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2020 †N3-4(180-181)
The geographic location of the Turkmen land at the crossroads of "seven roads of the world" made it a scene of interaction of many peoples. This is a place where the great civilizations of the past emerged and flourished, the cultures of the East and West were intricately intertwined, the settled cities prospered and the waves of nomadic tribes swept through. All these factors could not but influence the development of the musical culture.
Music has been an important part of people's lives since time immemorial. This is evidenced by some artifacts found by archaeologists in the country of Margush, which is also known as ancient Margiana, located in the old delta of the Murghab River. Academician Viktor Sarianidi, who excavated settlements that existed there in the Bronze Age, that is, about four thousand years ago, noted interesting scenes depicted on some stone amulets that belonged to the ancient inhabitants of this country. First of all, this is a small cylindrical amulet-seal found in Togolok-21 settlement. By rolling the cylinder on raw clay, one gets a print of the picture engraved on the cylinder's surface. In this picture, one can see a group of people with animal heads, who play drums and hold rattles and rain sticks in their hands, under whose accompaniment an acrobat jumps over a high pole and someone else dances nearby. Generally speaking, we see some kind of festivity or, most likely, mystery taking place to the sounds of a tambourine and rattles.
In the neighboring settlement of Gonur Depe, the Sarianidi expedition discovered the actual musical instruments, including elegant signal horns made of bronze, silver and faience that were ancient predecessors of the Turkmen Tuyduk. According to the scientist, it does not matter where they were used - in hunting, training of horses or at some ceremonies. What's important is that this is nothing more than horn instruments with a wide bell, perhaps one of the very first in the world.
A very different sound was produced by a heavy stone staff with a copper spherical top with small pebbles inside that was found in the same place. A similar instrument called Shaldyrak existed in Turkmenistan until the beginning of the 20th century. This is a clinking stick that dervishes used to expel evil spirits. The sound was produced by small bells and various metal pendants attached to the top of the stick. As in ancient times, such "musical" items were intended for magical and ritual actions.
Finally, one cannot fail to notice another item from Gonur Depe which is remarkable in all aspects. This is a curly silver pin with a finial of exceptional artistic value, shaped like a seated woman, whose relief image was made with great skill and realism. One of the participants of the Margiana expedition, German archaeologist Nikolaus Boroffka suggested that the long curved pin, as if growing from the back of the chair on which the woman sits, depicts a harp! Strings that could be pulled from the tip of the pin to the hole under the chair held the pin securely on the clothes of a person who used it. "String instruments, in particular harps and lyres, were well known in the Middle East, Dr. Boroffka said. It suffices to mention the many images of men and women playing them on the finds from the territory of Mesopotamia." The hands of the Gonur harpist are depicted to present her playing on invisible strings. One can even see a plectrum in her left hand, which is a thin plate that was used to pluck strings of music instruments.
Famous Parthian rhytons from Old Nisa date back to another era that is many centuries younger than the ancient Margiana. The sculptural friezes of these magnificent pieces made by unknown masters, who used the technique of bone carving, depict musicians playing instruments that resemble Turkmen Tuyduk (horn or pipe), Deprec (tambourine) and two-stringed Dutar.
Another instrument, very similar to modern Dutar, is depicted on a terracotta figurine from ancient Merv, dating to the II-IV centuries of our era. According to academician Galina Pugachenkova, who wrote the history of art of Turkmenistan, this roughly hand-sculptured character presents the image of a wandering bakhshi minstrel that belongs to the group of similar images of riders that are characteristic of small plasticity of Merv of that time.
Thanks to information about musical instruments referred to in the works by al-Farabi, al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Safi al-Din and al-Urmawi (IX-XIII centuries), we can recreate the appearance of more than seventy musical instruments that were quite popular among Turkmens at different times. By the beginning of the 20th century, only a few of them remained popular, which were the most compact and convenient for transportation during migrations. They are Dutar, Gijak, varieties of Tuyduk and Gopuz.
Experts say that the musical culture of Turkmens was less affected by the Arab influence than musical cultures of their neighbors. At the same time, the questions about what Turkmen folk music adopted from others and what sources underpin its melos - tunes and melodies - can be partly answered by the legends about the origin of the main musical instruments.
First of all, they are connected with the names of two patrons of musical instruments and singing art of Turkmens - saints Ashik Aydin-pir and Baba Gambar, whose cult is still alive. According to the legend, Baba Gambar, who served as a groom at the fourth righteous Caliph Ali, made the first Dutar. He used to spread a rug on the surface of the water and sit on it, playing Dutar. This episode brings to mind another important hero of ancient Turkic mythology - first shaman and singer Gorkut Ata, whose image, according to researchers, lies in the basis of Turkmen legends about Baba Gambar. The legends say that Ashik Aydin-pir also had a shamanistic gift that could also make a person loose his mind. This is obviously due to the fact that lovers often lose their minds and behave like crazy. No wonder that the very name Ashik or Ashug in the East became a synonym for a singer wandering around the world in search of his beloved one.
A pilgrimage to the mausoleums of both legendary pirs was one of the preconditions for mentoring practice of Turkmen musicians. Their symbolic burials are surrounded by trees that are believed to have grown from the "ear" (pin) of Dutar. Both are also revered by other Turkic peoples living in the vast territory of Eurasia from Altai to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
It was believed in the past and is still believed now by tradition that in order to get an ear for music and voice one needs to visit the grave of Ashik Aydin and spend the night there playing Dutar and singing songs. Then, the saint can reveal himself to a pilgrim in a dream and bless him with music and singing. Ashik Aydin-pir became one of the characters of the epic about Gerogly which is popular with Turkmens and other Turkic peoples, and his mausoleum is located on the western edge of the Khorezm oasis in Dashoguz province of Turkmenistan. It is buried in verdure of a garden planted at the end of the last century. At the entrance to this memorial complex, there is a tall modern sculpture depicting Ashik Aydin as an old man and a sculpture of Dutar standing on the highway near the turn to the holy place.
Another legend is associated with the name of the great ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, who is known as Aflatun in the Muslim world. In his time, there lived the Phoenix whose feathers made very beautiful musical sounds with a flap of the bird's wings. Having studied them, Aflatun created Dutar and composed music for it, imitating melodies born by the feathers of the Phoenix. The very word "dutar", literally meaning "two strings", first appears in the composition "Scientific and Practical Canons of Music" written by Central Asian scientist and musician Zainulabiddin al-Husaini, who lived in the 15th century.
The well-deserved recognition as Bakhshi can rightfully be shared by the experienced dutar makers. They enjoyed similar respect as performers, and their work was highly valued - a good dutar was worth the price of a thoroughbred horse. The craft of dutar making was hereditary, passed from generation to generation. Even today, Bakhshis can give the names of craftsmen who lived and made wonderful instruments a hundred or more years ago.
Gidzhak, a bow instrument, which often accompanies Dutar, is no less significant and popular among people. In the past, Gidzhak was made from pumpkin or imported coconut with three silk strings. In the XX century, they started making the instrument from a single piece of mulberry wood and replaced silk strings with metal ones.
Gidzhak is equally popular among other peoples of Central Asia and the Caucasus. There are legends about Gidzhak playing skills of the famous Central Asian scholar and music theorist, Muhammad al-Farabi, who lived at the turn of the 9th-10th centuries. Once, al-Farabi, dressed in simple clothes, came to a great celebration, in which Sayyt Abbas, the ruler of the city of Rei, took part. He sat on the sidelines, not introducing himself to anyone. After some time, he took a stick and a pumpkin from his bag, made an instrument and played several different melodies. Afterwards, this instrument was named "gypjak". Considering that in the old days a piece of hollowed wood was called "gypjak", we can conclude that al-Farabi made and played melodies using Gidzhak. A 14th-century miniature with the inscription: "Al-Farabi plays Gidzhak" has survived to this day.
Gidzhak has a rich timbre and loud sound. The widespread use of Gidzhak as a solo instrument led to development of its own repertoire, including the variations of folk songs and melodies as well as independent compositions.
Tuyduk, an adapted version of the flute, is the only wind instrument of Turkmens. It is made from a hollow stem of an umbrella plant, popularly called "gargygamysh". It has six playing holes: five on the front side and one on the back. Dilly Tuyduk (tuyduk with tongue), one of the oldest musical instruments in the history of mankind, is even simpler. Its length does not exceed the size of a pencil. Such a reed is made of dry thin canes with a hollow stem, with an incised single reed and three holes.
And, finally, like in a number of countries in Central and South Asia and Oceania, Turkmens have long been using the lip vargan called Gopuz. Due to the relative simplicity of manufacture and extensive sound range, vargans independently appeared in the cultures of different peoples of the world. Among Turkmen, Gopuz is primarily a female instrument, but it was originally used by priests to intimidate a flock and create an appropriate atmosphere during mysteries. Not a single prophecy of priests was carried out without the intimidating music of the vargan. In the 20th century, it was used in the compositions by professional Turkmen composers.
No matter what instrument is used to play Turkmen music, it cannot be confused with any other. Its originality is determined by the historical conditions in which Turkmen tribes lived for centuries and, of course, by the natural gift and skills of singers and Sazanda musicians, in whose hands even the simplest instruments can produce sweet sounds.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005