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Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan

 
 

Celebrated by 300 million people across Central Asia, the Caucasus, and parts of the Middle East, the Persian holiday of Nowruz or “new day” symbolizes the beginning of the new year and the emergence of spring. Each country has developed its own unique customs to celebrate the holiday, which lasts for approximately two weeks. The celebration of Nowruz was officially forbidden and suppressed during the Soviet period but has become wildly popular over the last decade in Central Asia.

In Kyrgyzstan, from the capital city of Bishkek to the most far-flung mountain villages, Nowruz is centered around the national pastime sport of Kok Boru (known as Kokpar in Kazakhstan and Buzkashi in Afghanistan). This traditional nomadic game primarily played by men constitutes an important dimension of Kyrgyzstan’s cultural heritage and has developed into a core cultural export for the country.

Last December, the sport was officially inscribed into UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity and this year marks the 20th anniversary of the formal establishment of the National Kok Boru Federation.

Around the country, in Bishkek and in villages, numerous Kyrgyz families come together to prepare for Nowruz feasts while Kok Boru players prepare for their matches the following day. After the matches are finished in the early afternoon, people flock back to continue celebrating Nowruz until the early hours of the morning.

Nicholas Muller is an American photojournalist and writer currently covering the post-Soviet space with past stints in Egypt, Cameroon, and the GCC region focused on international affairs and migration topics.

Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Captain of the winning Kok Boru team, Talas, is congratulated by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov after the final on Nowruz at the Hippodrome in Bishkek.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
A Kok Boru player from Bishkek leans over the side of his horse to grab the goat carcass during the match to mark the holiday of Nowruz.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Kok Boru players pray after the winning the final match on Nowruz in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
During Nowruz, archa twigs are burnt to rid the house of evil spirits at the gathering the evening of Nowruz.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Women in traditional Kyrgyz dress prepare for the coming festivities the evening before Nowruz.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Two women prepare the ingredients for the labor intensive food of sumolok the day before Nowruz begins.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Women in traditional dress take turns stirring a cauldron of sumolok, a traditional food made of wheatgrass, which is cooked for hours on the evening before Nowruz.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
People from regions across the country begin celebrating Nowruz in a traditional yurt with a meal as the holiday begins.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
An elderly woman in traditional dress at the festivities marking the beginning of Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
A young couple selling the traditional wheatgrass food of sumolok on the morning of Nowruz in Bishkek.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Young performers dance for the crowd at the main Nowruz celebration in central Bishkek.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Young performers get ready to play the Komuz, a traditional Kyrgyz instrument, for the Nowruz celebration in central Bishkek.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
Kok Boru fans vie for a space at the match on Nowruz in a completely full hippodrome in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
Kok Boru and Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan
The final match of Kok Boru is annually played on the morning of Nowruz, to mark the beginning of festivities.
Image Credit: Nicholas Muller
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