BAYT, a genre of Kurdish folk art similar to Azerbaijani Turkish dāstān or ḥekāya, British and Scottish popular ballads, Danish vise, Spanish romance, Russian bylina, etc. Bayt is an orally transmitted story which is either entirely sung or is a combination of sung verse and spoken prose. It is distinguished from Kurdish lyrical folk songs (ḥayrān, qaṭār, and lāwik) by its essentially narrative character and, generally, its length. Bayt is also clearly distinguished from the Kurdish narrative genre ḥekāyat or čīrōk (story) by its sung verse form. In contrast to its Azeri counterpart (see ʿāšeq), singing is unaccompanied by instruments.
The subject matter of the bayt is varied including such topics as tragic love (e.g., Mam ū Zīn, Ḵaj o Sīāmand, Šōr Maḥmūd o Marzīngān), conflict between the Kurdish principalities and the Iranian and Ottoman states (e.g., Dimdim, Bāpīr Āḡay Manguṟ), conflict between the principalities and or tribes (e.g., ʿAbdullā Ḵānī Mukrī), and religious themes (e.g., Julindī, Sāʾil “The beggar,” Qabr “The grave”). Some bayts deal with the art of balladry and the lives of the bards (e.g., Pīwāzān “The onions,” Halkatī w Ḵiṟnāl). Others have moralizing introductions and conclusions, while some are of a purely humorous nature (e.g., Kuṟ ū Kič “Boy and girl”). Different (dialectal or regional) versions of a single bayt (cf., e.g., Dimdim in Dzhalilov, pp. 75-133, 206) may demonstrate variations in formal features such as stanza length, line length, rhyme, melody, and verse and prose combination.
There is a lively interaction between written (formal) literature and the ballads. A number of classical poets and modern writers have drawn on the ballad repertory for their literary creations (for collections of literary and folk versions cf. Bitlisi, Fayżīzāda, Musaelian, Rudenko, and Teĭran). For example, Aḥmad Ḵānī’s Mam ū Zīn (1105/1693-94), originally a bayt, has become the national epic of the Kurds. Although international folk motifs are present in the ballads and some derive from Persian and Arabic literature (e.g., Šēkī Saṇʿān, Mihr ū Wafā, Laylī w Majnūn, Yōsif ū Zilēḵā), the great majority of them are of local origin.
Most bards (baytbēž) male and female, have been semiprofessionals, living by both farming and singing. They performed for the village folk in their homes and at the village mosque, the feudal nobility in their lavish guest rooms, and the townspeople in the local teahouses which they frequented. These singers enjoyed considerable respect and were an indispensable element of the courts of the princes and the estates of the landed nobility. ʿAlī Bardašānī, the greatest known baytbēž, served the court of the Bābān principality during the reign of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Pasha (1204-27/1789-1812). A number of well-known bayts are attributed to him. His mastery of the art has been explained by the village folk in terms of his relations with the supernatural beings, jindōkān, the jinns. He is said to have learned the bayts from the jinns and to have sung for their wedding parties (Mokrīānī, pp. 155-56; Fattāḥī Qāżī, p. 315).
Bayts are found in all Kurmānjī (Northern) dialect areas (Iran, Soviet Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria) and in parts of the Sōrānī (Central) dialect regions, namely, the territories of the former principalities of Sōrān, Bābān, and Mokrīān. Changes in rural life in the post-World War II period have resulted in the decline of the art. State-run broadcasting in Kurdish (since 1939 in Iraq and since the 1950s in Iran) has been inimical to balladry while the advent of cassette recording has encouraged its diffusion in Iran and Iraq. A serious setback to the survival and recording of the bayts has been the proscription of the Kurdish language and music in Turkey (since the mid-1920s), Iran (especially from the late 1920s to 1941), and Syria (since 1962).
For a music sample, see Bayt Mahmud Kolāhpizah.
Kharis Bitlisi (Ḥarīs Betlīsī), Leĭli i Medzhnun, compiled by M. B. Rudenko, Moscow, 1965.
