Tajik folk music includes a variety of songs, both lyrical and instrumental. There are those sung while working and ceremonial, funeral, and wedding songs. A special musical celebration marks the birth of a child.The national epic of the central Tajik heroic legend, Gurugli, is also set to music. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Classical Tajik music is pretty much the same as Uzbek music. Many songs played in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are part of the classical shashmaqam repertoire and well-known pieces have Uzbek and Takik lyrics The most famous Tajik singer of this style, Barno Itzhakova, lives in Israel.

“Falak” (literally “celestial dome”) is a form of music associated with the southern mountainous part of the country. Described as a kind of popular maqam, it is a collection of suites played on lutes and soike fiddle and has traditionally been played at weddings, circumcisions and the spring Narvuz festivals. The mountainous Badakhsahn region has its own tradition of poetry, folk music and Persian-style ghazals.

Folk music is characterized by solo playing and singing in small ensembles. The songs are monophonic, with harmony taking the form of a drone. Some of the most commonly used instruments are the rubob, a stringed instrument, and the karnai, a long trumpet. The daf is the most important percussion instrument, and can be traced back to the fourteenth century. Traditionally, the daf is one of the few instruments allowed in Muslim ceremonies. [Source:]

Tajik songs generally feature a single singer. Some of them can be slow and sad; others are cheerful and dynamic, especially those showcased at festivals. There is great variety of Tajik musical instruments include: 1) stringed ones: dutor, rhubab and tanbur; 2) bowed ones: gidzhak and violin; 3) wind instruments: nai, karnai, surnai; and 4) percussion — tablak (clay kettle-drum), doira (tamburine), kairok (stone castanets) and cymbal-like chang. [Source:]


Shashmaqam—meaning the “six maqams” of Uzbek and Tajik music—is a form of classical court music traditionally enjoyed by the upper classes and associated most with Bukhara. Even though it was considered a type of Islamic classical it has been kept alive by Bukharan Jews. The Communists banned it until the form was adapted for propaganda purposes to proclaim the glory of Lenin and express love for one’s collective.

According to UNESCO: Shashmaqom “constitutes a fusion of vocal and instrumental music, melodic and rhythmic idioms and poetry. The genre is performed solo or by a group of singers and an orchestra of lutes, fiddles, frame-drums and flutes. Performances generally open with an instrumental introduction followed by the nasr, the main vocal section consisting of two distinct sets of songs.” [Source: UNESCO]

A maqam is a suite. The six maqams—Buzruk, Rast, Nava, Dugah, Segah and Iraq—all get their names from classical Persian musical forms. A maqam consists of an instrumental prelude followed by Sufi poems sung by a soloist or a group of singers. The poems are generally expression of love, passion, despair or hope and the music tends to build and climb to a climax and then retreat to where it came from. A typical Shashmaqam ensemble has traditionally embraces two tanburs, a dutar, a gidjak and dor and two or three singers.

Shashmaqam Recognized by UNESCO

In 2008, Shashmaqom music was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. According to UNESCO: For over ten centuries, the classical music tradition of Shashmaqom has evolved in the urban centres of Central Asia formerly known as Mâwarâ al-nahr, an area which now encompasses present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.[Source: UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity ~]

“Dating back to the pre-Islamic era, Shashmaqom was continually influenced by developments in musicology, poetry, mathematics, and Sufism. So popular was the maqom system in the ninth and tenth centuries that numerous music schools were founded, mainly by the Jewish community, in the city of Bukhara, the historical and spiritual centre of Shashmaqom. Shashmaqom genre requires specially trained musicians because the standard notation system can record only the basic framework. Consequently, oral transmission from master to student remains the principal means of preserving the music and its spiritual values. ~

“From the 1970s, many of the best-known Shashmaqom performers emigrated from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to diaspora communities in Israel and the United States. Since Uzbekistan and Tajikistan gained independence in 1991, many measures have been taken to safeguard Shashmaqom. Only a few performers have maintained local performance styles as taught by independent teachers. With the passing of many Shashmaqom masters, the overwhelming majority of presentday performers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are graduates of the Tashkent Conservatory, which offers training in Shashmaqom composition. ~

