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Bamiyan Buddha.Image Source: http://www.rev-know-it-all.com

The mythical story of Salsal and Shahmama is embedded in the history and culture of the Bamiyan people in Afghanistan for generations. It is believed that these Buddha statues symbolized the ancestry of the Bamyan people. The 55 metre high statue was known as Salsal whereas the 38 metre high statue was known as Shahmama. In 2000, when the Taliban demolished the statues, they wiped out the art, history, and an important identity of the Bamiyan people.

Decades of war and unrest in Afghanistan has resulted in a myriad of social ills. The war has cost the Afghan people their freedom, education, health, and culture. Amidst this turmoil, is a brave initiative aimed at revitalizing the lost culture.

24 year old Monireh Hashemi established the Simorgh Film Association of Culture and Art (SFACA) in Kabul. Earlier this year at the First South Asian Women’s Theatre Festival in Delhi, she and her theatre troupe staged ‘Salsal and Shahmama’ – a play performed in Dari, based on the story of two sisters living near a Buddha statue of Bamyan. Through the course of the play, the sisters find themselves witnessing the explosion and destruction of the statues. The 75 minute play includes forgotten songs and dances that were part of the culture.

“I visited elderly people and tribals who remembered the days when these songs were still sung, but they could only give me a line or a verse. I pieced these together to create the pieces for the play,” says Monireh . Source: http://www.indianexpress.com

Salsal and Shahmama is one of the few plays staged by this troupe. Various themes depicting mythology, and also reflecting today’s social problems are enacted by the troupe. At a time when women in Afghanistan are not permitted to leave their homes, a woman performing in theater is bound to risk her life. Monireh Hashemi is a young, Afghan girl who writes, directs, and acts in plays – a rarity in Afghanistan. She and her troupe defy family members and religious leaders to perform the plays. They continue to receive threatening anonymous phone calls. Mindful of the threats, they believe in a few concessions. In keeping with the tradition, actresses on stage always have their heads covered. Impacts of violence is felt by everyone, and according to Monireh Hashemi, more so by women.

Monireh says, ‘it is women who have to suffer most from the violence in Afghanistan—it is we who lose our husbands, our brothers, our love and our happiness…and women of Afghanistan will have to come forward to assert and do something to end this never ending atmosphere of terror in our wonderful country.’ Source:http://thediplomat.com

After decades of turmoil, Afghan art and culture is hesitantly on the revival path. And at the center of it are individuals who risk their lives to preserve the country’s historic culture.

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