Iskandar Ding: Persian poetry across the Persian-speaking world

Posted  27 Apr 2020

The eternal verses of great Persian poets, such as Rudaki, Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Mowlana, Sa’di, Hafez… were composed across the Persian-speaking world and are still celebrated by the Persian-speaking world, transcending modern borders. Most Persian learners have heard their poems recited and made into music in the Iranian context, but have not heard interpretations from outside of Iran. Here is a bit of a gem from the Internet: the Soviet Tajik actor and literary figure Mahmudjon Vohidov (محمودجان واحدوف; in Cyrillic: Маҳмудҷон Воҳидов) reciting the quatrains of Khayyam, ghazals of Hafez, as well as the long narrative poem, Jon-i shirin (جان شیرین), of the modern Tajik poet, Mirzo Tursunzoda (میرزا تورسونزاده, in Cyrillic: Мирзо Турсунзода), his contemporary.

Persian speakers from Iran often say that Afghan and Tajik Persian speakers have a more ‘original’ pronunciation and are what the classical poets must have sounded like. This is true in many respects. Many Afghan and Tajik varieties of Persian have preserved many phonological features of Persian that have been lost in standard Iranian Persian, such as the distinction between the long e and the long i (شیر is shēr when it means ‘lion’ and shīr when it means ‘milk’), as well as the distinction between the long o and the long u (کوتاه is kōtāh and not kūtāh, etc), both of which have been lost in Iranian Persian. The music is quite different from Iranian music, and so is the recitation style, particularly given Vohidov’s background as an actor. Have a listen and see if you can spot where the differences are.

The recitation of Khayyam (00:00 – 18:59) is accompanied by the balmy sounds of the tanbur, a long-necked lute made of mulberry wood with four metal strings and played with a plectrum. The tanbur used here is particular to the Tajiks and Uzbeks, and there exist other similar instruments with the name in other parts of the Persianate world. (

The recitation of Hafez (19:00 – 29:50) is accompanied by plaintive tunes on the sato, another long-necked lute made of mulberry wood with five strings and played with a bow. Similar to the tanbur, the sato is also widespread among the Tajiks and Uzbeks. (

The recitation of Tursunzoda (29:51 – end) is accompanied by an ensemble of Central Asian instruments, led by the cheerful Kashgar rubab (or simply called rubab/rubob), a long-necked lute with three strings: two double strings and one bam string, played in the same way as the Azerbaijani tar. This particular version is common among the Tajiks and the Uzbeks; the similar instrument among the Uyghurs as a different structure and different sound quality.

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