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2022  N1-2(202-203)
Early this year, Turkmenistan received the UNESCO original certificate on inscribing Dutar making craftsmanship, traditional music performing art and the art of Bakhshi on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The decision about this was adopted at the 16th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in Paris in December 2021.
The official confirmation of this fact was marked by many activities in celebration of this significant event. Having traditionally started in the Turkmen capital, they continued in all regions of Turkmenistan as a kind of festive wave.
The program of festivities included theatrical and concert performances, film and television premieres, thematic round tables and conferences, exhibitions that took place in concert halls, culture houses, specialized higher education establishments and schools, museums and libraries of cities and villages of the country. The festive program in praise of Dutar aroused interest in the history of the art of Bakhshi and outstanding folk musicians and contributed to the further popularization of the traditional musical culture of the Turkmens, with Dutar being a powerful symbol.
The art of Bakhshi has been developed and, no less importantly, preserved in its original form for centuries. It seems to be woven of the centuries-old artistic traditions that are currently being continued in the living practice of bakshi performance. To this day, the Turkmen people remember the names of outstanding folk musicians, compose legends and songs about them, and performances by Turkmen bakhshi – singers accompanying themselves on dutar – are an indispensable attribute of all festivities in Turkmenistan.
Many facts can be cited as an example of the special reverence for the ancient art of folk musicians and storytellers.
For example, Day of Bakhshi is celebrated as a national holiday in Turkmenistan. The state distinctions include the title of People’s Bakhshi of Turkmenistan and People’s Master of Folk Arts.
There is a museum of Bakhshi in Dashoguz province where many legendary performers of ancient destans were born. The museum’s exposition is dedicated to the art of famous virtuoso masters, promoters of Turkmen folk music and classical poetry. It boasts a rich collection of folk musical instruments collected over three decades. The museum’s funds keep the recordings of the famous bakhshi performances, numerous historical evidence and photographic documents and books, collections of articles from newspapers and magazines telling about the life and work of outstanding performers.
In recent years, the museum’s collection has got new photographic documents and recordings of performances by popular performers of Turkmen epics and destans, songs based on poems by poets Magtymguly Fragi, Seidi, Zelili, Kemine, Mollanepes that are part of the “golden fund” of the national musical culture.
In the same region, there is a mausoleum of the patron saint of singers and musicians of the East, Ashik Aydin Pir, and a mosque erected in his honor – a place of pilgrimage for artists.
A new art contest Calsana, bagsy! (Play, bakhshi!) that was introduced this year became a tribute to the great veneration of the art of Bakhshi. The new contest aims to promote the patriotic and aesthetic education of young people, broad popularization of Dutar making craftsmanship and the art of Bakhshi in the world, strengthening the traditions of mentoring and identification of new talents.
The same applies to festivities marking the recognition of the universal value of Dutar and the art of Bakhshi. The conference and exhibition held at the Palace of Mukams of the State Cultural Center was the central event. It was attended by members of the government, leaders and representatives of the cultural sector, public associations, mass media, specialized higher education establishments, as well as creative intelligentsia of the country.
In a solemn atmosphere, six craftsmen from Ashgabat and the regions, who excelled in the manufacture of dutar, were awarded the title of People’s Master of Folk Arts along with appropriate certificates.
Dutar makers rightfully share the fame of bakhshi. From ancient times, they were honored equally with performers, and their work was highly valued. For a good dutar, they gave a thoroughbred horse. The craft of making Dutar was inherited from generation to generation. Even today, bakhshi can recall the names of masters who lived and made beautiful instruments a hundred or more years ago.
The reports by the conference participants alternated with musical performances by soloists and groups of bakhshi – musicians, illustrating the living connection of times and preservation of folk traditions.
Young performers and female bakhshi demonstrated their mastery and continuity of the best traditions of musical art.
There are many folk tales about the outstanding talents of Turkmen women in singing and playing dutar, in which they often surpassed famous male performers.
The participants of the celebration had the opportunity to enjoy a magnificent show, in which the original musical features of the country’s regions came together, and hear the enchanting sounds of ancient instruments.
