The territory of present-day Tajikistan
was part of the Iranian Empire, the religion of which was
When the Iranian Sassanids were defeated by Umayyad Arab armies in
636, Islam was gradually spread throughout the Central Asian region.
The religion of the vast majority of Tajikistan’s population today is
Sunni Islam. In the Pamirs, however, a majority of the people profess
the Ismaili faith (i.e. are followers of the Aga Khan). According to local tradition,
the Pamiris were converted to Ismailism in the 11th century by the Persian poet,
traveller and philosopher Nasir Khusraw. However, one of the foremost non-Ismaili
authorities on Ismailism, W. Iwanow, of the Russian Academy of Sciences in
St. Petersburg, writing in 1948, expressed the opinion that "the present Shughnis,
Wakhis and others were not yet settled there in Nasir's time. They came
to that locality much later on". See "Nasir-I-Khusraw and Ismailism" on
The website of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London contains much interesting information
on the history of the Ismaili community. See, for example
One of the most important repositories of the culture of the Pamirs is the traditional
Pamiri house, locally known as 'Chid' in the Shughni language. What to the untrained eye
looks like a very basic - even primitive - structure, is, for the people who live in it,
rich in religious and philosophical meaning. Tajik writers consider that it embodies
elements of ancient Aryan and possibly Buddhist philosophy - some of which have since
been assimilated into Pamiri traditions. The symbolism of specific structural features
of the Pamiri house goes back over two and a half thousand years and its distinctive
architectural elements are found in buildings in several other areas close to the Pamirs.
here for more detailed information on the symbolism
of the Pamiri house.
Pamiri handicraft skills are being revived by a project of the Aga Khan
Foundation, with support from the Christensen Fund and Aid to Artisans.
Typical Pamiri handicrafts include:
beautifully decorated skullcaps,
surrounded by a woven band containing Zoroastrian symbols, decorative
embroidered cloths (suzanis)
Photos courtesy Robin Oldacre
and knitted socks and gloves in bright colours
http://thebootstrapproject.com/blog/view/102 for another interesting project aimed at revitalising
the production of suzanis.
Old Pamiri jewellery can still be found, comprising primarily
necklaces made of coral with silver decorations and rings with spinel
stones (reportedly, the coral is found in the hills of the Alichur
plain and is there because this whole area was raised from sea-level
to its present height as the continents drifted and tectonic plates
There is a saying in Tajikistan that the people from Leninabad
govern, those from Kulob fight, in Garm they pray – and the Pamiris
dance. Certainly it is difficult to imagine life in Gorno-Badakhshan
without the perpetual accompaniment of music and dancing. Every
village has excellent musicians, young and old as well as expert
dancers. Men and women dance together, although there is no contact.
Women perform as solo singers and occasionally as accordion players.
Pamiri dancing is
highly rhythmic and uses complex and elegant hand movements
shown above, are: from left to right tanboor, Afghan rubob, Pamiri
rubob, tor, setor – above gejak (violin-type instrument) – in
front Pamiri rubob lying on a daf (drum); the accordeon is also
in Khedjez, Bartang valley
A traditional welcome to Pamiri villages is often performed on the daf
(flat tambourine-type drum) by women in complex rhythmic patterns.
These performances are mostly by older women, which suggests that the
tradition may be in danger of dying out.
A "Roof of the World Festival" is organised annually in the Pamirs. A superb film of the
2009 edition by Matthieu and Mareile Paley can be found
here. It includes much music and dancing as well as
performances on the daf.
Performance on dafs at a wedding in Khorog
More information on Pamiri musical instruments can be found on
The following website
a fascinating account of a visit to the Bartang valley by Dr. Robyn Friend, director
of the Institute of Persian Performing Arts, based in Los Angeles, to study Pamiri music and dancing.
N.B. The Bartang valley is one of the few remaining places where genuine spontaneous Pamiri
music and dance can still be experienced - get there before television becomes the main domestic leisure activity.
A very interesting doctoral thesis by Benjamin Koen at the University of Ohio
(Devotional music and healing in Badakhshan, Tajikistan: preventive and curative practices)
together with samples (wav files) of Pamiri music can be found on
Musicians in Khedjez, Bartang valley
Man playing a rubob
Other information resources:
Islam and Ismailism:
Buddhism in Central Asia:
For Pamiri hats and other handicrafts:
For ancient and contemporary Tajik design: