Khamak Embroidery

A Kandahar Tradition

Khamak, an intricate form of embroidery, is worked in silk thread and is a trademark of Kandahar. Girls learn this ancient art form at an early age and continue to do it throughout their lives. Inspired by complex Islamic geometric patterns, Khamak is unique to Kandahar and is considered by art experts to be one of the world’s finest embroidery techniques. It is traditionally used to decorate the striking, floor-length shawls worn by Southern Afghan men, as well as table linen, women’s head-coverings, and girls’ wedding  trousseaus.

The practice of Khamak involves counting the threads of the fabric weave (hence cotton and linen are the best raw materials for this embroidery) in order to stitch geometric shapes with silk-thread. The work is done in a sitting position with the embroidery positioned on the top of a bended knee.

Works of Honor and Love

Traditional Khamak includes natural themes, such as flowers, leaves and trees, in addition to the geometric shapes of Islamic art. The women of Kandahar Treasure themselves creatively combine natural and geometric shapes to create patterns much like their ancestors did. But they are also continuously creating new designs, many of which will be showcased for the first time to the public on their most beloved man (a brother, husband, or son). In Southern Afghanistan, women rely on their men to be the exhibitors of their fine art, and men have naturally learned to “show-off” publicly with the best embroidered work on their attire.

Stitching Hopes and Dreams

The practice of Khamak embroidery provides spiritual escape from the mundane, meaningless, day-to-day life of Afghan women. Through the refinement of her stitches, the Kandahar woman expresses her innermost desire for aesthetic beauty. Hajira describes this in her own words when she writes “When I would get into an argument with my husband, and he would leave the house to calm his anger, I had the four walls of my house around me to calm myself down. My anger and frustration would feel like a mountain on my shoulders…Doing Khamak gave me the peace that I needed. Through creating beautiful designs I would divert my mind to calm myself down, and the end result of finishing a beautiful work of art would give me the satisfaction that I needed.” Afghan women stitch their hopes, dreams and desires into embroidery as quietly as they live in Kandahar.

Traditional Khamaki Embroidered Shawl

Decorative Pillows

Embroidered chiffon scarves

An Afghan woman works on a form of embroidery called Khamak at Kandahar Treasure facilities in Kandahar city, June 14, 2009. Kandahar Treasure, a non-profit project of the Afghans for Civil Society which started out in 2003, employs women artisans from the Kandahar area in order to develop more economic opportunities.

Pashtun Embroidery

Pashtun embroidery is very beautiful . Embroidery is used by Pashtuns to decorate a wide range of objects. It is used for household objects such as table cloths, mats, towels, curtains, bags, prayer cloths, as well as decorative blankets for horses and camels.

I found the following article about Pashtun embroidery here:

“There are various groups of Pashtun, each with their own style of embroidery. There is also a difference between Pashtun urban embroidery and Pashtun nomadic embroidery.

The Pashtun living in the Wardak region, for example, are noted for multi-coloured silk embroideries on a monochrome cotton or silk ground. The embroideries are worked in satin stitch in complex geometric designs that radiate out from a central motif, such as a star.

Mangal Pashtun, from eastern Afghanistan, often use satin stitch to create lozenges that cover the whole embroidered surface. The difference is in the accent, worked in holbein and back stitches in black and white, so contrasting with the colour of the rest of the embroidery. The designs do not follow the grain, but instead form diagonal lines that accentuate the lozenge designs.

Waistcoats for Pashtun men are often decorated with gold or silver coloured braids, which are sewn in intricate, geometric designs onto the ground material, such as red velvet. This type of embroidery is also used for women’s dresses.

The item above is described as a Pashtun purse, Maydan, 1950

Described as Pashtun Mangal, Paktya, 1930.

Purse-Swat, Pakistan

Wardak embroidery on traditional dress

Afghanistan – chain stitch

Paktia, Afghanistan

Afghanistan – chain stitch (detail)

Paktia, Afghanistan

Koochie Embroidery

Gardez, Afghanistan

Silver thread and mirror embroidery

Ghazni, Afghanistan

Pashtun embroidered waistcoat


Koochie embroidered wallet


Very tight chain stitch on Bukara silk.

Koochie dress-detail


Embroidered cap and tassels

Embroidered cap from Kandahar. Tassels nomadic.

Pashtun Vest
Ghazni area, Katawaz. Afghanistan.

Pashtun Cushion Cover

Silk embroidery on cotton

Pashtun Shawl
Swat Valley, Pakistan

Silk satin-stitch embroidery on cotton.