O. Dzh. Dzhalilov, Kurdskiĭ geroicheskiĭ èpos “Zlatorukiĭ Khan,” Moscow, 1967.
Q. Fattāḥī Qāżī, “Čand bayt-e kordī,” NDA Tabrīz 16, 1343 Š./1964, pp. 307-15.
Ṭ. Fayżīzāda, Dar bāra-ye dāstān-e ʿārefāna-ye Šayḵ Ṣaṇʿān, Tabrīz, 1365 Š./1986.
H. Mokrīānī, introd. to Toḥfa-ye możaffarīya ba zimānī kurdī mukrī, girdārī Oskār Mān (Oskar Mann), pt. 1, Baghdad, 1975, pp. 7-159.
Zh. S. Musaelian, Zambil’frosh. Kurdskaya poèma i eë fol’klornye versii, Moscow, 1983.
M. B. Rudenko, Liternaturnaya i fol’klornye versii kurdskoĭ poèmy “Yusuf i Zelikha,” Moscow, 1986.
F. Teĭran, Sheĭkh Saṇʿan, compiled by M. B. Rudenko, Moscow, 1965.
Printed texts: ʿO. Ayyūbīān, ed., Ḵaj ū Sīāmand, NDA Tabrīz 8, 1335 Š./1956, and Mām ū Zīn, ibid., 13-14, 1340-41 Š./1961-62 (also as monographs, Tabrīz, 1342 Š./1963).
Q. Fattāḥī Qāżī, ed., Šēḵ Mand ū Šēḵ Raš and Bāpīr Āḡāy Manguṟ, ibid., 16, 1343 Š./1964, Mākō w Čardārī, ibid., 16-17, 1343-44 Š./1964-65, Sāʾel, Qabr, and Sayd Ibrāhīm (Sayyed Ebrāhīm), ibid., 17, 1344 Š./1965, Miḥamadī-Ḥanīfa, ibid., 17-18, 1344-45 Š./1965-66, Lās ū Ḵazāl, ibid., 19-22, 1346-49 Š./1967-70, ʿAbdullā Ḵānī Mukrī, ibid., 29, 1356 Š./1977, Kal ū Šēr, ibid., 30, 1357 Š./1978.
The following six bayts were published by the Daneškada-ye Adabīyāt-e Tabrīz: Mehr o Wafā, 1345 Š./1966; Šayḵ-e Ṣaṇʿān, 1346 Š./1967; Bahrām o Golandām, 1347 Š./1968; Šūr Maḥmūd o Marzīngān, 1348 Š./1969; Šayḵ Farḵ o Ḵātūn Astī, 1351 Š./1972; Saʿīd o Mīr Sayf-al-Dīn Beg, 1355 Š./1976.
ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd Ḥosaynī published several texts in the Pažūheš-nāma-ye Moʾassasa-ye Āsyāʾī, including Laškirī, 1354 Š./1975, and Kāka Mīr ū Kāka Šēḵ, 1355 Š./1976.
For Soviet Kurdish texts, see A. Dzhindi, Kurdskie èpicheskie pesni-skazy, Moscow, 1962 (includes bibliography of eight ballads, pp. 239-43).
For texts from Iraq, see Miḥamad Tōfīq Wirdī, Folklōrī kurdī, 2 vols., Baghdad, 1961, and Hendē le bayt ū halbastakānī ʿAlī Bardašānī (Some ballads and poems by ʿA. B.), Najaf, 1973.
See also R. Lescot, Textes kurdes, pt. 2, Mamé Alan, Beirut, 1942.
O. Mann, Die Mundart der Mukri-Kurden, pt. 1, Berlin, 1906. E. Prym and A. Socin, Kurdische Sammlungen, St. Petersburg, I, 1887, II, 1890.
Recordings and notation. Kurdish Music from Western Iran, New York, Folkway Records FE 4103, 1965 (recorded by D. and N. Christensen; disk notes); Kurdish music collections at the Archives of Traditional Music, Indiana University (collected by D. and N. Christensen, 1962; T. Ricks, 1965) and Archives of Ethnomusicology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (collected by A. Hassanpour, 1969-72).
B. Chalatianz, “Kurdische Sagen,” Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde, 1905, pp. 322-30, 1906, pp. 35-46, 402-14, 1907, pp. 76-80.
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 1, pp. 11-12