sit around the torches and enjoy their festive dinner after saying their prayers. At night, every household will light a big torch tied to a long pole and planted on the roof. Men and women, young and old, will dance and sing through the night under the bright light of the torches. The Islamic Corban festival is another important occasion for the Tajik people. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

In 2013 and 2014, police reportedly broke up Halloween parties although there is no law against celebrating the holiday. More acceptable is Sayri Guli Lola, the holiday of tulips, which includes accompanied choral and dance music. Poppies and tulips are native flowers in Tajikistan and were the source for the original Dutch tulips.

Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1), International Women’s Day (March 8), Navruz (Persian New Year, March 20, 21, or 22), International Labor Day (May 1), Victory Day (May 9), Independence Day (September 9), Constitution Day (November 6), and National Reconciliation Day (November 9). [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

See Holidays

See Muslim Holidays

Navruz

See Uzbekistan, Holidays

Navruz in Tajikistan

Tajiks prepare for Navruz in advance. They settle their debts and forgive old insults. On the pay of Navruz, people put on clean clothing, symbolizing purity and renewal. Rituals with fire dating back to Zoroastrian times are held. Households gather around bonfires or light torches as a sign of hope and prosperity. [Source: advantour.com]

A large feast is held at lunch time that features traditional Navruz dishes such as sumanak (a porridge-like concoction made from wheat sprouts), sambusa (sausage roll or pastry with greens), and sabzi (vegetables). All in all, there should be seven ritual dishes beginning with “S”.

Navruz is widely celebrated both in cities and villages. Everybody goes to the main square to watch festive shows with singers, dancers and musicians. It is impossible to imagine the celebration of Navruz in villages without horse races, national sports contests, cockfighting, kite flying, pigeon racing and traditional goat snatching (buzkhkasi).

In the Pamirs and China, every family cleans up their home and paints beautiful patterns on the walls as a symbol of good luck for people and livestock. Early on the morning of the festival, members of the family lead a yak or cow into the main room of the house, make it walk in a circle, spray some flour on it, give it some pancakes and then lead it out. After that, the head of the village goes around to bring greetings to each household and wish them a bumper harvest. Then families exchange visits and festival greetings. Women dressed in their holiday best, standing at the door, spray flour on the left shoulder of guests to wish them happiness. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

Lamp Festival

"Pilik" is a Tajik summer festival. "Pilik" means "lamp" or "wick", and thus the event is called the "lamp festival". Pilak lasts for two days and is usually held in mid August or the middle of the eight month of the Muslim lunar calendar. The form and contents of the Pilik Festival are actually closely related with fire. Many believe the festival dates back to pre-Islamic times when Tajiks practiced Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism), which has special rituals involving sacred fire. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

On the eve the Pilik festival, each family makes many small lamps and candles and a very big light by themselves. They make homemade “candles by wrapping cotton around a wick made from special "kawuri" grass, binding the whole thing together with butter or sheep's oil. On The first evening of the festival is "home Pilik". After it becomes dark, family members sit on the kang in a circle, insert their lamps and candles into a sand table placed in the middle of the kang. The head of the family chairs a ceremony which begins with everyone praying. The family head then calls every family member's name according to the order of their ages and seniority in the family. When family member’s name is called, he or she answers and places a lighted candle before himself or herself to pray for luck. After the lamps and candles of all the family members are lit, all of them extend out both hands to warm them for while over their own lamps. They then read and recite some Muslim scripture and pray to the Allah to bring happiness and make sure everyone is safe. When the ceremony ends, all the family members feast on sumptuous delicacies under the glimmering candlelight. ~

On the second day of Pilak, people visit relatives and friends and congratulate each other. In the evening, the "grave Pilik" ceremony is held. All families will bring rich foods to the graveyard of their clan, and pray for the souls of their ancestors before lit lamps and candles placed in the graveyard. All family members sit down in a circle a share food together. After the grave Pilik ceremony ends, all the families prepare their biggest lamp, hang it on the roof of house and lit it. This is called the "heaven lamp". All family members solemnly stand before the house, and look up at the "heaven lamp" and pray for happiness again. Then, the children light bonfires outside the house one after another, and surround them, happily singing, dancing and playing games.

Snowdrop and Tulip Festivals

Tajikistan is a mountainous country. Covered with a thick snow layer during the winter time, the foothills and mountains keep their snow-white cover for a long time. A cherished moment is when the first rays of spring sun melt the snow, exposing tiny lilac heads of snowdrops on thin stemlets. This proof of the coming of a long-awaited spring was a cause for celebration among the Tajiks. [Source: advantour.com]

The first children to find snowdrops (“boychechak in Tajik) germinated from the snow are considered lucky. Male children scamper across the mountains to pick up snowdrops and give them to their mothers, sisters, neighbors, and teachers – all the village women as a symbol of a resurgent life, youth and beauty. The women put the flowers to the eyes and give thanks to God that they lived to see the spring and treat the children with sweets, baked goods and fruits. This tradition is called “guldardoni” by Tajiks. Then every family cooks traditional pilau which is also called as “Oshi Boychechak”. Relatives and friends gather for the treat. This festivity is a preparation for the main spring holiday – Navruz.

