Sculpture & Decorative Arts

Sculptures of Gandhara School of Art were found in centres like Taxila, Swat and Charsaddah (old Pushkalavati). Pieces of Gandhara sculpture occupy place of pride in museums of India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Japan, England, France, Germany and USA in contemporary times. Sculpture of ‘Fasting Buddha’, displayed in Lahore Museum of Pakistan is considered a masterpiece of Gandhara Art.

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Blinded by the Light: Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures


In Afghanistan, the art of making carpets has been prominent for centuries and Afghan carpets have certain prints that make them unique to Afghanistan. For centuries, the art of carpet making has been prominent in Afghanistan. Turkmen and some Uzbeks are famous for making distinctive Afghan rugs, characterised by parallel rows of geometric figures on a dark red ground. Many other patterns also exist. Buluchis are well known producers of prayer rugs and carpets made of wool, using a blend of dark colours. For bridal trousseaus (the cloth in which the bride wraps her clothes and other personal possessions), a variety of beautiful embroideries are made.


In Afghanistan, music can be broadly represented by traditional folk songs, ballads and dances. Music in Afghanistan is played in the modal scales of India and Persia. Moreover, Afghan music is both modal and melodic, that is, it is played in free-rhythm or rhythmic sequence in 4/4, 6/8 or more commonly 7/8. Herat style of music is Chaharbati (meaning four), which is played and sung in free-rhythm. Introductory improvisions called shakal are common in other areas of the country. Pashtu, Logari and Kabuli music are usually performed in patterns of alternating passages of fast rhythmic and medium or free-rhythm sequences. The attan dance which is the national dance of Afghanistan is derived from Pashtun areas and is performed in a large circle with the dancers clapping their hands and quickening the movements of their feet to the beat of the music.

Afghans enjoy music by playing many types of instruments including- mini harmonium, santur, chang (like a harmonica), rubab (6 stinged instrument), table, sitar, zurna, flute, dayereh and tanbur. Rubab is the native instrument of Afghanistan. It is a plucked instrument with a long deep xoundbox hollowed out of mulberry wood and covered with skin. In Nangahar area of Afghanistan, an archaeological find demonstrates that the rubab has been in existence from at least 2,000 years. It is said that from rubab, Indian sarod and Western violin and cello have developed.

Music is played and enjoyed in the tea house or samowar which has been the local gathering place. Due to some negative associations on public performances of music indicated by Islam, Afghan instrumentalists usually insist that they perform as a hobby (shauqi) and not as professional entertainers (kespi) which would place them in a very low stratum of society. Playing as shauqi in a samowar does not interfere much with religious interdiction. : VIDEO Afghan folk song : VIDEO Afghan instrumental music


Local Art has spanned many centuries. One of the most famous kinds is the Gandhara art between the 1st and 7th century based on Greco-Buddhist art. Since the 1900s, the nation began to use Western techniques in art. Afghanistan’s art was originally almost entirely done by men but recently women are entering the arts programs at Kabul University. Art is largely centered at the National Museum of Afghanistan, the National Gallery of Afghanistan and the National Archives of Afghanistan in Kabul. There are a number of art schools in the country. The Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan (CCAA) in Kabul provides young people to learn contemporary paintings.

Gandhara Art

Gandhara Art, also known as Greco-Buddhist art is a type of art which developed in present day north western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan between 1st century BC and 7th century AD. Gandhara Art was at its peak under the Kushana patronage, and it developed parallel with the Mathura style of art in India.

Gandhara Art is a fine fusion of Indian and Roman schools of art, with basic iconography being Indian. Motifs and techniques of classical Roman art like vine scrolls, tritons, cherubs bearing garlands and centaurs are incorporated. Initially, Gandhara art was extremely fine and realistic. But later, it lost its sophisticated realism and became more symbolic and decorative.

Green phyllite and gray-blue mica schist were used in the beginning years of Gandhara art and stucco was used after 3rd century AD. Gandhara sculptures were painted and gilded at the time of their making.

Main centres of Gandhara Art were Taxila, Swat and Charsaddah (old Pushkalavati). Hundreds of monasteries and stupas were built in these places and today pieces of Gandhara sculpture can be found in museums all over the world. The sculpture of ‘Fasting Buddha’, displayed in Lahore Museum of Pakistan is considered a masterpiece of Gandhara Art. VIDEO


Traditionally, only men have been involved in drama. But in recent years women have begun to take up stage.