Pashtun Cushion Cover

Swat Valley, Pakistan

Silk embroidery on cotton

Pashtun Child’s Vest
Ghazni area, Afghanistan

Fine silk cross-stitch embroidery on cotton, with silver couching, applied gold braid, and beaded edging.

sسپلنيَ spalanaey

A tradition of Pashtuns / Afghans

When spalanaey seeds ( more commonly known to Westerners by their Persian name espand ) are dropped on red-hot charcoal they make a popping noise and give off a great deal of fragrant smoke. This is done to ward off the “evil-eye”. The evil eye belief is that a person, otherwise not evil in any way, can harm you, your children, your house, your health and so on by looking at you with envy and/or praising you. The evil eye or Nazar can be done out of love and unintentionally so it does not always have “evil” intentions attached to it.

This ancient tradition has it’s origins from Zorostrianism and is still widely practiced today. In Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan when a child returns home after being among strangers, some parents will light a charcoal disk and burn the spalanaey seeds while reciting a poem, actually an ancient Zoroastrian prayer, against the evil eye and directing the smoke around the child. This is done as a protective measure, whether or not it is suspected that the child has been given the eye. The rite consists of an invocation prayer to a deceased but historical king of Persia known as Naqshband, while burning espand/ spalanaey seeds. The word espand refers to a class of Zoroastrian Archangels. It was common that our Zoroastrian forefathers used to pick a patron angel for their protection, and throughout their lives were observing prayers dedicated to that angel. Today whenever we burn espand grains to “espand” ourselves, it is in fact the invocation of blessing of the archangels (Amahraspand or aspand) that our ancestors observed prayers to. In some homes today verses from the Koran are recited instead of that ancient prayer.

Sometimes instead of spalanaey being burned it is just mentioned. For example when a child is sick his or her mother will sometimes wet the child’s hair and say ” spalanaey di sum” the Pashto phrase to ward off the evil eye. Also when one’s beloved says some sweet words to them the other often says ” spalanaey di sum” to ward off the evil eye.


An Afghan Spandi burns seeds to drive away the evil eye in the early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan. Spandi is a person who walks around the neighborhood with a burning pot of the spalanaey seeds to sprinkle incense in return for a small fee.


Not just a Pashtun vice

Whether we like it or not the tobacco known as “naswar” is associated with Pashtuns. Naswar is primarily used in Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Sweden and India. In Pakistan though it is is predominantly used by members of the Pashtun ethnic group. Some of the many varieties of naswar are produced in different parts of the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province of Pakistan and the city of Bannu is especially famous for producing the best naswar.

Naswar is held in the mouth for 10 to 15 minutes. If it is chewed it produces a bad taste in the mouth. Usually, the consumption varies but mostly people take it on an hourly basis as it is highly addictive. Nowadays most of the educated Pashtuns are against the use of this product because of it’s detrimental health effects.

An assortment of naswar.

A worker crushing dried Tobacco for converting it to Naswar. Naswar or dried Tobacco is used mostly by Pashtuns but it is also popular among many others. Naswar could be found in two colors i.e green or Black, and the use of Naswar is by placing a small portion like a small tablet inside the mouth and then extracting the juice out of it without bringing down the material of naswar to the stomach, and after few minutes the Naswar is then thrown out.

Naswar waiting to be sold in Karachi.

Ghazni Pottery

Afghanistan has a long tradition of producing clay products, especially in the region of Ghazni. Comparison between prehistoric pottery shards and pieces from the pre-war period indicates that the basic shapes and designs of Afghan pottery changed little in 5,000 years.

Beautiful clay bowls from Gazni Afghanistan

An Afghan man making pottery

The Art of Asif Kasi

Asif Kasi is a wonderful Pashtun artist from Quetta

All of the following art work and more examples can be found and purchased here:

Eid Al-Adha at a Pashtun Village in Baluchistan

The following photos are during  Eid Al-Adha at Killa Hajian a Pashtun village in Baluchistan. Two cows and around thirty goats were sacrificed that day and the meat was distributed to the Afghan refugees that live near by. You can see the beautiful Afghan children dressed in their Eid clothes waiting for their share. The lucky ones have plastic bags to put the meat in while others only have their kamis (long shirt) or a piece of cloth  in which to carry home their share.

Photos by Shakil Kakar

Pashtun/Afghan proverbs

mosquitoA nations proverbs gives you a little glimpse into their culture. The following are a few Pashtun/Afghan proverbs (matalona) and their English translations.

Har chata khpal watan kashmir de
(for everyone his country is like Kashmir)
Everyone sees his country or area the most beautiful in the world.

