AFGHANISTAN xii. Literature



xii. Literature

The constitution of 1343 Š./1964 names Paṣ̌tō and Darī as the official languages of Afghanistan. The revival of the ancient term darī was intended to signify that the Afghans consider their country the cradle of the language. Hence the word fārsī, the language of Fārs, is strictly avoided. With this point in mind, we can consider the development of Darī or “Persian” literature in the political entity known as Afghanistan. For Paṣ̌tō literature, see under Paṣ̌tō.

After the collapse of Nāder Shah Afšār’s regime and the establishment of the independent Afghan state under Aḥmad Shah Dorrānī, Afghanistan continued to play its long-standing role as a center of Persian literature and a transmitter of literary currents between Transoxiana and Islamic India. Before the Safavid period, literary contacts between Iran and India had taken place through Khorasan and Afghanistan. Later developments, both in Afghanistan and in Iran after Nāder Shah Afšār’s death and during the 13th/19th century, resulted in the minimization and even severance of Afghan literary contacts with Iran. But Afghanistan’s role in the transmission of culture and literature between Transoxiana and India was maintained until ca. 1338/1920.

During the period under consideration, the so-called Indian style of Persian verse (sabk-e Hendī) was completely dominant in Afghanistan, Khorasan, and Transoxiana. Among the poets who wrote in this style, the Indian Mīrzā ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bīdel (or Bēdel; 1054-1133/1644-1720) may be considered the founder of a new school. His works (Bombay, 1299/1882; Kabul, 1340-44 Š./1971-75) were taken as models by a large number of later poets in Afghanistan and Transoxiana, although he has remained virtually unknown in Iran. Among other authors who provided inspiration for the writers of this period was the Indian theologian and mystic Shaikh Aḥmad Serhendī.

Mīān Faqīrallāh Jalālābādī Nangarhārī Šekārpūrī (d. 1195/1781) wrote Qoṭb al-eršād in Arabic and Ṭarīq al-eršād in Persian (Kabul, 1360 Š./1981 ); together with his letters (selection repr. Kabul, 1360 Š./1981, from an Indian ed.), these works provide a veritable encyclopedia of religious and mystical subjects (see R. Farhādī, preface, Ṭarīq al-eršād; idem, Afghanistan 3/3, 1980, pp. 77-87). Shaikh Saʿd-al-dīn Aḥmad Anṣārī (1140-1225/1727-1810) of Kabul wrote Maʿdan al-asrār, a Koranic commentary (completed 1173/1759-60), Haqāʾeq al-maʿāref, a versified work in the style of Rūmī’s Maṯnawī, and a dīvān entitled Šūr-e ʿešq, which has twice been printed (see M. N. Anṣārī, “Notes on the Life and Works of Shaykh Saʿduddin Aḥmad Anṣārī of Kabul,” Akten des 24en Intern. Orientalisten-Kongress, Wiesbaden, 1959, pp. 509-12). In the field of lyric verse, Persian poems in the styles of Ḥāfeẓ, Ṣāʾeb, and Kalīm were composed by many poets, including Tīmūr Shah Dorrānī (r. 1187-1207/1773-93), his son Shah Šoǰāʿ (killed 1258/1842), and one of Tīmūr Shah’s courtiers, Mīr Hōtak Pōpalzāʾī, who used the pen-name Afḡān. A poetess, ʿĀyeša Dorrānī (d. 1235/1819-20), also wrote poems of this type (her dīvān was printed in 1305/1887-88). The devotion of the Dorrānīs to literature was such that two poets from the west, Šehāb-al-dīn Toršīzī and Forūgī Eṣfahānī, sought patronage at Tīmūr Shah’s court.

Among the vast number of poets whose names and verses appear in biographical collections and anthologies, Jonaydallāh Ḥāḏeqī Heravī (d. 1259/1843) holds a high place. He has left a dīvān and a versified rendering of the story of Yūsof and Zolayḵā which he completed in 1239/1823 (printed at Tashkent in 1905). Sardār Mehrdel Mašreqī (1212-71/1798-1854), one of Sardār Pāyanda Khan’s many sons, was another poet in the styles of Ṣāʾeb and Bīdel; his dīvān is extant. Two other followers of Bīdel were the important poet Sardār Ḡolām-Moḥammad Ṭarzī (1830-1900, see M. Schinasi, Afghanistan, pp. 47-54), and his son Moḥammad-Amīn ʿAndalīb (1272-92/1855-75), who left a dīvān in spite of his short life. Mīrzā Moḥammad-Nabī Wāṣel (1244-1309/1828-92), the dabīr (secretary) of the rulers Šēr ʿAlī Khan and ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan, wrote poems in the style of Ḥāfeẓ, which recently have been printed (Ašʿār-e Wāṣel, Kabul, n.d.).