The spring snowdrops are followed by the flowering of tulips. This occurs well into summer when the mountains are covered with a carpet of emerald greens on which red, yellow and pink tulip flower-buds are embroidered. This beautiful, impressive is marked with Sayri lola (The Tulip Festival), which has traditionally coincided with the first harvest and was celebrated with a big feast. By tradition the centre of the table is graced with a dish of pilau, women also bake brown griddle-cakes and spiced samsa, the table is served with ripe vegetables and fruits. The Tajiks also enjoy the traditional sports known as “gushtingiri”.

Shamanism and Fire Veneration in Uzbekistan

Some Tajiks consult fortunetellers, seek non-medical cures and believe in the power of evil spirits called jinn. Most are Muslims. In 1990, there were 20,000 Zoroastrians living in Tajikistan. David Stern wrote in National Geographic: “Most shamans in Central Asian countries... where Islam predominates, regard themselves as devout Muslims, and their rites are infused with the mystic traditions of Sufism. Swathed in virginal white smocks, they conduct their rituals at Muslim holy sites, and every ceremony includes extensive prayers from the Koran.[Source: David Stern, National Geographic, December 2012]

On the veneration of fire and water in Boysun District, a Tajik area in Uzbekistan, Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “The veneration of earth, water and—— especially—— fire is very apparent throughout the region of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the other Central Asian republics. These ancestral spiritualities, which up until today inform the beliefs and taboos of the peoples of these lands, share common aspects but also exhibit differences in detail. The veneration of water and fire can be seen among the old of both sexes in all areas of Boysun: they insist, for instance, that (running) water is not to be dirtied, a bride and groom are to walk around a fire, and votive candles are to be lighted. The young, however, influenced by everyday modern culture, are gradually consigning these rituals to oblivion. [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry. This article was originally published in Mardumgiyoh 5(1-2): 154-63 (1997/1376), in Perso-Arabic and Cyrillic scripts. Mardumgiyoh (“mandrake”) is a journal of folklore published in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, founded and edited by Dr. Rahmoni <|>]

“In any case, we will give a few examples of behavior associated with the veneration of water and fire. In the village of Pasurxl, a young man suffered for months from depression and listlessness. His mother went to consult a soothsayer (fol-bin),who told her that her son might have urinated in running water. She and the other wise women deduced that the water fairies and sprites (jin~u pan) had afflicted him with this state. Accordingly they took the youth to the bank of the supposed stream, set alight some twisted cotton wicks, recited some prayers, and “burned” the evil spell, thus breaking it. I have actually witnessed several cases where the relatives of a sick (especially a mentally sick) person consulted the folk physicians, who immediately prescribed some medicinal use ot hre or water, as being sacred entities.” <|>

Solomon’s Lamp

Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “One ancient custom in which the sacred nature of water is paramount is known as “Solomon’s lamp” (carogi Sulaymon). A brief description of this procedure is merited here. “Solomon’s lamp is applied to someone whose behavior has become erratic or who is in mental distress. In the form in which I observed and recorded it in Pasurxl village,an old woman (Noreul Qosimova by name, born 1922, illiterate) came to see the patient and asked the head of the household to bring a napkin and a water-jug, a branch of a fruit-tree bearing fruit, some [raw] cotton, seven strands [of straw or twigs] from a broom, three lengths of yarn colored yellow, red, and blue, three old rags colored white, blue and black, some flour, some rice, some sweets, a cup of water and a bowl of grease. [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry <|>]

“When I asked her, she told me the symbolic significance of each of these objects, as follows. The napkin represents a veil, personal honor, a full belly, well-being and fortune; the ewer represents King Solomon’s water, lest the patient has polluted any water; the branch bearing fruit symbolized progeny; the cotton is to make a wick with which to light the sacred fire, called the “lamp ; the seven strands from a broom symbolize pollution and disaster, around which is bound the cotton wick, so as to drive away with its flame the Ahrimanic powers [jin, pari, and dev). The three yellow, red, and blue threads represent the maleficent demons and sprites of those same colors; these threads are tied to the broom strands with the cotton. The three white, blue, and black rags are to arive away fear; flour symbolizes whiteness, i.e., purity; rice symbolizes infinity, i.e., eternal life; sweets represent a sweet life; the cup of water is to be poured over the ashes of the sacred fire, and the bowl of grease is to be rubbed on the seven tapers made from the strands of the broom. <|>

