The AFC Asian Cup 2023 kicks off in Doha with a mesmerising opening ceremony celebrating Arab culture and featuring the mythical creatures Kalila and Dimna.
All eyes were on Qatar on Friday as the country marked the inauguration of the AFC Asian Cup 2023, another major sporting event that has gathered thousands from around the globe.
While the event is yet another opportunity to showcase Asia’s diverse cultures, the opening ceremony in Doha served as a chance to display Arab culture.
Upon the opening ceremony’s beginning at the Lusail Stadium, mythical creatures emerged before the 82,490 fans at the venue. While the characters appeared to be a mere artistic choice, they brought to life one of the most famous books of Arabic literature—Kalila and Dimna.
Kalila and Dimna is a book of 15 wisdom fables that feature animals as their main characters and have been among the most important aspects of the history of Arabic literature.
The book originated in India during the third century and was written in Sanskrit, before being translated into Arabic in the eighth century by Persian writer, Abd Allah Ibn Al-Muqaffa. The book has since offered life lessons and words of wisdom for the readers.
What made Kalila and Dimna stand out in Arabic literature and academics centuries ago lies in the choice of characters—two jackals named Kalila and Dimna. Both characters discuss topics that are still relevant in modern history, like political thought, ethics, and human emotions among others.
“Images of the animals in varieties of paints and colours [are intended] to delight the hearts of princes, increase their pleasure, and also the degree of care which they bestow on the work,” Ibn Al-Muqaffa said in the eighth century.
The stories initially served as a guide for monarchs on how to rule their countries and address social issues, from understanding one another, making friends, and battling internal conflicts. Notably, the two jackals in the books are servants of a lion king.
As the Kalila and Dimna exhibition in the United Kingdom describes the tales, the stories display “the interconnectedness of the world’s cultures: ideas and forms do not materialise out of nothing but are created in dialogue.”
The tales then travelled from the third century to the year 2024 in Doha to become at the centre stage of a major event.
The ceremony’s theme was “The Missing Chapter of Kalila and Dimna,” which saw Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme join Qatar’s Nasser Al Kubaisi, Mishal Al Dosari, Dana Al Meer, in addition to Kuwait’s Hammoud Al Khader for a stellar narration and musical performance.
In addition to the main Kalila and Dimna characters, the show included animals commonly found in Qatar’s deserts, from the falcon to the desert turtle.
The show was completed with the Palestinian culture as part of the event’s goals to ensure Palestine remains at the centre stage, especially as the Israeli war on Gaza persists. The rendition of Fairuz’s Zahrat Al Madaen, “Flower of Cities”, by Qatari singer Al Meer became another key highlight of the opening ceremony.
The song choice was crucial in delivering a message of solidarity for Palestine, as the eight-minute song has long touched the hearts of grieving Palestinians living under occupation, expressing the Arab world’s unity in a cause that falls in the heart of the region.