An exhibition arranged in the foyer of the Palace of Mukams was a kind of continuation of the official conference. It displayed instruments, carpets and paintings of artists, as well as products of jewelers and artisans on the topic of dutar that presented the development of the multifaceted world of folk musical art.
The exhibition featured photographs, book products telling about the artistic careers of famous Turkmen bakhshi, artisans and virtuoso masters, promoters of Turkmen folk music, as well as audio and video materials with recordings of their performances. The traditions of succession and mentoring were demonstrated by bakhshi and famous masters who presented the process of making dutar.
The centuries-old art of singing and playing dutar has enjoyed special esteem and respect in Turkmenistan at all times, because it reflected the very life of the people, conveyed a truthful and exciting story about their happiness and hardships, joy and sufferings, beauty of the soul and feelings. From ancient times, it was believed that the music of dutar, reflecting the sounds of wildlife – movement of sands, flow of a mountain river crashing against rocks, flight of birds – heals people from wounds and insults, comforts and fills them with vital forces and energy.
The aforementioned saint Ashik Aydin Pir as well as saint Baba Gambar, whose cult still lives, are considered patrons of musical instruments and singing art of the Turkmens. According to legend, the first dutar was made by Baba Gambar, who served as a groom for the fourth righteous Caliph Ali.
The most prominent features of the bakhshi style of national musical art, and more broadly, the creative thinking of the Turkmen people have crystallized in the bakhshi instrumental music. This, in particular, is evidenced by some artifacts found by archaeologists in the country of Margush or, as it is also called, ancient Margiana, located in the old delta of Murghab River.
The names of Turkmen musicians are mentioned by historians of the past, who tell about famous people that made great contributions to various fields of science and culture of the medieval East. For example, one of them says that “many great people and wise men come from Merv” and among them is the name of the flute player and singer, Barbad. According to various authors, Barbad was a leading musician at the court of the Sassanid king Khosrov II (late 6th – early 7th centuries) who created majestic hymns, heroic songs, historical tales, as well as songs dedicated to folk festivities and beauties of nature.
Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Merwan al-Serakhsi, a prominent scientist of the 19th century, was originally from Serakhs. He penned a number of works on mathematics, logic, astronomy, philosophy and music, including “Introduction to the Science of Music”, “Big Book of Music”, “Small Book of Music”. One of his treatises tells about the famous medieval musician from Merv, Ustad Ali, who left “many pieces of music, the likes of which none of the masters can boast.” It is noteworthy that the archaeological research in the Merv oasis also testifies to the ancient origin of the musical instruments of the Turkmens and, above all, string instruments.
Famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo also tells about bakhshi of the end of the 13th century.
Many scholars and orientalists wrote about bakhshi, including academician Vasily Bartold, who noted that among many peoples this word means “healer, shaman, sorcerer” and only among Turkmens this word means “professional singer and musician”.
In turn, well-known Russian researcher Viktor Belyaev highly rated the Turkmen music, describing it as “an art that stands at a definitely high level of perfection”, and calling it valuable in that “it represents an era that has not been preserved in a living form by other peoples.” “The music of the Turkmens is absolutely devoid of any bravura and may seem monotonous and uniform to an inexperienced ear, he remarked. But for those who take the trouble to delve deeper into it, this music reveals the depths of feelings and spirit. It is not without reason that it can plunge the Turkmen into various and intense feelings – from deep sadness to cheer and real ecstasy.”
The art of Bakhshi has not lost its fascinating power to this day. Turkmen folk instruments are played in various orchestras, and Dutar still occupies a leading position in national music, reflecting the diversity of folklore traditions in all regions of the country. The repertoire of modern dutar players has also expanded. They perform not only Turkmen music, but also music of other peoples of the world, Russian and European classics, bringing the unique originality to the concert programs.
The work to preserve and popularize the richest national musical heritage is bearing fruit by expanding its boundaries and significance as an integral part of human civilization. Most importantly, the wonderful dutar music continues to sound joyfully and soulfully in the modern homes of the Turkmen people and over the vast expanses of the ancient Turkmen land, glorifying its beauty and eternal youth and telling about the inexhaustibility of the spring of folk talents.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005