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Buzkashi: The National Game of Afghanistan

Updated on September 4, 2016
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Felishiya started writing at the age of 10. Since then, she has produced various articles in English and Spanish and few in French as well.

Buzkashi is the national sport of the South Asian country named Afghanistan, officially known as the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The game is also called as "ulak tartysh" and "kokpar kupkari".

How it is played?

In this game, a goat or calf carcass needs to be placed in a goal by either of the ten horse-mounted players. Each of the teams has been given a separate goal to place the headless calf or goat. It has become quite famous in many countries, most prominently in Afghanistan, though it was strictly banned during the Taliban regime.

In a standard or national match, only ten players are allowed, otherwise, most of the times it is seen that there are at least hundred players playing in the single round.

Countries that Play Buzkashi

  • Afghanistan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Tajikistan
  • United States (rarely famous)

The English meaning of Buzkashi is "Goat Pulling / Grabbing". The horses running in the game are intensively trained before the match. Sometimes, it takes years to train them perfectly.

Buzkashi
Buzkashi | Source

Roots of Buzkashi

The actual origin of Buzkashi is not known to anyone. There are some mythological stories attached to it.

  1. According to some people, the game was initially devised as a defense weapon against Genghis Khan, the Great Khan and founder of the Mongol Empire, and his men, who were extremely shrewd and expert in sweeping down the Afghan village and grabbing precious things.
  2. Some historians also say that the beginning of the game was done using the dead body of the prisoner of a war.
  3. On the other hand, some believe that the game was originated by the Turkic-Mongol nomads. These were the people who migrated westward from China and Mongolia during 10th and 15th centuries.


Sylvester Stallone playing Buzkashi in the movie Rambo 3
Sylvester Stallone playing Buzkashi in the movie Rambo 3 | Source

Check out the game, Buzkashi in the movie "Rambo", played by Sylvester Stallone

Controversies related to the Game

Many people believe it as the most dangerous game and according to them, it should be banned as it has the chances of causing serious injuries to the people playing it. Also, playing a game by killing animals is not a good practice and should be counted as a crime.

On the other hand, some people who have actually seen the game live, say that the game is not at all dangerous and there are no chances of the horsemen getting harmed. In fact, strict measures are taken to prevent any such incidents. People playing the game are experts and have gone through intense training. Moreover, the headless animal used in the game is not killed. Instead, an already dead animal is used for the game, which is kept wet for the whole night before the day of the game.

Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action

Buzkashi Boys was a short film that received an Oscar nomination in 2013. Check out this DVD of short films that also include Buzkashi Boys.

 
THE HORSEMEN (1971)
THE HORSEMEN (1971)

Check out the first movie, The Horsemen, made on the game Buzkashi, in1971, that stars Omar Sharif, Jack Palance, Leigh Taylor Young and Saeed Jaffrey

 

Films in which Buzkashi was the Main Center of Attraction

  • The Horsemen, 1971
  • High Road to China, 1983
  • Rambo 3, 1988
  • The Ascent of Man, Episode 2 "The Harvest of the Seasons"
  • Khuda Gawah, 1992
  • The Man who would be King, 1975
  • Kabul Express, 2006
  • Buzkashi Boys, 2012

Leaders are the people who take control by hook and crook or by fair and foul and then, ultimately defeat their opponents. That's what the Buzkashi riders do.

— Whitney Azoy, Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan
Click thumbnail to view full-size
In Tudabarai, a rider obtains possession of the prize (calf/goat) and carries it away from the starting circle in any direction, avoiding the other riders.In Qarajai, the rider carries the prize (calf/goat) around a marker, and returns it to his team's designated scoring area.
In Tudabarai, a rider obtains possession of the prize (calf/goat) and carries it away from the starting circle in any direction, avoiding the other riders.
In Tudabarai, a rider obtains possession of the prize (calf/goat) and carries it away from the starting circle in any direction, avoiding the other riders. | Source
In Qarajai, the rider carries the prize (calf/goat) around a marker, and returns it to his team's designated scoring area.
In Qarajai, the rider carries the prize (calf/goat) around a marker, and returns it to his team's designated scoring area. | Source

Rules for Playing Buzkashi

  • The calf /goat carcass must be held by one hand or wrapped using the leg. Attaching it to the saddle is prohibited.
  • Players are supposed to be on their horse till the time game is not over, otherwise they will be disqualified.
  • Whipping own horse and opponents' horse is allowed, but hitting the opponent, knowingly, in order to grab the carcass is a big no.

Different Types of Buzkashi

There are two ways in which Buzkashi can be played. Here they are:

  1. Tudabarai
  2. Qarajai

Difference between Tudabarai and Qarajai:

Tudabarai
Qarajai
The Buzkashi rider needs to grab the carcass and drive it away in any direction, but away from the starting circle.
Qarajai is a little more complex game than Tudabarai. In this, the Buzkashi rider must take the carcass around a specific marker.
The rider is not restricted to follow a specific direction. He is free of other riders.
Since, in this the rider has to follow a specific path, It is tough to get rid of other riders.
Difference between Tudabarai and Qarajai

Similarities between Tudabarai and Qarajai

  • In each of these, riders are given a circle or goal to place the calf /goal carcass.
  • Similar points are awarded, in each game, to the winner.
  • The winner receives prizes and accolades offered by the sponsor.
  • The common and top prizes include money and fine clothes.

For Afghans, Buzkashi is not merely a game, it is more than that indeed. According to them, it is the way of life. It teaches the method of getting successful by learning communication and teamwork.

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