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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



It is a pleasing yet strange coincidence that Lal Ded (14th Century), Habba Khatoon (16th Century) and after a lapse of two hundred years Arnimal adorned Kashmiri literature through their poetical geniuses.

Not unlike Habba Khatoon love-songs of Arnimal (1337-78), 'Vachan' in Kashmiri, are with us as a treasured bequest. Songs as extant in 'Banasaur Katha' & 'Sukh-Dukh Carit' testify that Kashmir had an entrenched and long-standing tradition of writing lyrics. In Kashmiri semantics 'Vachan' is the original form of lyrics embodying the lilting lyricism of folk-songs. As 'Vachan' is deeply imprinted by folk-songs, it is not quite easy to tell it from the genre of folk-songs. In fact, the very recognition of 'Vachan' as such is equally difficult.

The historians of yore have written next to nothing informative of Kashmiri language and literature. There are some stray references about Lalla Ded as a yogic practician and Sheikh Noor-ud-Din alias Nunda Rishi as a devotees of God and also about Habba Khatoon as the beloved wife of Yusuf Shah Chak.

The lyrics of Habba Khatoon available via oral tradition are sung in accompaniment with musical instruments like 'tumbaknari' and 'naut' on marriage festivities in Kashmiri homes. The tradition has lasted for umpteen generations. Even today a good number of her lyrics are found scribbled in the song-books of folk-musicians.

Arnimal lived during the tyrannical and barbaric rule of Afghans (invited to Kashmir by Kashmiri Muslims). Prem Nath Bazaz has characterised Afghan rule as 'dark age' in the history of has Kashmir. When girls for fear of being lifted away were married off before the onset of puberty. The social structures of that period were as iniquitous and discriminatory as the present-day society is. The status of women was worse than what it was in the Mughul rule. Their life and living with in-laws was a woeful and ignominious saga. They were treated as life-less commodities by a male-dominated society and were fraudulently posed as models of renouncement, patience, piety and love when actually they were subjected to untold oppression and exploitation and were ruthlessly traumatised and rejected.

Arnimal Kachru was also married off at a pre-puberty stage - a stage of sheer innocence. She attained maturity and youth-fulness in the house of her in-laws, a respectable family of Kachrus living at Rainawari, Srinagar. Her husband, Bhawani Das Kachru, was a high calibre Persian poet, historian and politician. He was an achiever in the domain of Persian language and wrote under the pen-name of 'Neku'. The Afghan governor, Juma Khan (1788-92) was a shade removed from his tribe and respected scholars and literatuers. It was in this period that Bhawani Das Kachru scaled heights of success and fame. The Afghans too valued his innate creative abilities that were multi-pronged and varied. Bhawani Das Kachru as a poet of poetic symposia that were held in honour of the Iranian, Afghanian and other literatuers and earned a loud applause for the recital of his scintillating Persian poems. Neku achieved tremendous reputation for innovation of a new metre (bahar) in Persian. His celebrated poetical work, 'Bahar-i-Tawil', written in the same metre became a land mark in the realms of Persian poetry. The scholarly and talented poet moulded in the feudal ambience of Muslim courts grew absolutely indifferent to his spouse who was mad in love with him.

Arnimal spared no effort to establish an emotional bond with her beloved husband. She picked up the tunes of music and tried hard to acquire the graces behaving Muslim court ambience. But, to her ill-luck, she failed to achieve much of success. The distance between the duo yawned into a wide chasm. Neku turned sullen and indifferent .

Burning in the agonising fires of separation Arnimal in all disgust and melanchoby returned to her partents living at Palhalan, a hamlet (in Baramulla district). A line from her sufficiently supports it -

O golden Jasmine, you blossomed in jungles, bushes and shrubs

but Palhalan is your parental abode.

Her captivating songs ooze out varied shades of pain and agony. Separation from her spouse was what tormented her. Rejected love was what agonised her. Here is a lyric soaked in pain and agony -

Wreaths of flowers I wove for my husband

Would that he were to accept it

Cups of wine I filled for him

Would that he were to come

I yearn to clasp him in my arms.

Stung by intolerable pangs of separation she is deeply pining for her husband who is distances away from her. In agony she addresses her friend -

O friend, tell him about my agony

I know not what my fault is

Repaired he to my cruel co-wife -

He is hers, since I learnt it

My whole being is set afire I lost my appetite

I am eagerly waiting for him

How I wish he were with me

Despaired and for saken forsaken Arnimal expresses her pathos -

Soaked in tears my hem is

awaiting you my days dragon

Why this futile vanity -

She again sings in melancholy -

When will your solf feet touch our threshold.

I place them on my pate

In agony I came out searching for you

removing veils and barriers all

Pray come to me

The marital life of Arnimal Kachru was seething with pain and anguish. Says she -

O friend, why my husband separated from me

I bathed clean for him

All adornments went useless, he did not come,

O loveless, I can't bear with your separation any longer

Without you I shall fade away

Now no more can I wait even for a short while

Arnimal has sought ample succour from nature to ventilate her heart-ravaging pain and anguish. The creepers (hiya), yellow roses (arni-posh) and narcissuses (nargis) have oft found a mention in her lyrics. Multi-form manifestations of nature like vast green fields, flowing rivers and murmuring rivulets, awesome mountains and snow-capped peaks have deftly been delineated in the context of her gloomy moods and pathos-laden feelings caused by separation from her husband.

For him have I filled brimful cups of wine

O  friend, could you go to summon him

On way to meadow, back from peaks

O friend, take my blessings to him.

Rendering me hapless he frisked away like a deer

Call him, platefuls of sweets & candies are awaiting him

Tears are dribbling incessantly from my eyes

How to bear with pain and agony

Call him loud and clear

Again she says -

O friend, why does he kill me by inches?

