Pashtun students performing attan at their weekly gathering in Lahore’s varsity.

Wise men say that man is a social animal. What they say is correct. People living in any community share certain habits, styles of interactions on the eve of joys and sorrows, language, cuisine. These shared traits make them different from other communities in a beautiful way. Almost every group of people has its ways of celebrating the moments of joy. Pashtuns are no exception to this. They commemorate the peaceful moments of gatherings by singing folklores and beating drums. The beat of the drum electrifies the people. They can’t resist the sound and respond to the music by rhythmically moving their bodies in a circle. They call this dance attan.

Historically, the Pashtuns used to perform attan both in times of war and peace. In times of war, attan was a warm-up exercise; in days of peace, it used to brought people together and functioned as social glue. Not so long ago, in Waziristans, both women and men used to perform this dance collectively. However, as the parts of Pashtun society where the dance was practised collectively fell victim for conservative forces, the tradition of both genders taking part in attan is in decline. Still, Pashtun youth takes special pride in performing attan. Travelling widely in every part of Pakistan in pursuit of opportunities, the Pashtuns have introduced it to the inhabitants of Sindh and Punjab.

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane

by those who could not hear the music.”

–Anonymous