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Chovgan: a traditional horse riding game from Karabakh in Azerbaijan

Chovgan is a traditional Azerbaijani horse riding game played on a flat, grassy field by two teams of players competing on Karabakh horses. A forerunner of polo, it involves 2 teams of 5 players dressed in national costumes mounted on Karabakh horses competing to hit a small leather ball through the opposing team’s 3 meter wide goal posts.

Chovgan: a traditional horse riding game from Karabakh in Azerbaijan

Being a team game, the chovgan competitions were formed in the middle of the first millennium AD. C. and became popular throughout the centuries in Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and neighboring countries. Sources show that in the 12th century in the cultural center of the Islamic world, Baghdad, the first international chovgan competitions were held among horsemen from Middle Eastern countries. The facts show that the game of chovgan was popular in Azerbaijan since ancient times. The image of the game chovgan on a lion pot found during archaeological excavations in Orangala (ancient Azerbaijani settlement), shows 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 also from “Kitabi-Dada Gorqud” (a heroic epic poem) it is known that the history of chovgan in Azerbaijan dates back to the 6th-7th centuries or even earlier. times.

Among the facts supporting the concept of chovgan as an ancient Azerbaijani game are the miniature paintings, depicting the game and the knowledge about its rules presented in various written sources. As in the case of other popular games in the East, the spread and development of the chovgan in distant parts of the world is largely due to the British. Therefore, this game brought from India to England in the 19th century had developed further and began to spread in Europe and America based on new rules. In fact, at the initiative of the British, the game was introduced for the first time at the II Olympic Games held in Paris in 1900 under the name “polo”, and thus, this name was established in Western civilization.

On the basis of the material culture found during archaeological excavations, as well as written sources, masterpieces of fine arts, literary and historical sources, folklore and medieval works of art, it is possible to assume that fighting, archery, the fencing, javelin throwing, horse racing, chovgan, surpapag, baharband, weightlifting chess and other sports were widely spread in Azerbaijan. And these traditions have survived to this day.

As we have noted, our folk tales are filled with heroes skilled in horsemanship, archery, and wrestling. Referring to historical documents, the great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi in ​​his “Sharafname” provided information on chovgan. Shirin from “Khosrov and Shirin” is not far behind Sassanid King Khosrov in chovgan. Girls who play with Shirin have also been described.

The main objective of the chovgan competition for the President’s Cup that has been held since 2006 in Azerbaijan is the protection and preservation of the national equestrian game, as well as the restoration of ancient horse-breeding traditions, the promotion of equestrian tourism, awakening the interest of the younger generations. in this sphere.

In 2013, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage included chovgan on the “List of the intangible cultural heritage in urgent need of safeguarding” at the eighth session held in Baku. ©


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