Dance in Tajikistan

Tajik dances were integral part of everyday life and accompanied all significant events: births‚ weddings, holidays. Tajik traditional dances are divided into several styles: Pamir, mountain‚ Bukhara‚ Southern (Khatlon areas)‚ Hissar valley‚ Northern Tajikistan. Each of them is distinguished by costumes‚ movements‚ manners characteristic of the people of these regions. [Source:]

Plastic movements of body, head and especially subtle elaboration of arm movement play an important role in Tajik dances. The Shepherdess is a solo dance designed to express deep feeling for the grasslands. A veil is worn on the back of the dancers hat. A red long-sleeved coat is worn over a circular dress and tapered narrow pants. [Source: “International Encyclopedia of Dance”, editor Jeane Cohen, six volumes, 3,959 pages, $1,250, Oxford University Press, New York. It took 24 years to prepare]

Women founded a classical national dance that has become a feature of family celebrations and festivities. The dances begin slowly, becoming faster and more intense as they progress. The movements are harmonious and subtle, and the costumes colorful and bright. The performers dance according to the emotions of the moment. [Source:]

The Soviet era saw the introduction of opera and ballet to Tajikistan, as well as the organization of Tajik-style song and dance troupes. Dushanbe's opera and ballet theater was the first large public building in the city; its construction began in 1939. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Different Dances in Tajikistan

Tajik traditional dances are divided into the following kinds: 1) pantomime dance (the most ancient): based on imitation of animals and birds, 2) ceremonial dance (rakskhoi marosimi); and 3) dance beside death bed (poiamal), preserved in the Pamirs. Among the ritual dances the popular ones relate to "gilem" (a carpet)‚ "boft" (weaving)‚ "oshpaz" (the cook). Men's dances are frequently aggressive. The movements are sharp, dynamic, swift in order to symbolise power and force. These include the “shamsherbozi” (dance with swords)‚ “kordbozi” (dance with a knife) and otashbozi (dance with fire). Among the men's and women’s dances with a musical instrument are the “raks bo dutor” (the dance with a dutar)‚ “raks bo doira” (the dance with a tamburine)‚ “raks bo gizhak” (the dance with a gidzhak). There are also dances with other objects such as a jug‚ a spoon‚ a dish‚ and an axe. [Source:]

The “Girl with a Jug” dance is commonly-danced in Pamir region of Tajikistan. It consists of two parts. The first part is a moderate, smooth and calm one. The girl with a jug on her shoulder goes down to a spring where she fills the jug with water. Then she washes her hands and face, drinks water, moistens and smooths her hair with wet hands. The second part is livelier, with an increasing tempo. Having admired with her reflection in water, the girl rejoices and dances. This part of the dance is based on the movements of hands and body. At the end of the dance the music slows to a moderate tempo again. The girl with her jug filled with water goes slowly away. All this is performed very softly and simply. The movements and facial gestures are subtle but expressive.

The eagle dance imitates of flapping of the eagle’s wings as it flies into the air. The origin of the eagle dance is thought to date back to ancient times and pays homage to saints and ancestor spirits and venerates the mountain eagle. The eagle dance music to 7/8, 6/8, 5/8 time creates a feeling of the eagle swooping in the sky. The aim is to make the body graceful and the performance agile. Both male and female dancers move freely and gracefully. People can join in if they wish; there are no strict rules on how it is performed. In places where the Tajiks live it is not uncommon to see men playing a flute made of an eagle bone, women beating out rhythms with tambourines and people dancing the eagle dance with hammer and tongs.

Theater in Tajikistan

Dushanbe also has theaters devoted to Tajik and Russian drama, as well as a drama school. There are theaters for music, musical comedy, and drama in several other Tajik cities as well. Tajiks used to stage the entire dance-based dramatized performances. These including the aspakbozi (dance with a horse), ushtur (dance of the camel caravan) and kishtibozi (dance with a boat). These traditional dances include the elements of pantomime, drama and circus.

The long history of Tajik performing arts is illustrated in ancient rock drawings of dancing and possibly performing figures. Various dramatized performances reflected in songs and dances were connected with the people's everyday lives, their cult rituals and customs. The participants ancient dramatized performances often played roles different creatures: the albastibozi (a demon)‚ rubokhbozi (a fox)‚ sherbozi (a lion)‚ maimunbozi (a monkey)‚ ukobbozi (an eagle)‚ and khirsbozi (a bear).