“Next the old woman (known as bibi-mullo,or in some villages qusnoc) prepared seven tapers. To three of these she tied a string twisted from the yellow, red, and blue threads. Two tapers were left white, and the remaining two she smeared with soot from the kettle. Next she covered the patient’s head with a white cloth. She passed the tapers three times over the patient’s head, his shoulders, the small of his back, and his knees, pronouncing forms of exorcism such as “O villain, o evil one, begone! Come forth! Depart!” to banish the evil powers. Then she greased the white, blue, and black rags that had been plaited together, picked them up with the tip of the fruit-bearing branch and set light to them; she waved them in a circle around the patient’s head and body, so as to burn and thus drive away the noxious powers that plagued him. When the rags had almost burned out, she poked the fruit- bearing branch into the spout of the ewer, picked up the smoldering rags with it, and placed beneath them the cup of water, so that the ashes of the sacred fire would fall into the water. With that, the ceremony ended. <|>

“The most important thing is not to let the remains of the “lamp” spill onto anywhere unclean, but rather to toss them into running water. Noteworthy, too, is that although these rites have nothing to do with Islam, the old women who perform them always recite a few verses of the Koran for good measure. I asked the old woman why they called this “Solomon’s lamp.” I was told, “Because these rites have come down to us from our forefathers; we use fire; fire is a powerful thing, it cleanses a person’s surroundings of calamities.I often heard people swearing by fire, as for instance “May the fire prove that I am innocent,” or “If I am lying, may I burn up in this fireplace”. <|>

Fire Rituals in Boysun District

Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “The rites of Bibi Sesanbe (Lady Tuesday) and Bibi Muskilkuso (Lady Problem-solver) are still practiced today with faith and devotion in Bukhara, Samarkand, Dushanbe, Khujand, Tirmiz, Hisor, and many other places. These rituals, which are more closely related to Islam, will not be discussed here; but a common feature of their performance is the use of wicks or tapers (pilta, in some places called nuke a) ^ or candles, for the sacred fire. In the villages of Boysun district, the burning taper is placed upon the qayroqsang (a long, polished stone of about 20—30 centimeters, used as a whetstone) and care is taken not to let it go out before the end of the ceremony. [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry <|>]

“Twenty or twenty-five years ago, the villagers of Boysun district used to live in two seasonally specialized locations, one of which (called qisloq) was appropriate to late autumn, winter, and early spring, and the other (called bog) to late spring, summer, and early fall. At bog they would plow and sow and gather the harvest. At the end of fall they would load their essential possessions on donkeys and migrate to qisloq. Whenever they set off from one location to the other they would always light a handful of straw or a few sticks of firewood and drive the loaded donkeys over it. The transhumants would follow the animals across the fire, so that it would burn up harm and ill fortune and they would not be carrying it with them to their new home. Nowadays, with the increasing population, people live in one place. I have been told by people over fifty that fifty or sixty years ago fire was something holy that accompanied people at every significant juncture of their lives. <|>

“The custom of venerating fire can be seen today in the rituals of weddings, circumcisions, navruz [the Iranian New Year’s holiday at the vernal equinox, 21st March] and similar rites of passage. As in other parts of Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan, it is still alive among the Tajiks of Uzbekistan, including those of Boysun. In general there is no ceremony in Boysun at which traces of ancient culture are not evident. Even funerals, if examined carefully, exhibit some non-Islamic elements. For instance, in Pasurxl village, on the death of a close relative, the women of the bereaved household let down their hair, tie a kerchief around their waists, raise their arms high and clap their hands, lacerate their heads, faces, and bodies, and jump up and down singing a lament. Usually the mourning period (for women) lasts for one year, during which time they wear turquoise blue {kabud) clothing. At Pasurxl, the women’s mourning costume is actually sky-blue, or at least a blue floral print on a white field. <|>

“In Boysun district, wrestling, likewise an ancient custom, is still very popular. Even today, at a wrestling meet, they will sometimes light a small campfire and dance or play around it before the formal bouts. The wrestlers (pahlavon) after limbering up will stretch out their hands toward the fire and then rub its warmth over their faces, as if praying to the fire for victory. <|>

“In Ferdawsi,s immortal Sohnoma (Shahnama) we read the following verses, which show parallels to the above: “Down from the throne he came, lamenting/ Rending his body to pieces with his nails” Or again: “They dressed all in turquoise blue,/ Their eyes full of blood, their faces ashen.” According to Ferdawsi,our ancestors stayed in mourning for the departed for one year (a custom still observed among Tajiks everywhere, including those of Boysun): “They sat thus grieving for one year; The behest came from the Judge, the Creator.” Otherwise, a lamp is kept burning for forty days after a death in the house where the body lay (or if a lamp is not available, a candle or taper), as can also be seen in all parts of Central Asia. <|>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016


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