Koag bar tar manzela na rasagei
(A tilted load won’t reach its destination)
Honesty is the best policy.

Khar cha har chaire hum lar she, bia hum hagha khar we
(The donkey will remain donkey, no matter where ever it goes)
Nature cannot be changed

Da khali daig ghag lor de
(The emty vessel noise is more)
An empty vessel makes much noise.

Khori saag aw paskay da Pulao achawi
(He eats very simple food, but boasts as he is eating very rich food)

Da cha? pakhpala, Gila ma kawa da bala
(This is by whom? by myself, So do not blame any one else)
These are self-inflicted wounds, not by others.

Chindakha pa loota wakhata, wayal che Kashmir may walaido
(a frog climbed a stone, and said that I saw Kashmir)
It is said about some body who is claiming to have done something
which he does not have the power to do)

Sta da khaira may tobah da, kho da spie de rana kurray ka.
(don’t give me your alms, just save me from your dogs)
Do not do any thing good to me, but it will be a great favor to me if
you do not do any harm to me.

Da maar bachai maar wee.
(The snake’s baby is also a snake)
nature can’t be changed

ka yaw war may khatabasay ta da khudai wowahi, aw ka dwa war may
khatabasay ma de khudai wowahi.

(If you fool me once a curse on you, if you fool me twice a curse on
me.) One must learn from his past experiences.

Hindu stharay Khudai naraz
(The Hindu is tired, God is still angry)
Hindu is tired (despite praying so much) but God is still angry
with him. No matter how much he prays he prays to the wrong God..hence
nothing he does will ever be accepted means with some people no matter how much you do they will
never be happy

Che ade, haghase ye lmasAy.
How the grand mother is, same is her grand daughter.

Chi na kar, pa hagha the sa kar
When it is not any of your business, then stay away

landai la halal na da khanak pa sar garzawe.
The animal is not even slaughtered, you come with your plate on your
(to collect meat).

Mola bal ta masali kavi pa khapla pri hamli kawi
(moulvi preaches to others, but sins himself)

Chi da kAmakal La dAng oue UkhYar La iSHara
(For foolish a kick, and for wise, only pointing out)

dA kamakal malgari nA kho ukHyar duShman khA dae!
(from foolish friend, a wise enemy is better)

Wrori ba kawu hesab tar menza
(The brotherhood at one side, and the business matters at the other)
We will behave like brothers, but we shall know what is yours and
what is mine.

Khar che makkay ta lar she, no haji ne shi
(If a donkey goes to Mecca, that doesnt make him a pilgrim of Hajj.)
Surrounding yourself with something you like wont turn you into it.

much pa topa ma wala
(Don’t hit mosquito with tank)
Don’t waste your engergy and resources on minor things

Wror a gorra khorr a ghwara
(It means from the brother u can predict the beauty of the girl)

toorr da torray dae,  spin da injuno dae
(Means that a man of dark complexion is for wars and the one with
white complextion is only for girls)

khwar shi pa pakhto hom na pohigi.. da di matlab dey chi topak khpal aw pradey na pijani
(It means a gun cant differentiate between relative and non-relative)

I hope you noticed the charming Pashtun sense of humour 🙂 To read more Pashtun proverbs please visit: and

“A dying Pashtun tradition”

While traveling to a village outside of Quetta,  my brother Shakil came across some young  Pashtun girl’s celebrating the start of the Winter holidays. 

When school gets out for the break all the girls in a village age 5-16 get together to make the laddo (doll) like the one in the picture. They basically draw a face of a doll on a white piece of cloth and then tie it to a round shape frame. Then they decorate the laddo’s (doll’s) face trying to make her as pretty as they can and put a fancy duppata on her head. One of the girls hold’s the laddo and keeps the laddo’s face covered with the duppata so that nobody can see her face until they give her some money. The girls  go to different homes in the village collecting money and singing sweet songs like:

Laddo ladanga sa ghowarri  (what is this pretty doll wanting)
Yaw sha shaista merra ghowari  (she wants a handsome husband to get marry with her)

par asmaan tor worra ghowari  (she wants  black clouds in the sky)
par mzaka shna washa ghowari  (and  she wants green lush plants on the earth) etc..

This goes on for about a week and then the girls count up all their money and buy some food and have a party singing, eating and celebrating that school is out.



The boys also make a similar doll but it is a male doll called speen zhirrak and means the man with white beard. They too go around singing and collecting money and have a party. Sadly now that more and more Pashtuns are forced to move to big cities for economic survival many of these traditions of the rural Pashtunkwa are dying and might soon be lost.