For more information:–Reconstructing-Through-Theatre : VIDEO


Dance styles in Afghanistan can be classified according to ethnic and geographic divisions. The Pashtuns in the south are famous for wild and virile dances. The Uzbeks of the north represent Turkic dance forms similar to those of other Turkic people. The Heratis have developed their own form of dance possibly representing past eras when Herat was the cultural center of the Islamic world. Traditionally, it was a disgrace for a woman to dance in public. They could only dance privately or in company of other women.

In south of Kabul, traditional style of Logar is popular which is characterised by surprise stops in the music during which the dancer(s) freeze, holding the pose until the music starts again. The most popular folkdances of Afghanistan are atan, ishala and natsa.

Natsa is a dance performed on happy occasions, often for amusement of others. Ishala resembles nata, but is performed solo by women at weddings and some other occasions. Women’s dance done in private often provides an outlet for frustrations faced by them as they mock some of the problems women encounter in Afghan society. Also women sing songs often teasing noted people in the family or community. This helps them deal with things for which the society does not provide them with an outlet.

Attan is considered the national dance of Afghanistan. It is a group dance performed by upto ten or more people accompanied with dhol usually played with sticks and sometimes the sorna (double reed pipe). It is usually performed by men and on rare occasions women also participate. There are numerous kinds of attan performed in AFganistan: Kabuli, Wardaki, Logari, Khosti/Paktia, Herati, Kochyano, Khattak, Pashayi (played with Surnai flute) and Nuristani. :VIDEO of Logar Dance


Afghani film culture can be traced back more than 50 years. In 1946, Ishq Wa Dosti (love and friendship) was the first Afghan film production (co-produces with an Indian company), directed by Reshid Latif. The formation of Film Association in 1965 encouraged young Afghan artists to make films. Films such as Akhtar-e-Mushkara, Mojasema ha Mekhandand, Jeneyatkaran, Gonah and Mard ha ra Qawl Ast were seen by thousands in both rural and urban areas of Afghanistan. But during Mujahideen regime the film industry started moving towards crisis and with coming of Taliban regime in 1996, cinema endured lot of hardships. Films are outlawed, movie theatres were burnt and artists were either killed or they fled to another country. Cities like Jalalabad produced the greatest number of Pashto films, about 20 to 25 films annually before the Taliban destroyed the only two movie halls in the city. In 2002, Chapandaz, a heroic sports drama set amidst the world of buzkashi was the first Afghan film made and screened domestically in many years.

Today, artistic freedom is returning for Afghan filmmakers and directors such as Siddiq Barnak, Homayun Morowat, Ahmadi Latif and Said Woakzai are creating a new Afghan cinema. Osama (2003), Kandahar (2001) and the western produced Afghan Stories (2002) and The Kite Runner (2007) have gained global acclaim. At the same time, Pakistani, Indian, English and Iranian movies are more popular in Afghan cinemas than the indigenous work. In 2012, ‘Buzkashi Boys’an Afghan film about two impoverished boys in Kabul earned international critical acclaim, including an Oscar nomination. It is the first film to be produced by Afghan Film Project, a non- profit Production Company and directed by Sam French, an American documentary maker. During the production of ‘Buzkashi Boys’, a dozen aspiring Afghan filmmakers were tutored through the production and post-production process with many getting their first opportunity to write, produce and direct a major film. Afghanistan’s film industry which was held in check for many years is finally blossoming and forging a path in global cinema.


Literature in both Dari and Pashto languages originated in the early Muslim centuries, when Arabic was also used. Persian poet Firdawsi completed the great epic poem Shah nameh (book of Kings) in 1010, consisting of 60,000 rhyming couplets in Dari.  Pashto literature developed immensely in the 17th century, due to poets like Khushal Kattak (national poet of Afghanistan). He was a warrior and poet who used verses to express the tribal code.  Rahman Baba and Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of the modern Afghan nation are other Pashto peots in history.

Dari has an extensive literature and some of the world’s greatest poets like Jalaludin Rumi have written in Dari. Rumi’s work has been translated from Dari versions to numerous other languages and is widely read all over the world.

Due to widespread illiteracy in Afghanistan, the ancient art of storytelling continues to flourish through music and spoken words and it is a highly developed and appreciated art form. Apart from being a major form of entertainment, the use of folklore has become a thread which links the past with the present in Afghan society. These folktales concern all parts of Afghan life and emphasis on traditional values, beliefs and behaviours.

The Afghanistan Historical Society and the Pashto Academy publish literary magazines and encourage new writers. Modern writings have attempted to bring Afghans closer to understanding the changes associated with the modern world, in particular, the destruction of Afghanistan by war. Burhanuddin Majruh wrote several volumes in classical rhythmic Dari prose about a traveller who joins his countrymen in exile in the year 1972. In exile the traveller exchanges ideas and narratives from ancient times in the light of modern concepts of reason, logic, science and psychoanalysis with his countrymen. The themes related to Islam and freedom were prominent during the war with the Soviets. In 1983, Gulzarak Zadran published “Afghanistan the Land of Jihad: Pakistan Uprising Waves


Afghan cuisine and eating habits have evolved over many centuries and is a fusion of the regions that neighbour Afghanistan. Food in Afghanistan is enriched with spices and rich aroma.  Garam masala, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, chillis, leeks, coriander, parsley, mint and black pepper are common spices used for cooking. Pulao, Qabli Pulao, Afghan Kofta (meatballs), Nan-i-Afghan (Afghan bread), Quroot (dried yogurt), Osh Pyozee (stuffed onions), Sher Berinj (rice pudding), Qabli Pulao (traditional rice dish), Mantu (meat dumplings), Dampukht (steamed rice) and Kababs (skewed mean chops) are popular dishes. Due to environmental factors people take food rich in fat and protein, and vegetarian dishes are not so popular in Afghanistan culture.

Afghan Specials

Qabli Pulao: is steamed rice with raisins, carrots, and mostly lamb. It is eaten with meat and vegetables.

Kababs: are mostly served with naan. Lamb kababs, lamb chops, ribs, kofta (ground beef) and chicken kababs are popular in Afghanistan.

Qorma: is curry made with fried onions, meat, spices and vegetable.

Mantu: are steamed dumplings with minced onion beef.

Shorma: is soup made with variety of items and is very important part of Afghan cuisine.

Breads; variety of breads are available in Afghanistan and they are locally called Naan, Obi Naan and Lavash. Naan is thin , long  and oval shaped bread made up of wheat. Obi Naan is thicher than naan and is shaped like a disk. Lavash is very thin bread used as plating for meats and stews.

Fruits and Nuts: are inseparable parts of Afghan food. Melons of Mazar-e-Sharif, oranges of Jalalabad, grapes and pomegranates of Kandhar are popular. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, grapes, apricots, pomegrenates, plums and berries are popular in Afghanistan.

Tea (chai) and milk products like yogurt and whey are commonly found in Afghanistan.


Qabli Pulao

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Cotton and wool are the main materials used in Afghanistan. Women wear the Chadri to cover themselves from head to foot, with a latticed slit for the eyes. Young girls go barehead, however women are required to cover their heads with long headscarves. The colour of the headscarf varies according to the groups to which they belong and white headscarf signifies the married status.

Women near Pakistan border wear long, full trousers with a loose long-sleeved tunic dress, similar to kameez, along with a draped headscarf. This is the basis of many of the women’s costumes and the tunic varies in length, design and colour according to the groups they belong to.

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Men wear a thigh-length, long sleeved shirt, belted at the waist. A sleeveless waistcoat is worn over the shirt with loose fitting white trousers. ‘Chupan’ is another form of dress which is long-sleeved and ankle-length. It is made up of wool, often in white colour and worn by people in the mountain in winters. There is also a similar type of coat which is wrapped around the body like a cloak and is made in stripes of darkish colours.

Various forms of headgears including turbans with a long end hanging down back, neat around astrakhan hats, woollen knitted hats, karakul, pakoland large fur sheepskin hats are worn in Afghanistan. Thick woollen, hand-knitted stockings are worn with leather boots during winter season. Sandals or a form of boots are worn by children and adults as protection against the rough mountainous ground or earth. In urban centres, open toe sandals are very common.

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