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Traditional Musical Instrument: The Rubab of Afghanistan

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How did musical instruments come about and what inspired their ingenious inventors? Supreme Master Ching Hai once revealed the following knowledge to us: “In ancient times, the spiritual practitioners who are connected to Heaven, at times tried to replicate the mesmerizing, wonderful music of the celestial abode by creating instruments. So, many of the instruments we have –like the harp, the piano, the violin, the flute, the Scottish bagpipes, etc. – they all correlate with the sounds of real Heavenly realms, except the real ones are much more incredibly uplifting.”

The rubab, one of Afghanistan’s national musical instruments, is affectionately called “The lion of instruments.” The rubab comes in three varieties, the Afghan Kabuli rubab, the Northern Indian Seni rebab and the Tajikistan Pamiri rubab.

The smooth, rhythmic, and ethereal sound of the rubab is so uplifting that the venerated Sufi Master and poet Rumi described it as the sound of the Heavenly gates opening the doorway to spiritual enlightenment. Rumi said: “‘He is all-forgiving’ are the words that I hear from the tone of the rebab. The heart-rending strains of paradise I hear from the tone of the rebab. The difference between the way you listen and the way I do, is that for you, the doors of your heart close, for me, the doors open with the tone of the rebab.”

This ancient instrument has a history that dates back thousands of years. It’s confirmed to have existed during the 7th century CE and is mentioned widely in ancient Persian literature as well as in numerous Sufi poems. The heavenly sound of the rubab results from its unique construction and the way it’s played. Various sizes of rubab exist, ranging from small, to medium, to large and having 5, 19 and 21 strings respectively.

The renowned and highly esteemed Afghan musician Mohammad Omar was Afghanistan’s first rubab performer who excelled in playing the instrument and was awarded the official title of Ustâd in 1949. Another impressive Afghan rubab performer is Ustâd Homayun Sakhi who is from one of Afghanistan’s famous musical families. Homayun is recognized as the current leading master in the rubab arena and is a well-known international rubab virtuoso. He has collaborated with celebrated musicians around the globe and created various passionate compositions.

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