A scene from  «A scene from» play Traditional customs and rituals communicated to us through oral tradition and folklore are of great interest to our contemporaries. Histrionic art, telling us about them in the language of stage, provides an opportunity to better understand their essence. The peoples of Central Asia had a custom, whereby the parents of young children, sometimes just newly born boy and girl, performed a ritual of their engagement or betrothal. Stories of it are told in many pieces of oral tradition.

The basis of traditional Central Asia epic can be traced in the use of certain patterns in which the characters share similar fates from birth. For example, Bomsi-Bayrak and Bonuchechak («Kitabi Dede Korkut»), Alpamysh and Oybarchin («Alpamysh»), Gharib and Shahsanam («Oshik Gharib and Shahsanam»), Manas and Kenikei, Semetei and Aichurek («Manas»), Tahir and Zuhra («Tahir and Zuhra»), Kuzi and Bayan («Kuzi Kurpesh and Bayan Slu») were engaged from their cradle days. Today still this ceremony is called «beshikkerti» by the Uzbeks, «bel kuda» by the Kirgiz, «ezhekabil» by the Kazakhs, and «adaglab kuyiladi» among the Turkmen. The essence of beshikkerti is to engage young children to each other while they are still in the cradle, to determine their life partner. Obviously, the beshikkerti ritual was considered sacred in the past. It should be noted that, according to the epic tales, it was believed impossible to separate the engaged: despite all the impediments, destiny was supposed to unite them again. Through the performance of a sacred rite, the love of Tahir and Zuhri, Shahsanam and Gharib, Bomsi and Bonuchechak, Kuzi and Bayan became sacred. God’s will was to make then endure hardships and the ordeal of separation. A tragic death was also the dictate of God. The Almighty upheld conjugal ties.

Thus, epic poem characters, brothers Baysary and Bayburi («Alpamysh») padishah Babakhan and his vizier Bahir («Tahir and Zukhra»), and neighbours Sarybai and Karabai («Kuzi Kurpesh and Bayan Slu») long suffered from childlessness, praying to God for heirs. Once during a big festivity, the brothers were reproached for having no children still. In keeping with the prophecy of a holly man Shakhimardan, after much prayer and a long forty-day fasting, both became fathers. In the house of Bayburi son Hakimbek was born, which means «healer». The long-awaited baby was born to be the sun for his people, and the seers called his mother Kuntugmishbekoy (the one who gave birth to the sun and a new day).

A scene from  «Gul va Navruz» play Meanwhile, Barchinoy, the symbol of feminine perfection, gave birth to a daughter Altynoi (The Golden Moon). The beshikkerti ritual was performed for Alpamysh and Barchinoy (the Moon and the Sun). The quiet pace of passing days was disrupted by differences that emerged between Baysary (the richest) and Bayburi (ravenous wolf among the rich).

Already elderly Manas finally sees the birth of a long-awaited son, Semetei. Without delay, the father performs the beshikkerti ritual for his son and Aichurek. Unaware of it, grown-up Semetei marries another girl named Chachikei. Wise Aichurek resolves to find her betrothed Semetei to protect herself and her people from invasion. Soaring above the earth as a white swan, she flies across the universe. The lovers become separated many tines, but being originally connected by fate, they meet over and over and again.

A scene from  «Leili and Mejnun» play In the national epic tradition of Central Asia the beshikkerti rite is the most frequently encountered means of creating a climax and a plot of theatrical performance. Often one of the parties to the engagement disavows the commitment, following which the key events unfold. After a long absence (for instance, Bomsi was away for sixteen years, and Gharib and Alpamysh for seven years), the hero reappears disguised as a singer or storyteller attending the wedding of his betrothed fianc?. In dastans, they compete in eloquence, singing or story-telling arts, while in epic tales the hero makes people aware of himself and the events that took place during his absence through a heroic feat. As a result, the lovers are united.

In the epic pieces, folk customs are presented following a common pattern, whereas national theatres offer their own interpretation, reflecting the culture, customs, and the nation’s past.

Not only essentially different pieces, but even pieces of the same title and subject, created by different nations, differ in style, methods, means of artistic representation and character interpretation, and never a hero of one nation is a repetition of the image created by the neighbouring nation. This is how the nation’s mentality, culture, spiritual character and traditional values are exposed. This, in turn, is a dominant feature in the evolution of theatres.

