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Important Names in Baluchi Poetry

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Baluchi dancers and musician. One way Baluchi folklore and poetry was told.

Baluchi dancers and musician. One way Baluchi folklore and poetry was told.

The Literary Tradition Evolves

Sometimes, the poets rhymed about peace and war. Other times, they used their skill to tell compelling tales about key events in their people’s history. Either way, Baluchi poets served an important role in telling their people and the world who the Baluchi people were—and are.

Starting as an oral tradition among semi-nomadic tribes in a place that once included a region within modern-day Iran, Pakistan and portions of Afghanistan, Baluchi literature eventually made it to print.

During that change, a few names emerged to help this tradition evolve from a regional literary tradition, to one recognized in much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East.

The Reciters of the Classical Era

Often anonymous, the reciter (also known as ḍōmbs, lōṛīs, or lāngaws) was a pivotal member of each confederated Baluchi tribe. Their job was to memorize ballads or stories and retell them. Much like a teacher or philosopher, the reciters used:

  • the poems to teach the code of conduct of riwaj (rih woj) or tribal laws;
  • to tell historical tales about tribal origin and conflicts with other tribes; and
  • recite chronologies of important figures, laws, monuments and important places.

In the latter, the poems were called daptar sa'iri (dap tar say ir eye) or "registry ballads". These ballads overwhelmingly made up Classical era Baluchi literature. They were designed to remind the listeners of the vital social orders and origins of the Baluchi people. (Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2009).

What made these particular cycles enduring was that they were some of the first to be recorded and published

The most popular were poetic collections known as cycles. These cycles were usually stories presented as songs or ballads with similar themes. Some of the most popular were:

  • The Cakur Cycles, which was about a thirty-years war between the Rind and Lasari tribes.
  • The Doda-Balac Cycle, which started with a raid by the Buledi tribal chief on a rival tribe's cattle and ended with the death of nearly all of the principal characters.
  • The Hammal Jihand Cycle, which described the struggle of the Baluch of the Makran (Mah krane) coast (Pakistan's Indian Ocean coast) with the Portuguese in the 16th century.

What made these particular cycles enduring was that they were some of the first to be recorded and published. However, these cycles were published in the late 1800s by an Englishman serving as an Indian Civil Service office (more on that later).

A Baluchi tribesman (Jut) in 1845.

A Baluchi tribesman (Jut) in 1845.

Most of the poems consisted of eight-syllable, stressed lines with irregularly short syllables on the first beat. Here is an example from the Doda-Balac Cycle as was published in Encyclopaedia Iranica.com :

Doda mani kun cli kapta

(Doda is fallen at my knees)

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Ermanag o dast-i-musta

(Depressed, and he wrung his hands)

Mund mana parmos na-bit

(Never shall I forget)

Dard-ant man Balace dila

(There are sorrows in Balac's heart).

Jam Durrak and the Emergence of the Post Classical Era

Although many reciters of the Classical era were nameless, some managed to be known in the era often referred to as the Post Classical or Semiclassical era.

This era between the 18th and 19th century saw a dramatic shift in Baluchi literature. While much of it was still performed orally, many of them veered away from folk tales and ancient war stories. In addition, the reciters became the creators of original material. One such person, and possibly the most important poet of this era was Jam Durrak (Jame Dur rack).

Durrak's influence was profound. As the tribes of Baluchistan (also known as Balochistan) became more unified as a kingdom, the reciter’s role expanded. They weren’t addressing members of tribes; they were reciting their poems before royal courts and government officials. In this era, Durrak was a performer and chief poet at the court of Nasi Khan of Kalat (kaw late). Kalat was a princely state within Balucistan.

Durrak never wrote his poems on paper. However, future reciters passed his poems down from one generation to another—with his name attached to it—until it was finally collected and published in the late 1800s.

They broke away from the history and folklore of the past and embraced themes that were relevant for the time.

Durrak's poems were unique and groundbreaking. They broke away from the history and folklore of the past and embraced themes that were relevant for the time. In addition, they were personal. Format-wise, his poems were characterized by an individual style that incorporated:

  • short lyric verses,
  • irregular rhymes, and
  • clipped meter.

This style has been widely imitated by future Baluchi poets and reciters. Here is an example of a lyrical poem by Durrak (Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2009):

Gosit kunguran

(Listen, O Brave)

Bel o kenagan

(Friends and enemies)

Sahi hambalan

(Royal companions)

The Collectors of the 19th and 20th Century

In terms of this literary movement, one non-poet and non-Balochian needs to be recognized. His contribution helped to save Classical and Post Classical era Baluchi literature for posterity. In addition, he may have been the first to document and record the language system, too. Mansel Longworth Dames (1850-1922), was an Indian Civil Servant for the British Empire.

He began collecting the literature in the 1890s and was soon followed by other collectors including several members of the Baluchi people. The culmination of these collections eventually resulted in its publication. Most, if not all that were collected and recorded, were ballads. Serious literary production in prose was not attempted before the 20th century (Encyclopaedia, Iranica, 2009).

Modern Era (1930–Present): Gol Khan Nasir

By 1930, Baluchi ballads and other forms of prose had been published. Magazines in Karachi and Quetta in Pakistan, along with Kabul, Afghanistan in 1978, began publishing the words and voices of the Baluchi people. Included in these publications were Baluchi ballads.

The partition of India and the founding of Pakistan in 1947 created more opportunities for Baluchi poets. Among those to be published was Gol Khan Nasir (Nas ear) of Nushki (1914–84). His name (in English translation) is also spelled as “Gul Khan Nasir” or "Gul Khan Naseer". Despite the different spellings of his name, he became the leading poet of his time and was given the title of the Poet of the People.

Nasir wrote poems at a time when the age-old tales of tribal laws were giving way to outside influence such as Arabic, Persian and European policies. Nasir took his material from the past and present. In 1964, he rewrote the purely Baluchi epic Dosten Siren, a poem that dated from the 18th century.

Nasir started his career in Quetta. There, a "Baluchi Academy" known as Baloci Zubane Diwan ("Baluchi language group") published a collection of poetry in a book called Gul Baang (1951).

In addition to his poetry, Nasir took on many roles. He was a boxer, politician (First Education Minister of Baluchistan), and an important name in Baluchistan's national identity. Also, he didn't just write poetry in his native Baluchi language. He wrote in English, Urdu, Brahui, and Persian, too.

Gol Khan Nasir (alternate spellings: Gul Khan Nasir or Gul Khan Naseer.

Gol Khan Nasir (alternate spellings: Gul Khan Nasir or Gul Khan Naseer.

He experimented with lyrical rhymes in which he composed poems consisting entirely of one rhyme. The poem, In"Tir Gal Kant" ("The Bullet Speaks") has eleven-syllable lines in which all the lines rhyme. Here is an example:

Byait o belan may kacahria

(Come O friends to our meeting)

Buskunit galan pa dil-kararia

(Hear verses with a contented heart)

Kissage karan pa dawr-o-baria

(A story I bring for the time)

His poem, "Balocistan, Balocistan!" was written in iambic, eight-syllable lines. This poem became revered as an unofficial national anthem for Baluchi people.

Baluchi poetry continues to evolve. The world of Baluchi poetry did take a hit when the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Communist government in Kabul, Afghanistan, helped to end publishing in these areas.

In time, more poets from these regions will emerge. For now, the art of Baluchi poetry has room to grow as new poets add their voices to paper.

Final Resting place for Gol Khan Nasir in Nushki, Baluchistan, Pakistan.

Final Resting place for Gol Khan Nasir in Nushki, Baluchistan, Pakistan.

Works Cited

© 2022 Dean Traylor

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