In Afghanistan, two basic literary changes took place: from about 1850 onward, when books printed in India, and later also at Kabul, Bokhara, Kokand, and Tashkent became available to an increasing number of Afghan literati; and from the start of the 20th century, when the introduction of typography at Kabul made possible a wider use of printing, including newspaper production.

Several treatises in Persian showing a marked similarity to Indian publications were printed during the reigns of Šēr ʿAlī Khan and ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan; among them were histories of the Afghans by Yaʿqūb ʿAlī Ḵāfī (Pādešāhān-e motaʾaḵḵerīn-e Afḡānestān; completed 1307/1889-90; reprinted at Kabul, 1336 Š./1957), Sayyed Jamāl-al-dīn Asadābādī, known as Afḡānī (Tatemmat al-bayān fī taʾrīḵ al-Afḡān), and Fayż-Moḥammad Hazāra (Serāǰ al-tawārīḵ; three parts printed at Kabul, 1331-34/1913-16, MSS. of the other two parts preserved in the National Archives of Afghanistan). The Serāǰ al-tawārīḵ, which deals mainly with the 18th and 19th centuries, was so named in honor of the amir Ḥabīballāh, who held the title Serāǰ-al-mella wa’l-dīn. Afghanistan’s first newspaper appeared at Kabul in 1280/1863-64 during Amir Šēr ʿAlī’s reign, the short-lived Šams al-nahār. Its language was Persian, but its style and set-up were modeled on the Urdu press of India.

Modern writing and journalism in Afghanistan begins with Maḥmūd Ṭarzī (1282-1385/1865-1933), who spent his youth at Damascus and Istanbul and whose influence was responsible for the development of Persian prose in Afghanistan on Middle Eastern rather than Indian lines. He translated from Ottoman Turkish several western books, including some by Jules Verne and an account of the Russo-Japanese war (Kabul, 1336/1917-18). From 1329/1911 to 1336/1918 he edited the newspaper Serāǰ al-aḵbār, which exerted a profound cultural and political influence throughout Afghanistan and also in northern India and Transoxiana. In later years, the newspapers Amān-e Afḡān (1337/1919), Anīs (1345/1927), and Eṣlāḥ (1347/1929) followed in the footsteps of Serāǰ al-aḵbār. The influence of Iranian journalism and academic writing only began to be felt during and after World War II.

One of Maḥmūd Ṭarzī’s aims, not altogether successful, was to persuade poets to write on modern social, cultural, and political themes. Admittedly some poets, such as ʿAbd-al-Ḡanī Mostaḡnī (1292-1352/1875-1933; Dīvān, Kabul, 1334 Š./1955), and even ʿAbdallāh Qārī (1288-1322 Š./1871-1943; Dīvān, Kabul, 1302 Š./1923, 1334 Š./1955) and Ṣūfī ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Bītāb (Dīvān, Kabul, 1330 Š./1951), wrote a few poems in praise of modern advances, but for the most part they wrote ḡazals in the Indian style. Qārī, and after him Bītāb, held the title of poet laureate (malek-al-šoʿarāʾ) during Ẓāher Shah’s reign. Similarly faithful to the Indian style were the works of other poets, among whom may be mentioned Mīr Moḥammad-ʿAlī Āzād Kābolī (fl. 1258-1323 Š./1842-1944; Montaḵabāt-e ašʿār, Kabul, 1342 Š./1963); Pāyanda Moḥammad Farḥat (Maǰmūʿa-ye ašʿār, Kabul, 1339 Š./1960); ʿAbd-al-Ḡafūr Nadīm (1298-1344/1881-1926), also the author of a printed Persian grammar; Ḡolām Ḥażrat; Šāʾeq Jamāl; Ṣūfī ʿAšqarī (Dīvān, Kabul, 1358 Š./1979); and Ḡolām-Moḥammad Navīd. Also worthy of mention is the humorous and satirical poet Ḥāǰǰī Esmāʿīl Sīāh, whose dīvān was printed at Herat in 1310 Š./1931.

