Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud patronized the Saudi Ardha celebration yesterday, organized by the National Guard as part of the National Festival for Heritage and Culture.
The traditional Saudi Ardha is held annually and is attended by the King, members of the royal family as well as Saudi citizens is an expression of Saudi unity.
The dance begins with a single line of poetry that is repeated as the drums beat in the background and swords are wielded as part of the national and official celebrations and the re-pledging of allegiance to the authorities.
The Saudi or Najdi Ardha is considered Saudi Arabia’s official dance and expresses victory and pride of Saudi history, especially regarding the battles, wars and victories led by the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz.
The Ardha used to be performed before warriors would meet their enemies in battle. It demonstrates that they have no fear of fighting and it is used to stir up enthusiasm amongst soldiers and leaders.
Today’s the Ardha demonstrates the evolution of an ancient Arab tradition that has existed since the age of Jahiliya (pre-Islam). Though the tradition is associated with war, there are no texts within Arab heritage that links Arab wars to contemporary Ardha.
For centuries the drums of Ardha were used to declare war, the swords were wielded and poetry was recited; these are the defining characteristics of the Ardha. In addition, specific Najdi clothing is worn for the Ardha, which consists of a loose white fabric and the “Qarmaliya” an overcoat made of black velvet. A black headband can also be worn as part of the Ardha attire as well as an ammunition belt, used to carry bullets in the past, which is worn diagonally across the chest.
Although the Saudi Ardha is often associated with war, it is performed during special occasions such as the Islamic Eid celebrations or at weddings and has become a widespread practice throughout Saudi provinces.
Yet there are differences between the Ardha according to regions. Some would explain Ardha as men forming a circle or semicircle with poets in the centre reciting their poetry whilst the others repeat the last line. These poems can reflect wisdom whereby the poet speaks of his own experiences or they may extend praise to a certain figure or tribe. The drummers stand close to the poets and on their beat, the last line of poetry is repeated and a sword is carried in the right hand of the participants.
In general, people taking part in Ardha stand in two lines facing each other.
In the Najd region, it is said that the Ardha is a folkloric art created by the people of Unaiza, part of the Al Qasim province.
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz is renowned for his love for the Saudi Ardha and keenness to attend national events where he would take part in the dance waving the Saudi flag in harmony with the drumbeats.
The Ardha is also a way to express loyalty and obedience to the leadership and authorities by frequently repeating certain lines of poetry that express such sentiment.
The word ‘al Ardha’ may be derived from ‘Ardhal Kheil’ meaning displaying the horses, as for centuries, Arabs used to train their horses and show them off during special events when they prepared to go to battle. It could also be derived from the Arabic word ‘I’tirad’ that refers to the intercrossing of swords, since the sword is the fundamental component of the Ardha.