Zochabozi (puppet shows) is one of the most popular performing arts. Puppeteers very popular in centuries past in Samarkand‚ Bukhara (Uzbekistan)‚ Khujand‚ and Ura-Tyube (Tajikistan). Normally, a puppet group included lukhyabozi (puppeteers), surnaichi (surna players)‚ and nagorachikho, musicians playing nagora ( percussions). In Bukhara-based companies there were also maskharbozi (buffoons). Puppet shows were accompanied by singing‚ music‚ dances and games. [Source:]

One of the most ancient kinds of national shows is chodirkhayol (chodari dasti‚ zochai chodir) means “tent of phantoms.” Mentioned in historical texts, these performances featured puppets manipulated hands (similar to Russian Petrushka). The group normally consisted of nine people (a puppeteer‚ 4-5 musicians‚ 1-2 dancers‚ maskharbozi and an acrobat-dorboz).

Performances called oftobkhon and mokhtobkhon were about people's everyday lives. Among these are comic plays such as khirsbozi (a bear hunt), bulbulbozi (the nightingale) hindubozi — (the Indian) and Maskharabozi (buffoons). The actors use elements of pantomime, dance and circus acts and include music. Among the popular characters are a rais (judge) and kaziy (mullah). They are often mocked.

A lot of folk performing arts have survived. For example, in the Pamirs you can watch mugulbozi, a drama about a Mongol woman; bobopirak, about an old man; and thenbozi, about dervishes. The polvonkachal (lame warrior) is a very popular character of the national Tajik performing art.

Traditional Sports

Tajiks enjoy playing “buz kashi,” a rough polo-like game played with a sand-filled goat or calf caracas. The game is often played on 10,000-foot-high plateaus in the Pamir mountains. “Chavgonbozi” and “Guibozi” are traditional Tajik sports similar to polo. "Chasing the girl" is a popular equestrian sport in Tajikistan. “Dorbazi” is traditional form of tightrope walking. It is said it developed as method of crossing fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers on a rope. Tightrope walking competitions are popular festival events.

“Kurash” is the national form of wrestling in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Kurash (translated as “attaining a goal by fair means”) is a kind of national wrestling and similar to traditional wrestling and fighting practiced by other Turkic peoples. It is said the sport originated 3,500 years ago and was described 2,500 years by Herodotus. In the ancient Uzbek epic Alpamysh, kurash is mentioned as the most popular sport in ancient times. The great hero Alpamysh distinguished himself as a great wrestler. [Source: advantour]

The great Muslim scholar Avicenna considered wrestling to be good not only for the body but also for the spirit. Tamerlane used kurash to train his unconquerable troops. In Tamerlane’s time battles were sometimes preceded by wrestling matches and fist fights: with representatives of each side fighting against one another. It is said there were cases where straight fights between commanders ceased hostilities and decided a battle. Kurash was also a form of public entertainment during various events and festivities.

Over the years kurash rules, technique, traditions and philosophies developed and were passed from generation to generation. For a long time there were no standardized rules. Often times, different regions and villages, and sometimes even families, had their own rules. It was not until 1980s when Komil Yusupov — a kurash, judo and sambo master — carefully studied the sport and established universal rules. The result was rules about weight categories, terminology, legal and illegal moves, fight duration, uniforms and referees.

The kurash uniform includes wide white trousers and a loose shirt. An essential part of the uniform is a fabric belt used to hold an opponent. The girdle made of soft fabric measures 180–220 centimeters long and 50–70 centimeters wide. Kurash competitions are held on a special mat with thickness at least 5 centimeters, with a marked working zone (located in the center), protective zone and with a “passive zone” separating them. Two participants meet in the working zone. The only position permitted for the combat is a standing stance. The aim is for a contestant to throw his rival his back: considered a victory by fall. Painful grips, beating and submission holds, blows below the belt are prohibited. In spite of these prohibitions the matches are very dynamic and exciting.

A kurash world championships is held and there are events in Russia and Europe take place on a regular basis. The International Kurash Association, with representatives from 28 countries from Asia, Africa and Europe. was founded in 1998.

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.

Last updated April 2016

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