Back to home page Buzkashi - Sport of Khorasan



Buzkashi, Kok-boru or Oglak Tartis (Persian: بزکشی bozkæšī, Tajik: бузкашӣ buzkašī: "goat grabbing") (Uzbek, Tatar, Turkmen: kökbörü, kök "blue" + börü "wolf", Kazakh: көкпар, Kyrgyz: улак-тартыш) is a traditional Central Asian team sport played on horseback. The steppes' people were skilled riders who could grab a goat or calf from the ground while riding a horse at full gallop. The goal of a player is to grab the carcass of a headless goat or calf and then get it clear of the other players and pitch it across a goal line or into a target circle or vat.


The game is known as Buzkashi in Afghanistan and Tajikistan and among Persian-speaking populations of Central Asia, while in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, the game is referred to as Kok-boru or Ulak Tartysh.


Sport of Central Asia


Even though it is known as a popular Afghan sport, Buzkashi began as a sport of the steppes. It is a popular game among the south Central Asians such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and Turkmens. The Turkic name of the game is Kökbörü; Kök = "blue", börü = "wolf", denoting the grey wolf—the holy symbol of the Turkic people. Other Turkic names of the game are Ulak Tartish, Kuk Pari, Kök Berü, and Ulak Tyrtysh. Kökbörü is the most popular national sport of Kyrgyzstan. In the West, the game is also played by Kyrgyz Turks who migrated to Ulupamir village in the Van district of Turkey from the Pamir region.


Competition is typically fierce, as other players may use any force short of tripping the horse in order to thwart scoring attempts. Riders usually wear heavy clothing and head protection to protect themselves against other players' whips and boots. Games can last for several days, and the winning team receives a prize, not necessarily money, as a reward for their win.


The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. In this version, the goal is simply to grab the calf and move in any direction until clear of the other players. 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 (the "Circle of Justice") at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders.


Buzkashi is often compared to polo. Both games are played between people on horseback, both involve propelling an object toward a goal, and both get fairly rough. However, polo is played with a ball, while Buzkashi is played with a dead animal. Polo matches are played for fixed periods totaling about an hour; traditional Buzkashi may continue for days, but in its more regulated tournament version also has a limited match time.


The calf in a Buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disemboweled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. It is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. Occasionally sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight. Players may not strap the calf to their bodies or saddles. Though a goat is used when no calf is available, a calf is less likely to disintegrate during the game.


Serious Buzkashi players train intensively for years, and many of the masters (called chapandaz) are over forty years old. Playing well also requires specially trained horses that know to stop still when a rider is thrown and to gallop forcefully when their rider gets hold of the calf. These horses can sell today for as much as US$10,000 to 15,000.


Non-Mounted Version in United States and Western Europe


Buzkashi is also played as a non-mounted game first introduced at Society for Creative Anachronism events in the 1970's. The game is also called "Sheep Rugby" and two evenly divided teams of any size compete for control of a stuffed fabric sheep. The sheep is placed in a circle in the center of a playing field with one stake at either end. On signal, the teams rush from the stakes to the center and the sheep is carried around both end posts once and then returned to the center circle. The side whose members return the largest portion of the fake sheep score one point. Play continues until either side scores two points. This version is played at SCA events as well as Renaissance Faires.


In popular culture


Buzkashi is portrayed in several books, both fiction and nonfiction. It is shown in Steve Berry's new book, "The Venetian Betrayal", and is briefly mentioned in the Khaled Hosseini book The Kite Runner. Buzkashi was the subject of a book called Horsemen of Afghanistan by French photojournalists Roland and Sabrina Michaud. Gino Strada has written a book named after the sport (with the spelling Buskashì) in which he tells about his life as surgeon in Kabul in the days after 9-11 strikes.


There have been two books written about Buzkashi that were later turned into movies. The game is the core and subject of a novel by French novelist Joseph Kessel titled Les Cavaliers (aka Horsemen) as well as of the film of the same title featuring Omar Sharif. The game is also a key element in the book Caravans by James Michener and the film of the same name starring Anthony Quinn. A scene from the film featuring the king of Afghanistan watching a game included the real-life king at the time, Mohammed Zahir Shah. The whole sequence of the game being witnessed by the king was filmed on the Kabul Golf Course, where the national championships were played at the time the film was made.


The game also is mentioned in several movies. A game of Buzkashi, played in Afghanistan, is featured in an early scene of Rambo III. The 1983 Tom Selleck film High Road to China features a spirited game of Buzkashi. Buzkashi is described at length in Episode 2, "The Harvest of the Seasons", of the documentary The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. It is put in the context of the development, by the Mongols, of warfare using the horse and its effect on agricultural settlements. The film includes several scenes from a game in Afghanistan. The opening scenes of the Indian film Khuda Gawah, which was filmed in Afghanistan and India, show actors Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi engaged in the game. The game is also mentioned briefly in John Huston's film The Man Who Would Be King, the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story during advertisements for the fictional ESPN 8 (El Ocho) television channel, and the Bollywood movie Kabul Express.

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