Buzkhashi – A Central Asian horse game

Games on the planet are probably as old as the evolution of human culture. Games are and have always been an integral part of all cultures and they also represented human interactions since oldest times. Games opened up the hidden side of the players and they went ahead beyond their imagination while in the play. All kind of games have always been great levellers. And some very important and exciting elements of any game are uncertainty of outcome, agreed upon rules, competition, separate place and time, elements of fiction, elements of chance, prescribed goals and personal enjoyment.

But in the history and even today some games are of unusual types. They definitely represent the views of a particular culture of that time. So a game with passion played in one part  may not be appreciated in the other parts of the world. One such game which we will explore in this article is Buzkhashi which is in a sense brutal form of horse polo has been an integral part of Central Asian countries and it happens to be national sport of Afghanistan too. So what is Buzkhashi, how it is played, where it is played? Lets us see all this and more.

Buzkashi which literally means “goat dragging” in Persian is the Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat or calf carcass toward a goal. It is the national sport of Afghanistan. Traditionally, this game could last for several days, but now in its more regulated tournament version it has a limited match time. Historians say that Buzkahshi started with Turkic Mongol people. In the game which is quite similar to polo but brutality added to it when the ball is replaced by a headless goat or calf in Buzkhashi. Struggle over a goat, competition is typically fierce in the game.

In Buzkashi, a headless carcass is placed in the center of a circle and then the players of two opposing teams surrounding the circle aim to get control of the carcass. Then they have to bring carcass to the scoring area. Seems like a simple task? No it is not. Only the most masterful players ever even get close to the carcass. The competition is fierce and loud. So the winner of a match receives big prizes donated by a sponsor. These prize range from money, to fine turbans and clothes. A player in the game of Buzkhashi is called Chapandaz. The horses used in the game are not owned by Chapandaz but the master player or master Chapandaz can choose his own horse for the game which are generally owned by land lords. The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is simpler form of the game. In this version, in order to score rider must obtain the possession of the carcass and then take it away from the other players in any direction. In Qarajai, players must carry the carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle known as  “Circle of Justice” at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders. In both the forms players get the point for successfully getting control of the carcass and getting it to the scoring area. The calf in a Buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disembowelled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. Now you know that Buzkashi, is definitely not a game for the weak.

Buzkhashi started with Turkic Mongol people but it is played in all five Central Asian countries Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It is national sport of Afghanistan today, though once it was banned in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, and is also played in some part of US. While other countries play Buzkhashi riding on Horse, Tajik people play the game riding on Yaks. The same game is known by different names too. In Uzbekistan the game is called ‘Kokboru’, in Kazakhstan it is called ‘Kokpar’ and in Kyrgyzstan it is known more by the name ‘ Ulak Tyrtysh’. Buzkashi games are often played for special occasions like weddings and religious events. One of On the day of Navruz, the new year for Persian one of the biggest match is held in the town of Urgut, Uzbekistan. Tourists and local Uzbekistanis travel far and wide to come and see this extraordinary and brutal sport.

There is also a film made ‘ Buzkhashi Boys’ which is set against this brutal game Buzkhashi in the landscape of contemporary Afghanistan.

The movie was shot entirely in Kabul and the movie tries to look for life in a country where war is often the headline.