As playing Iran’s dotar instrument and the art of crafting it have been added to UNESCO Intangible Heritage list recently, we’ve decided to see what gives such a great value to this instrument and what makes it different to other Iranian musical instruments. Intangible Cultural Heritage is generally defined as practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills, instruments, objects and artifacts that communities recognize as part of their culture. Therefore, it’s interesting to get into details and see why Iranian dotar is regarded as part of Iranian culture. Have a look!
The Instrument of Delicate Folk Music
Dotar means “two strings” in Persian. As can be guessed, this long necked musical instrument features two strings that make a lovely sound when played by a professional dotar player. It has a silky sound that captures the mind of the hearer and creates a unique vibe once it’s played. Iran’s dotar is of great value to the nation since it has a long history in several cities and has deep roots in the Persian culture.
Interestingly, this instrument has been a prominent part of folklore music in different areas of Iran such as Ghoochan and Bojnourd in north of Khorasan and Torbat-e-Jam, Neyshabour and Sabzevar in east and south of Khorasan. Also, dotar has a long history in Turkmen areas of Iran which means Golestan province in northeastern Iran. In addition, it has been played by musicians in some areas of Mazandaran province in northern Iran since a long time ago. As can be seen, this musical instrument has played an important role in the folklore music of a vast part of the country.
Types of Iranian dotar
As dotar is played by musicians in different cities and provinces, the structure of the instrument and the style of playing it changes slightly in each area. In general, there are three main categories of Iranian dotar: “dotar of Khorasan” which includes two sub-categories known as “dotar of Northern Khorasan” and “dotar of Southern Khorasan”, “Turkmen dotar” and “dotar of Mazandaran”.
It’s noted that the style of playing the instrument is different in each area; even playing the dotar of northern Khorasan is different from the dotar of southern Khorasan since the musicians of each area add their own local taste and identity to the music that they play.
Traditional dotar players believe that one string of dotar is male and functions as the record while the other string is female and plays the melody. This symbolic view towards music and instruments is enough to realize the romantic spirit of dotar players.
Tales and Poems Accompanying Music
One of the outstanding characteristics of Iranian dotar is that a folklore legend, lyric, or gnostic narration accompanies it while the musician plays the music. All of these narrations are valuable to the sense of Iranians’ pride and identity and date back to centuries ago.
Usually the dotar player narrates the story while playing the instrument with a special singing method that is very different to the singing style that you might hear in other areas of Iran. If you are planning to visit Khorasan, Mazandaran or Golestan, listening to the tender sound of dotar must be part of your itinerary for sure. The music, the singing and the authenticity of the whole performance will leave you speechless.
Dotar, the Instruments of Shepherds
It’s estimated that the origin of Iran’s dotar dates back to the 15th century. It was originally an instrument mostly played by shepherds in the nature and it still bears that sweet rural unmodernized feel. Being mostly played by shepherds, dotar was usually made from catgut. But later, as the Silk Road was opened up and vastly used as a trade route, famous silk of China replaced gut as the main material of making dotar strings. Dotar craftsmen learned to twist the silk in a way that a fine string was made out of it which could make a heart-touching sound.
As explained earlier, dotar and especially dotar of northern Khorasan is predominantly known for being accompanied by romantic or epic tales. Therefore, it can be said that dotar of northern Khorasan is a keeper of oral tradition and culture of the area. Dotar players, often referred to as “bakhshi” in Kormanji and “ashiq” in Azeri have always been highly respected by locals for being living treasures who know a lot of lyrics and folk tales from the old times.
It’s notable that dotar players had a great influence on people due to their admired music and storytelling skills. These musicians used music as an instrument to convey moral messages and keep the old stories alive. The most famous stories narrated by dotar players were “The tale of Zohreh and Taher”, “the tale of Asli and Akram”, “Kooroghli” and “Leyli and Majnoon”. Each of these tales are so absorbing that you would like to hear them over and over again.
In the old times, the dotar players used to play these songs in occasions such as weddings, ritual ceremonies and any other important events where people gathered around to socialize and celebrate. Nowadays, these songs and narrations are mostly performed in national festivals and cultural events.
According to locals, most dotar crafters and dotar players used to be men but nowadays a lot of women play this musical instrument and teach it to music enthusiast who are willing to learn more about their roots.
Who were the greatest dotar players of Iran?
For understanding the real charm of dotar music, you have to know who the greatest dotar players are. Listening to their music as a representation of Iran’s folk music at its highest level can help you get a better comprehension of Persian art and culture.
Haj Ghorban Soleimani (1920 – 2008) can be named as the most celebrated dotar player of Iran. He was from Ghoochan and his music is still referred to as the best example of folklore music of Khorasani Kurds.
Haj Mohammad Hossein Yeganeh, Osman Mohammadparast, and Abd Allah Amini are other famous dotar players whose music will certainly enchant you.
The Art of Making Dotar
Making a musical instrument is an art as old as history. As said earlier, “traditional skill of crafting dotar” is now regarded as a UNESCO intangible world heritage alongside playing the instrument since it’s a prominent component of local culture. Significantly, according to the UN cultural body, both crafting and playing Iran’s dotar are traditions that have been passed informally by masters to students through decades and centuries. In addition, the narrations that are usually sang along the music have been orally passed through generations.
What else has been added to Iran’s UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list?
Traditional skills of crafting and playing dotar are not the only cultural glories of Iran that have been added to the list of UNESCO cultural heritage of humanity.
The handmade carpet of Kashan, Nowruz, Chogan (a sport played on horseback), Tazieh (a form of post-Islamic Passion play), Iranian Lenj boat and Kamancheh (a bowed string instrument) are other examples that have won the world heritage status as components of Iranian culture.
If you are interested in cultural tours and itineraries, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information. Here at land of turquoise domes we do our best to make your trip to Iran an unforgettable memory.
Click here for more on Iran’s UNESCO heritage list.