Chovgan – A traditional Karabakh horse riding game in Azerbaijan – AZERTAC
Baku, January 8, AZERTAC
Chovgan is a traditional Azerbaijani horse riding game played on flat, grassy terrain by two competing teams of players riding Karabakh horses. A pioneer of polo, it involves 2 teams of 5 players in national clothes riding Karabakh horses who compete to hit a small leather ball through the opposing team’s 3-meter-wide goal posts.
Being a team game, chovgan competitions were formed in the middle of the 1st millennium CE and have become popular over the centuries in Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and neighboring countries. . Sources show that in the 12th century at the cultural center of the Islamic world, Baghdad the first international chowgan competitions were held among riders from Middle Eastern countries. Facts prove that the game of chovgan has been popular in Azerbaijan since ancient times. The image of the game of chovgan on a lion vessel found during archaeological excavations made in Orangala (former Azerbaijani colony), proves that this game was popular in the Beylagan district of Azerbaijan in the 9th century. From the great Azerbaijani poet and thinker Nizami Ganjavi “Khosrov and Shirin” and from “Kitabi-Dada Gorqud” (a heroic epic poem), it is known that the history of the chovgan in Azerbaijan dates back to the 6-7th centuries or even earlier times .
Among the facts supporting the concept of the chovgan being an ancient Azerbaijani game are paintings on miniatures, depicting the game, and knowledge regarding its rules presented in various written sources. As with other popular games in the East, the spread and development of chovgan in remote parts of the world owes a lot to the British. Thus, this game imported from India to England in the 19th century developed further and began to spread to Europe and America on the basis of new rules. Indeed, at the initiative of the British, the game was introduced for the first time at the 2nd Olympic Games organized in Paris in 1900 under the name of “polo”, and thus, this name imposed itself in Western civilization.
Based on the material culture found during archaeological excavations as well as written sources, masterpieces of fine art, literary and historical sources, folklore and medieval works of art, it is possible to assume that wrestling, archery, sword fencing, javelin throw, Le horse racing, chovgan, surpapag, baharband, weightlifting chess and other sports were widely distributed throughout Azerbaijan. And these traditions have reached our days.
As we noted, our folk tales are full of heroes skilled in horseback riding, archery, and wrestling. Referring to historical documents, the great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi in his “Sharafname” provided information about the chovgan. Shirin from “Khosrov and Shirin” is not lagging behind the Sassanid king Khosrov in the chovgan. Girls playing with Shirin have also been described.
The main objective of the President’s Cup chovgan competition held since 2006 in Azerbaijan is the protection and preservation of the national equestrian game as well as the restoration of ancient traditions of horse breeding, promotion of equestrian tourism, awakening the interest of the young generation in this sphere.
In 2013, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO inscribed the chovgan on the “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding” during the 8th session held in Baku.
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