The uniqueness of the Turkmen national culture is manifested by the entire deposit of bright features and distinctive characteristics, in values carried through the centuries, which bring inimitable colors to the universal civilization.
Bakhshies – musicians, singers, storytellers and gurus who formed the spiritual world and moral guidelines of the Turkmen people, their mentality and artistic taste for centuries – play a special role in the genesis, preservation and transmission of the common cultural code of the nation. Bakhshies always had the highest authority and love of the people, who considered their art higher and more important than the power of rulers and the victories of generals.
This is evidenced by the story of Shukur-bakhshi, who for the release of his brother from captivity chose to compete in the art of dutar music instead of military force or ransom. As the villagers of Shukur said, “You can give hundreds of worlds for two of his tunes”. When he had wealth equal to a hundred worlds in his hands, what would he rely on brute force for?! After all, such wealth is not given to everyone. The musician beloved by the people already has such wealth.
By force of his dutar, he must show the people that he understands the eternal law of the universe. And that using his skill he pays shot to the music of the universe. This is how he preserves the good name, honor and dignity of the people.
It can be said that exactly the bakhshies played a decisive role in the formation of the cultural type of national identity of the Turkmen, their life philosophy, which is based on humanistic values and spiritual categories, the priority of soft power over hard power pressure.
And this is one of the most powerful sources of modern Turkmen neutrality with its fundamental principles of a culture of peaceful dialogue, mutual trust and constructive cooperation, and the development of all forms of diplomacy in solving emerging problems of international relations, global threats and challenges.
The special attitude of Turkmens to spiritual values and education, books and music, their enthusiasm for the intellectual chess game, their ability to elevate crafts to the level of art was noted in the 19th century by the Frenchman Gulibef de Blockville, who kept, as sociologists say, Merv Teke people’s life under a participant surveillance for fourteen months. In his notes about his stay among the Turkmens, he wrote,
“Almost all Turkmens can sing or play a special two-stringed instrument, and their love for music is strong to such an extent that even during the most severe cold weather, having heard musicians in a tent and being unable to push through it because of the large crowd of people, they lie or sit around it, wrapped in fur coats, until the music stops in the tent.”
The young Frenchman was greatly impressed by the attitude of Turkmens not only to music, but also to its performers – bakhshi, who enjoyed special respect and honor among the people,
“Wherever he goes, he is received with open arms: he is the first to be served with tea, a pipe; in short, he takes the first place everywhere. If he is needed for an occasion, it is not enough to inform him of it. Two or three people usually go on horseback and ask the barshi (bakhshi) to do them the honor of spending the evening with them. They offer him a horse to take and bring him back.”
As noted by other authors, in every village where bakhshies came to with their songs and stories, people prepared in advance to meet him: they thought out questions for conversation, a place for celebration, food, etc. Thousands of people came to listen to bakhshi, who started singing at five or six in the evening and finished at eight or nine in the morning with short breaks, during which the musician drank tea and talked to people. Often bakhshi was accompanied by an assistant who knew his habits and tastes well.
Dutar music and art of bakhshi carry a spiritual origin that develops along with the history of the people and preserves their national identity in different epochs, not allowing it to be blurred by foreign or transitory trends. This is an integral part of the modern cultural life of the country, which, along with popular music, serves the purpose of creating and spiritual filling people’s lives, accompanies all holidays and major events in public life.
Starting from their historical prototypes in the name of Oghuz storytellers – ozans and the main character of the heroic epic “Gorkut Ata”, which composed songs and tales about the exploits of the oghuzs, the bakhshi were the main guardians of oral folk art – destans and legends, music and poetry. They handed down from generation to generation the traditions and moral precepts of their ancestors, providing a link between the past, present and future.
Nowadays, this temporary vertical is supplemented by a horizontal one, through which the national heritage of the Turkmen people acquires an international and global meaning.
Thus, the Moscow International Festival of Arts named after Nury Halmamedov “Sounds of Dutar”, which has been held in the Russian capital since 2015, has a noble mission of the cultural dialogue of peoples. The name of the festival was given according to the most famous work of Halmamedov, who wrote the play “Sounds of Dutar” (“Melody of Dutar”) in 1962, which for he received a prize from Aram Khachaturian at the All-Union competition of young composers.
The project “Sounds of Dutar” was originated from the experience of popularizing Turkmen music abroad, where it had a tremendous success. According to the Art Director of the Moscow International Festival “Sounds of Dutar”, composer and pianist Mamed Huseinov,
“Bakhshi can be compared to ancient Greek philosophers. They were allowed a lot, they were feared, they were respected. It is largely thanks to them that our poetic heritage has been preserved, because many works were restored according to bakhshies. Somewhere before the 30s of the 20th century, we did not have conservatories, but there was a mentoring tradition. It was very important to get a blessing from the mentor. One of the mandatory conditions was to make a pilgrimage to the burial places of the legendary patrons of music and musicians Ashik Aydyn pir and Baba Gammar. All folk musicians must go there to receive a blessing. Such is the veneration!”
Reflecting on the goal and purpose of the Moscow International Festival “Sounds of Dutar”, its Art Director noted,
“As Hegel writes in his “Phenomenology of the spirit”, the Spirit of every nation must merge into the World – Universal spirit. I also really want Turkmen music to merge into the world art.”
According to well-known Russian cultural figures, the ideas and aspirations of this festival are in many ways in solidarity with the ideas of artistic enlightenment of the Moscow International Fund for UNESCO, which are aimed at preserving the heritage and mutual enrichment of cultures of different peoples.
In this regard, the news that the UNESCO Secretariat has registered a nomination for inclusion in the list of intangible cultural heritage of the dutar making craft, technical musical art of playing it and the art of bakhshi is of particular importance.
Both for Turkmenistan, which this year celebrates the 25th anniversary of its neutral international legal status, and for the entire world, which urgently needs to harmonize international relations and humanize geopolitics.
In the modern world, the music of bakhshi serves as a spiritual message and an ancient and eternal call for harmony, goodness and justice.