Dambura festivals in Bamyan; governor faces opposition by religious scholars
under an umbrella called Ulema Council of Bamyan Center, a number of local
religious scholars and representatives of offices of high Shia clerics issued a
declaration on October 03, warning that they will cut ties with Bamyan governor
as he promotes Dambura festival—a festival, they say, is against Islamic
The central province of Bamyan
makes headlines when it comes to cultural events in the war-torn Afghanistan
where media offices are usually overloaded by news of explosions, suicide
bombings, airstrikes, and political tensions. At least four major cultural
events including Silk Road festival, A Night with Budha, Dambura Cultural
Festival, and Potato Flower Festival have been celebrated in the last 15 years
in the ancient tiny city of Bamyan that is home to two giant statues of Budha,
a legacy that represents pre-Islamic civilization.
In the year 2019 as the cultural department of local government was preparing to arrange the Dambura Festival, a number of religious scholars put hard efforts to ban the festival calling it harram, religiously forbidden. Despite the opposition by religious leaders, the festival was held and thousands of people including women cheering the music enjoyed it.
against Dambura festival is drummed again as a number of religious scholars
have just recently warned to cut ties with Bamyan governor, Tahir Zuhair, over
what they labeled as promoting unlawful acts.
As read in
the introduction of the declaration, representatives of four prominent high
Shia jurists in Afghanistan—Ayatullah Sistani, Ayatullah Mohaqiq Kabuli,
Ayatullah Fayyaz, and Ayatullah Sherazi—have asked every religious scholar to
stand against any ‘anti-religion move’ by the incumbent governor.
to all ulema and Marja al-Taqlids, these actions are haram,” part of the
declaration reads, adding that neither bringing happiness, nor attracting
tourists, nor development of economy, nor supporting artists could justify or
legitimize the acts.
In June 2015, Bamyan was
officially named as the first ever cultural capital of the South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). As the first historical city from Afghanistan
and Central Asia, in 2015, Bamyan was registered on the list of the UNESCO
Creative Cities Network for its handcrafts and folk arts.
Dambura is a key element of
folk art of the ancient Bamyan. Many artists who play the instrument visit the city
just to attend Dambura festival. Though locals in Bamyan love Dambura, the
instrument has faced opposition by the conservative segment of the Bamyan society
in recent year.
Kabul Now, Sayed Eskandar Alawi, representative of Ayatullah Fayyaz in Bamyan
accused governor Zuhair of undermining religious scholars and using harsh terms
against them. “The governor must find a solution for himself, heal his
relations with clerics and rectify his language,” he asserted.
a public gathering held to commemorate the anniversary of Afghanistan’s
Independence Day, Zuhair publicly criticized religious scholars’ opposition against
Dambura festival and noted there is no clash between religion and art.
In part of
his speech which is still being circulated on social media Zuhair, addressing
the religious scholars in the province, says, “no one of you can dare to issue
a declaration against terrorists, takfiris, Daesh, Taliban, their financial
sponsors, masters, and neighbors.”
Afghan society has a long record of strong opposition against art—in particular
music. During their rule, the Taliban regime had banned listening to music.
Zaki, who is coordinator of the human rights and civil society networks in
Bamyan, says religious scholars’ opposition against Dambura festival enlarged when
the festival coincided with death anniversary of a political leader, Sayed
Hussain Anwari. He believes the opposition has been developed on the basis of deep
political and ethnic basis.
Mr. Zaki, however,
believes religious scholars are principally accountable to their financial sponsors
and they oppose Dambura festival for appeasement of their sponsors.
any religious base of their opposition, in his public speech Zuhair had also accused
that a number of religious scholars were attempting to fuel sectarian conflicts
for Bamyan governor, Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, told Kabul Now that there was some
political agenda behind the opposition of religious scholars.
Eskandar Alawi, not completely rejecting any possible political incentive
behind the opposition, argues the opposition has root in religion, not in politics.
“Bamyan is religious, culture, power and ideological center for Shia in the
central region. When Shia culture is being destroyed here then culture of all
Harazarajat and Shia populated areas will be affected,” he clarified.
Religious scholars argue mixed-sex festivals, particularly hanging out of boys and girls with playing Dambura, is ‘seductive.’
University lecturer Abdul Raheem Akhlaqi believes the recent declaration by the religious scholars is more like a personal decision rather than a decision taken on basis of religious thought. According to him, there is no clash between religion and art and opposition such as this one represents ‘extremist interpretation’ of Islam.
says the decision of religious scholars to cut ties with Bamyan governor will
not separate people from the local administration. “Nowadays people do not
listen to what religious scholars say,” he added.
governor spokesperson, Ahmadi, says opposition of the religious scholars is something
common in diversified Bamyan society. “We do not mute their voice. We have not
felt any effect of these declarations, statements, and decisions on the
people’s relationship with the government,” he asserted, adding the government
and people have a friendly and good relationship.
times in a year since 2017, Dambura festival is sponsored by the Chinese
government aiming to promote folk art and attract more tourists to the ancient
yet extremely poor Bamyan province.
of the event argue that in addition to enriching local music it will contribute
to boost the poor economy of locals as more tourists visit the province to
to the governor, around 100,000 tourists have visited the province during the
first week of Eid al-Adha festivity of the 2019.
not promoting fahsha, prostitution, and wrongs. We are promoting
tourism,” Zuhair said arguing that tourism boosts up economy of the poor Bamyan
where 61 percent of the population live below poverty line.