Tabasarans - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religion. The official religion was Sunni Islam, which had spread among the Tabasarans during the Arab conquest of the eighth to ninth centuries. The mosque was an obligatory structure of every village. In small villages there was one mosque; in the larger villages there were also mosques in each quarter or section, each with a mosque school. Side-by-side with the mosques, places of pagan observance ( pir ) were preserved. Islamic holidays and fasts were widely observed. The Islamic clergy—qadis, sheiks, effendis, mullahs—constituted a large privileged group. There were qadis and effendis in the more densely settled places. The clergy took part in assemblies, in which they had a major voice. Residues of ancient, pre-Islamic religious beliefs were preserved—cults associated with fire, stones, trees, caves, and springs, as well as traces of earth, sky, sun, and moon worship. Other popular practices included the worship of the graves of holy men, the belief in spirits and protective divinities, magical performances, and rituals for bringing rain or sunshine. There were also remnants of the worship of animals and birds.

Arts. Tabasaran architecture is among the most distinctive in Daghestan. Certain ancient traditions have been preserved in reworked form, related to the pre-Islamic Christian culture of Daghestan (some traditions go back as far as Caucasian Albania). Islamic graves in the shape of a cross have been uncovered. The arts of woodworking and ornamental carving are highly developed. The Tabasarans maintain the various genres of folklore: legends, myths, historical tales, sermons, fairy tales, everyday ritual and nonritual songs, proverbs, sayings, riddles, and child folklore. Of the folk holidays the most significant and ancient is the Spring Festival (Ebeltsen). The Tabasarans have a rich tradition of music and dance with many kinds of musical instruments, including the clarinet, flute, and tambourine. Their traditional culture, folklore, music, and dance have been influenced by the culture of the Azerbaijanis and the Lezgins.

Medicine. Generally women served as healers in the past. In every village there were healers who were known not only in the village but also beyond its boundaries. Often doctoring was transmitted as an inheritance from parents to children. In the mid-nineteenth century the surgeon Usta Khalil, the bonesetters Gajiomarov and Giul'magomedov, and the midwife Saidalieva were especially renowned. These native healers cured in various ways: with plants, foods, cauterization, bloodletting, baths, massages, curative materials of animal origin, and so forth. They also applied magical techniques.

Intellectual Life. During the Soviet period a national intelligentsia formed. Folklore influences professional culture, as observed in the works of well-known Tabasaran poets and writers (A. Jafarov and many others) and composers (A. Orujev and others). The Tabasarans show great concern for their history and culture, native architecture, traditional crafts, and oral literature. In all fields of culture, both spiritual and material, the native traditions are combined with innovation.

Death and Afterlife. According to the Tabasarans, the dead in the other world live as they did in this one—except that they neither age nor die. Burial traditionally took place before sundown. Immediately after death those near to the deceased began to weep loudly. In some settlements, female relatives rent their clothes, undid their braids, tore out their hair, and scratched their faces as they keened. Memorial services were arranged but they were not strictly regulated and were held at different days in different villages—on the day of the burial, three days after the burial, on the first Friday, after forty days, or on the fifty-second day. On the holidays of Oraza and Kurban bairam small memorials were conducted with a prayer and the distribution of alms.

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