A scene from  «Mashrab» play «Tahir and Zuhra» dastan stands separate among pieces dedicated to the story of lovers. The peoples of the East performed it in 6 or 7 versions. In the 17th century poet Sayeed Mohammad Sayedi, and in the 18th-19th cc. the Turkmen classic Mullanepes, taking the folk version as basis, wrote the dastans. In the early years of theatrical art evolution these pieces drew attention of playwrights. In 1923, the Khiva theatre «Halk Uyi» that united independent companies, staged an amateur play by Fotih Burnosh «Tahir and Zuhra». The role of Zuhra was performed by actress Khanskaya; Yakub Devanov appeared as Tahir, and the khan was played by Masharif Palvanov, the founder of the Khorezm Theatre.

In the 1920s, theatrical performances were considered unacceptable for Muslims in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Under the influence of reactionary movements in Turkmenistan, those who staged the performances and those who watched them were considered to be violating public order. Turning to folk art contributed greatly to the evolution of the Turkmen theatre. The development of new theatrical forms was served well by the staging of a Tatar version of «Zuhra and Tahir» in Ashgabat in 1926. Despite the fact that most of the actors were Tatars and the translation still contained a lot of Tatar words, the playbill was in Turkmen language and the play was based on folk material, which attracted a big audience. Turkmen theater critics noted that for two days the theater hall was overcrowded. Turkmenskaya Iskra newspaper reported that the play «was an important event in the development of the national culture of Turkmenia».

Uzbek professional stage presented «Tahir and Zuhra» dastan that was based on a play by playwright S. Abdullah, which he wrote in 1937-1938.

A scene from  «Gul va Navruz» play It should be noted that our ancestors regarded beshikkerti rite as an intervention of supreme forces. All the conflicts usually began after the vizier’s death and the refusal of the padishah to keep his oath. But it is impossible to separate the betrothed — fate will reunite them anyway. Sobir Abdullah had a creative approach to the character rendition. His piece shows fair love with a tragic outcome, and a struggle between brutality and justice in a feudal society. Music was written by composer Tukhtasin Jalilov.

For the first time, musical drama «Tohir and Zuhra» by S. Abdullah and composer T. Jalilov was staged by director Abduvahab Azimov and Abbas Bakirov in Andijan Theatre (1940, July 1). The play was a big success, and the folk tale characters lived again on stage, performed by Mashrab Yunusov (Tahir) and Fatima Hujaeva. The characters appeared before the audience as bearers of the best human qualities, representing aspirations of the people. The play demonstrated that in the times of violence and ignorance human values can be trampled on, but love can have power over viciousness and meanness.

In 1946, a new, refined, version of the «Tohir and Zuhra» play staged by director Muzaffar Mukhamedov, was also produced in theaters of Samarqand, Ferghana, Kokand, Bukhara and Osh, and in 1949 «Tohir and Zuhra» opera was created and produced by E. N. Yungwald-Hilkevich. Struggle between people and the brutal Shah is the leitmotif of the opera. In creating the musical interpretation of the piece, composers T. Jalilov and V. Brovitsin, using S. Abdullah’s libretto as basis, created a synthesis between rich Uzbek folk melodies and Russian opera music. However, the already familiar and popular arias and duets lovingly performed by people everywhere did not yield to the canons of opera.

The stories of Uzbek romantic dastans such as «Tohir and Zuhra», «Oshik Gharib and Shahsanam», the Kazakh «Kuzi Kurpesh and Bayan Slu», and Bashkir «Kuzi-Kupes-Mayan-hilu» share the same outline.

The complete text of «Kuzi Kurpesh and Bayan Slu» was published in 1936 by M. Auezov, who provided a comprehensive analysis of the story in his subsequent academic works. In different years, Ch. Valikhanov, A. Divaev, and P. Semenov-Tyanshanskiy did their share of research. The researchers note that many elements associated with the culture of the people, date back to the period of Arab invasion. Starting from 1939, dastan «resurrected». For more than 70 years it has lived on stage.

Kazak playwright Gabit Musrepov exercised creative approach to the creation of the play, strengthening some of the characters’ qualities and introducing new characters. Written in 1939, the drama was performed in many stages abroad. The Kazakh film «Dastan about Love» was made on the basis of his script.

Professor H. Korogli noted that although oral tradition could not be superior to professional work in terms of status, degree of generalization and the refinement of poetic form and methodology, it was nonetheless significant as a specific type of information that shows the particular nation’s character and customs. As an information source, it enables one to better understand and adequately appreciate spiritual character of the people. Folklore, being a national asset, contains ethnic and historical philosophy, as well as stages of the nation’s ethnic identity evolution. Folk art has always played an important role in cultivating a caring attitude towards ethnic values of the nation. Theatre enthusiasts of our time keep turning to this invaluable treasure.

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Oltin Tajibaeva