The history of the Turkmen people’s culture knows 72 musical instruments, which at different times enjoyed wide popularity. Some of them have been preserved to this day, and others gradually fell out of use. One of these instruments, the dutar, is still very popular in Turkmenistan.
Dutar is an integral part of the centuries-old musical culture of the Turkmen people. Not a single celebration, be it a wedding or a public holiday, is complete without folk performers - bakhshi. Throughout the ages, bakhshis have enjoyed honor and respect among the people. Their names were overgrown with legends. The bakhshis themselves treated their dutar with the greatest care. The dutar was cherished like the apple of an eye, kept in special cases made of soft material and never lent to anyone.
Dutar appeared around the 15th century, among shepherds. In the beginning, dutar strings were made from animal intestines. Later, thanks to the development of trade along the Great Silk Road, they began to make strings from twisted silk. Silk or nylon is still used in modern strings.
It happened in the history of the Turkmens that an unsurpassed musician-bakhshi, with his art of playing the dutar, stopped the impending bloody battle with the soldiers of a neighboring country.
The well-deserved fame of the bakhshi can rightfully be shared by the dutar making masters - usta. They enjoyed no less respect, and their work was highly valued. A thoroughbred horse could be exchanged for a good dutar. The dutar-making craft was handed down from generation to generation. Even today, bakhshis can name the masters who lived and made beautiful instruments a hundred or more years ago.
Legends of Hellenistic origin associated with ancient Greek myths and historical figures have been preserved in Turkmen folklore. Thus, Plato is credited with the creation of the most popular folk instrument, the dutar, and one of the stories about Alexander the Great tells of the emergence of the wind musical instrument tuyduk. The musical life of the pre-Islamic Middle Ages (4th-7th centuries) was reflected in the archaeological sites of Serakhs and ancient Merv.
The folklore song was directly linked with the material and practical activity of a person, labor, rituals, rites, and was, in a way, a lifestyle.
And the beginning of the formation of Turkmen music dates back to the 6th-7th centuries, when the initial core of the Turkmen people came into being. History has preserved the name of the folk singer and storyteller Babagambar (7th century), one of the first professional folk musicians, the forerunners of modern bakhshis.
Separate information about Turkmen instruments and Turkmen music is contained in the works by al-Farabi, al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Safi-ad-din, al-Urmawi (9th-13th centuries).
In the 30s of the twentieth century, the foundations of professional musical art were just being laid in the national culture of Turkmenistan. Then the original art of bakhshi, the masters of the Turkmen national song and instrumental music, also became widespread. Among the oldest representatives of the folk art of the bakhshi, it is worth mentioning such as Mollanepes, the author of the popular folk novel-destan “Zohre and Takhir”, performer of classical national songs Sary-bakhshi Purli ogly, Tachmamed Sukhankuliyev, a student of famous in Turkmenistan Kel-bakhshi, who owned a huge repertoire of folk destans and lyric-epic plays.
Mylly Tachmuradov, having taught the art by his teachers Sary-bakhshi and Kel-bakhshi, became an outstanding dutar virtuoso. Purli Sariyev, the son of Sary-bakhshi, who studied the art of playing the dutar from his father, achieved high mastery in this area, as well as in playing the gydjak. He created his own individual artistic style of performance. Sakhi Jepbarov was a talented singer and dutar player, composer and temperamental performer of a wide range of songs, both classical and modern.
At the beginning of 2022 a decision was made to hold a new creative competition among bakhshi musicians “Çalsana, bagşy!” as part of the annual competition of the President of Turkmenistan “Türkmeniň Altyn asyry” among the figures of literature, culture and art, young performers and gifted children, contributing to the professional growth of creative workers, familiarizing young people with the treasury of national culture.
Today, one of the priorities of the national policy of Turkmenistan in the field of cultural and humanitarian cooperation is the development of effective partnership with the UN and other reputable international organizations and foundations. A special importance in this context is attached to partnership with UNESCO as a kind of intellectual forum in the UN system, which makes it possible to search for solutions to global problems in the field of culture, science and education in a depoliticized manner.
As part of partnership with UNESCO, a number of joint projects have been successfully implemented, including the preservation of unique historical and cultural monuments. This is clearly evidenced by such facts as the inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Ancient Merv, the legendary city of Kunyaurgench and Nisa, the capital of the Parthian Kingdom, as monuments of outstanding significance and universal value.
On December 13-18, 2021, during the 16th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO, held in Paris, it was unanimously decided to include the dutar making craft, dutar playing art and the art of bakhshi in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.