Nature and Soul of the Caucasus region of Khevsureti in Georgia

KHEVSURETI, GEORGIA - Georgians are known for their energetic dancing in colorful clothes, performing sword fights as an art. The most spectacular performance of these dances was recently staged in the program ‘Georgian Legend’ by the Erisioni group, which has successfully toured theaters in Europe and America. 

Georgian Dance
Khevsur Dance - Photo by Xinhua Liu Lihang
But why the swordfights? Where do this energy, fighting spirit and grace come from? In order to answer this question we have to travel to the North Eastern mountain range of the Republic of Georgia.

From the capital Tbilisi we travel up into the Caucasus Mountains, along the eastern branch of the Aragvi River. We reach the historic region of Pkhovi, which now consists of the regions Pshavi and Khevsureti. High up in the mountains we see ancient villages with characteristic watchtowers (different in style from the Svan ones in northwest Georgia).

Nature and mountain views are spectacular here. Life in this area may seem idyllic now, but it has not always been like that. History made the Pshav en Khevsur peoples into what they are today. The location of their territories was such that they often had to combat enemies. From the South they were called in to help the Christian Kingdom of Georgia stop hostile armies from invading and raiding the country. From the North and East they often had to deal with attacks from their traditional enemies, mountain peoples for example from Daghestan.

The bravest warriors and the best poets in Georgia
The Pshavs and Khevsurs are known as the best warriors in Georgia. They often played an impressive role in wars in the country’s history. The story of the 300 Aragvians for example is still well known in Georgia today. The 300 Aragvians were brave highlanders who in 1795 in the Battle of Krtsanisi were the last ones to hold the defence of Tbilisi against the Persian army. In times of peace these highlanders were shepherds. They loved lively feasts, and drank beer instead of wine as most Georgians do. During these feasts the art of swordfighting was practiced and perfected. Children were trained in it from an early age.

Strange as it may seem, these rough and strong-willed Pshavs en Khevsurs are also known as the best poets of Georgia. During feasts they recite the most wonderful poems, straight from the heart and apparently without any effort. The best known poet from this area is Vasha Pshavela (1861-1915). His name simply means ‘Vasha the Pshavian’. His poems paint an impressive picture of life in Pshavi in earlier times. The poems echo feelings of honour and pride, but also the bond with nature and history that the people have.

The Khevsurs wear typical black clothes on which symbols and patterns are embroidered in bright colors. The meaning of the symbols and patterns is a mystery. The Georgian mountain peoples converted to Christianity in the early Middle Ages, but up to today they also practice pre-Christian traditions and rituals. Outsiders are not given any information about this. The historic region of Pkhovi is located in the district of Dusheti. It is accessible for tourists and offers great opportunities for hiking.