Popular Songs of the Afghans


James Darmesteter (1849‒94) was a great French Iranist who from 1885 occupied the chair of Persian language and literature at the Collège de France in Paris. His major fields of study were Iranian philology and the Zoroastrian religion. His greatest scholarly achievement was his translation of the Avesta, the surviving ancient sacred texts of the Zoroastrians. Darmesteter was also very interested in the language and history of Afghanistan. In 1886‒87 he undertook an 11-month philological mission to India, supported by the French Ministry of Education. He spent much of this time on the Northwest Frontier area of the Punjab, where he studied Pushto, not as a literary language from written texts but as a living language. Assisted by two local amanuenses, he transcribed the texts of songs as dictated by popular singers. He supplemented his collection with songs written down by various British authors. Upon his return to Paris, Darmesteter published the work presented here, Chants populaires des Afghans (Popular songs of the Afghans), a collection of more than 100 songs in Pushto script, with annotated French translations. He grouped the songs in five categories: “Chansons historiques” (historical songs); “Chansons religieuses” (religious songs); “Légendes romanesques” (romances); “Chansons d’amour” (love songs), and “Moeurs et folklore” (customs and folklore). Darmesteter’s preface, which runs to more than 200 pages, includes a thorough analysis of Pushto phonology and morphology, a sketch of Afghan literature and history, and an overview of the popular literature of the Afghans. The book also includes several appendices and four indexes (lexicographic, personal names, geographic, and ethnic). The order of the work is: preface, French translations, appendices and indexes (all reading from left to right), and original Pushto texts (reading from right to left). Darmesteter published an accompanying volume based on his travels on the Northwest Frontier, Lettres sur l’Inde: À la frontière afghane (Letters about India: At the Afghan frontier).

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

National Press, Paris

Title in Original Language

Chants populaires des Afghans

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Physical Description

299 pages ; 24 centimeters


  1. Mary Boyce and D. N. MacKenzie, “Darmesteter, James,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume seven, number 1. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/darmesteter.

Last updated: July 27, 2016