Landi: The Popular Pashtu Poetry

Pashtu, the language of more than 40 million inhabitants of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, is, next to Persian, the most prevalent of Arian languages in the world. Not only the quality of the written Pashtu literary works, but particularly its dynamic folkloric oral poetry attests to its viability. The oldest literary evidence relating to Pashtu goes back to the eighth century. Pashtu's literary renaissance, however, which began in the 16th century and continued until 18th century, took place under the influence of Persian literature. Pashtu pioneers of this renaissance were steeped both in religious ideas and Persian literary traditions. Some of their poems were written in Persian. Indeed, the influence of Persian has been quite evident in the extensive presence of not only Persian poetic literary modes and expression but also Persian words in Pashtu writings.

Given the state of literacy in the Pashtu communities, the significance and prevalence of oral poetry is more pronounced than the written one. The most prevalent, and perhaps the most beautiful, in the latter genre is the Landi poetry. The etymological origin of the word Landi is not known but the word may be from root "land" in Pashtu meaning short since there are usually no more than a few lines in each poem. The authors of these poems are never known, for each poem is in a constant state of revision and adaptation commensurate with the changing social and political circumstances.

Some of Landi poems have lasted for long periods of time and some others that refer to a particular event are forgotten once the event is swept from public consciousness. In recent years, a number of cultural institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan have published collections of Landi poems numbering over 50000 quatrains. It is estimated, however, that the number of these poems still in common usage exceed a hundred thousand.

Najib Manalai
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