The leading contemporary poet is Ḵalīlallāh Ḵalīlī (b. 1288 Š./1909), who basically follows the Ḵorāsānī style. Two volumes of his poems have been printed in Iran, and he is preparing a third collection. Other leading poets, such as ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Pažvāk (Golhā-ye andīša, Kabul, 1344 Š./1965), ʿAbd-al-Ḥakīm Żīāʾī and Moḥammad-ʿOṯmān Ṣedqī (Sorūd e hastī, Kabul, 1343 Š./1963), all cherished and followed the traditions of Darī literature. Various old and new styles have been tried by the poets Żīāʾ Qārīzāda, Moḥammad-Yūsof Āʾīna, Raḥīm Elhām, Solaymān Lāyeq, Bāreq Šafīʿī, ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Āryanpūr Rostāqī, Moḥammad-Āṣaf Fekrat Heravī, Ḥaydarī Woǰūdī Panǰsīrī, Wāṣef Bāḵtarī, and others.

Other fields of literature to which noteworthy contributions have been made are historiography (Mīr Ḡolām-Moḥammad Ḡobār, ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabībī), literary history and criticism (ʿAbd-al-Ḥakīm Rostāqī, Khan Moḥammad Ḵasta, Ṣalāḥ-al-dīn Salǰūqī, Fekrī Salǰūqī, Ḡolām-Ḥabīb Nawwābī, Ḡolām-Reżā Māyel Heravī, Moḥammad Yaʿqūb Wāḥedī Jūzǰānī, Ravān Farhādī, Nakhat Saʿīdī, Sayyed Maḵdūm Rahīn), folklore and popular culture (Shah ʿAlī-Akbar Šahrestānī, Qayyūm Qawīm, Fayżallāh Eymāq, ʿEnāyatallāh Šahrānī, drama (Rašīd Laṭifī, Moḥammad-ʿAlī Rawnaq), visionary fiction (S. Bahāʾ-al-dīn Maǰrūḥ), and short stories (Asadallāh Ḥabīb, M. A. Rahnavard Zaryāb).

In addition to modern journalism, radio (since 1319 Š./1940) and television (since 1356 Š./1977) have imposed fresh responsibilities on Afghan writers. Since the Marxist take-over of the government in 1357 Š./1978, literature and writing in Afghanistan have been directed on the lines normal in the Soviet Union. The terminology of the Iranian Tūda party, which had been discernible in the writings of the Afghan Ḵalq party since around 1339 Š./1960, is now in general use in state publications.


M. Ḥ. Behrūz, “Afḡānestān,” Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e Aryānā II, Kabul, 1335 Š./1956, subsection “Adabīyāt-e Afḡānestān az zamān-e Nāder-e Afšār tā Nāder-e Afḡān,” pp. 570-637.

J. Bečka, “Tajik Literature from the 16th Century to the Present,” in Rypka, Hist. Iran. Lit. ʿA. Rostāqī, Bahār-e Afḡānī yā sakīnat al-fożalāʾ, Delhi, 1310 Š./1931.

Idem, Čerāḡ-e anǰoman, Delhi, 1310 Š./1931.

M. Ḵ. M. Ḵasta, Yād-ī az raftagān, Kabul, 1344 Š./1965.

Idem, Moʿāṣerīn-e soḵanvar, Kabul, 1339 Š./1960.

M. Ḥ. Žūbal, Negāh-ī be adabīyāt-e moʿāṣer-e Afḡānestān, Kabul, 1337 Š./1958.

H. J. De Dianous, “La littérature afghane de langue persane,” Orient, 1964, pp. 138-44.

Rahnemā-ye ketāb 7, Tehran, summer 1343 Š./1964, pp. 215-61.

M. Sarvar Mawlāʾī, Šeʿr-e emrūz-e Afḡānestān, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

ʿA. Bīnavā, “Awwalīn ǰarīda-ye Afḡānestān: Šams-al-nahār,” Āryānā 9/6, Kabul, 1330 Š./1951, pp. 1-7.

M. K. Āhang, Sayr-e Žūrnālīzm dar Afḡānestān, Kabul, 1349 Š./1970.

M. Ṭarzī, Maqālāt-e Maḥmūd Ṭarzī dar Serāǰ al-aḵbār-e Afḡānīya 1290-97, ed. R. Farhādī, Kabul, 1355 Š./1976.

M. Schinasi, Afghanistan at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century; Nationalism and Journalism in Afghanistan: A Study of Seraj al-Akhbar (1911-18), Naples, 1979.

(R. Farhādī)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 28, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, pp. 564-566

Cite this entry:

R. Farhādī, “AFGHANISTAN xii. Literature,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 1982, available at