A group of men wearing traditional attire perform Attan, the national dance of Afghanistan, on a street in Kabul. (Picture: Naimat Rawan/Afghan Zariza)
Attan, the national dance of Afghanistan, has a long and fascinating history.
It began as a folk dance performed by people in Afghanistan during weddings and other occasions of celebration and festivity.
Over the years, it has become ingrained in the culture of this country and gained popularity across the world.
In the past, it had no organized form and consisted of random steps and movements. Men used to perform Attan with the beat of drums, which was fast and noisy.
On the other hand, women used to perform Attan, which was slightly different and less noisy. They performed it with Daria, a kind of musical instrument.
While men would turn around from their left side, women would turn from their right side while performing this dance.
There was also a joint dance form in which both men and women performed together. It was similar to women’s version of Attan.
During King Yama's period, Attan was performed before going to war because it used to give soldiers the confidence to win the battle, according to historians
During King Yama's period, Attan was performed before going to war because it used to give soldiers the confidence to win the battle, according to historians.
Over the period of time, the unorganized dance became more organized and came to be called Attan, the national dance of Afghanistan.
Today, it is performed in marriages, social gatherings, parties, new year etc. It has become an integral part of Afghan culture.
Afghans living abroad, who left the country during the years of war and turmoil, have also kept the tradition of Attan alive.
The dance begins with slow steps that gradually get faster until the performers get exhausted. The dance continues for hours without interruption except for changes in tune and rhythm in between.
Rahimullah, a professional Attan dancer, says it is part of the cultural identity for Afghans. “I think those who cannot perform Attan, they cannot be Afghans, it is a part of our identity,” he says.
Attan is performed with special musical instruments such as drums, rubab and sornai. A group of people get together, form a circle and move around with same beat and rhythm.
Over the period of time, the unorganized dance became more organized and came to be called Attan. It is now performed in marriages, social gatherings, parties etc
The number of people in the circle is not limited and the time also varies. It can be a small or big circle and the dance can continue for hours.
The performers start slowly and then gain pace and aggression as they move around in circles. One person leads the group and others follow his moves.
The performers often wear traditional clothes when participating in Attan. For men, the pakol (a thick wool hat) is important, as well as a waskata (thick wool vest).
“The dress is as important as the dance, because it gives the real feel of Attan,” says Maseeh Rahman Popalzai, a model and professional Attan dancer. “Our culture is incomplete without this incredibly wonderful dance.”
There are different regional variations of Attan as well. In Afghanistan, every region has special and unique type of Attan. There is Kabuli Attan, Wardak Attan, Khost Attan, Paktia Attan, and Herat Attan as well as Attan performed by Kochis, Pashaies and Khatak tribes.
In Kabul Attan, a group of dancers make a circle and start movement when the drummer beats the drum. It is performed both by men and women, with two to five rounds. Dancers make fast movement and quick turns and clap their hands together.
In Wardak Attan, dancers wear some piece of cloth around their waistline. Mostly with long and flowing hair, they groove to the tune of drums, which are larger in size than in other provinces.
In Logar Atan, dancers move fast and complete the rounds quickly. In the first round, they wear turbans and when the dance gains momentum, they take off their turbans and dance in aggressive fashion.
In Paktia Attan, dancers take five to seven rounds and shake their heads as drummer directs them. With the end of first round, they make the circle smaller.
The performers start slowly and then gain pace and aggression as they move around in circles. One person leads the group and others follow his moves
In Kochi Attan, dancers perform with red handkerchiefs in their hand. They make a small circle, sit on the ground and move their heads and hair as per the directions of the main drummer.
During the repressive Taliban regime, many means of entertainment were banned for public, except Attan. There were examples of Taliban performing Attan before carrying attacks against government forces. Even though women could not perform the dance publicly, it was still common in weddings and family gatherings.
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