I left my native abode for him

Why does he not take care of me?

He deserted me in the dense darknight


I am a youthful beauty, abandoned my abode for him whole day passed awaiting him

His gnawing indifference has rendered me mad

I bear with taunts flung by one and all

Addressing her husband she in all despair busts out -

O, my love,

You were the friend of my youth

Initially I knew not how to value it

Wasted it away, Now I am pining and withering

Show me your countenance, I am dying for a mere glimpse

O, friend of my youth.

There is an exemplary confluence of hope and despair in the love-laden lyrics of Arnimal. Helplessness, unfathomable perseverance, endless wait and incessant agony are the emotional states that weave the warp and woof of her lyrical orchestrations. But the world of her intense emotions is lacking in broad sweep. Her lyrics limpidly mirror the mind of a deserted woman who is in deep despair, lonely and yearning for a rendezvous with her spouse distances away from her. She is in anguish yet she is hopeful and optimistic. She is a broken reed, yet she yearns for a concourse with her husband who has forsaken her. Malice and ill-will never come her way. She could have screamed fire and fury at her husband who has cruelly left her high and dry. But she maintains her calm and poise. Says she -

Your love impelled me to abandon my abode you knit up your brows and frowned at me

I wished you long life as that of Lomesh Rishi

Who ill-advised you not to return to me?

Pouring out her heart Arnimal says -

Would that he were to come once

I would sacrifice my life for him

Why he trampled me, a creeper that has fully bloomed

O friend, I have none to confide

I am teased and mocked at

What if he does not talk to me

Let him live long and be happy

Let him be with my co-wife

Arnimal is tormented by pangs of separation and is in hell-fires of despair, yet she sings of hope and happiness -

O hope of the hopefuls! enliven my heart with hope

Remove dark despair from it

He repaired to Lahasa for benefits

I am eagerly awaiting him

Sow the seeds of warm friendship

And wish no hurt even to enemies

She is under the perpetual grip of blues and greys. She is wretched and forlorn. Says she -

He never stood by his promises

He bewitched me & went away

O friend, can you manipulated his return?

Everything in this world is fleeting and transitory

Flowers bloom and soon fade away

Memories of her spouse cause her pain and anguish. She weeps and wails for his quick return. In pain and grief she sings -

When will he return to me, a woman in bubbling youth?

I am shedding tears endlessly

Can I ever forget the deep craving for him?

My whole being is afire like a coniferous twig

My pains know no end, tears in torrents

Go on dripping from my eyes.

Despite her husband's indifference and sullenness Arnimal never ceased to yearn and long for his close companionship. A lyric of hers opening with the yellow-hued rose (arin) is highly popular with lovers of Kashmiri poetry and music. She sings -

Mine is a life brimming with pain and agony

you got my heart perforated by the taunts of others

You got it burnt like a half burnt cloth-piece

Who will convey my wretchedness to him

When will he turn up to show his coantenance to me


Cheating me he stole away

He mocked at me in presence of  strangers

When should I expect him back?

This is quite a popular lyric, almost on the tip of every Kashmiri’s tongue Mehmood Gami impressed so much by the lyric has in one of his lyrics immortalised the refrain. Arnirung gom shrawn...". In fact, the two lyrics are of different stamp and are not the same in feel and style. Sh. AK Rahbar has dilated in detail on the two lyrics in his work 'History of Kashmiri Literature' and made thorough comparative study. His decisive conclusion is that the opening lines are that of Arnimal and not that of Mahmood Gani. The lyric of Arnimal excels that of the latter in its naturalness and lyrical melodiousness.

The following lyric of Arnimal is an exemplary specimen of highly artistic use of word and meaning in Kashmiri language  -

When in slumber he pulled at my soft wrist

The ornament adorning my arm hurt me great

He snatched every bit of gold from me

O friend, he left me sad and forlorn

Who should believe whom?

Another famous and quite popular lyric of Arnimal is that of 'spinning wheel' which became her inseparable companions after separatism from her spouse. The lyric is bequeathed to us from our mothers and grand-mothers and is typically Arnimalian in content and style.

O spinning wheel! do not murmur and grumble

Thy straw-rings I shall oil

Raise thy head from under the earth, O! hyacinth

Arnimal is a master craftsman of simple, bewitching and melodious language, which is not excessively burdened with Persian and Sanskrit vocabulary. Each word of hers is natural, plain, musical and lilting. Her love-lorn mindscape is deeply touching and pathetic.

In an appraisal of Arnimal in his work 'Kashmiri Language and Poetry' Abdul Ahad Azad, a poet critic, writers", Arnimal was masterly in musical arts. This is why her lyrics are found in various works on music. They have the same hue and tune of Habba Khatoon and occasionally she even outstrips her".

In his editorial note Mohammad Yusuf Taing puts, "Azad has not elaborately detailed out the statement that Arnimal outstrips Habba Khatoon. It appears that his observation underlines naturalness and lyrical potential of her songs". Taing has no reluctance to admit that Arnimal's lyrics are quite touching and sensitizing.

Writes Shashi Shekher Toshkhani, "the deftness to weave captivating images establishes Arnimal as an unrivalled poet of her times. Masterly communication of heart-felt feelings and experiences is her forte. She is free from laboured and unwanted ornamentation of word and meaning. This features makes her language simple and musical with powers to touch our hearts.

The lyrics of Arnimal are suffused with an optimism as she never let go hope about the return of her husband. As per an oral tradition Bhawani Das Kachru having been tired of ostentatious court life returned to meet Arnimal. But the pangs of protracted separation had seared her so much as to cause her death at a young age of forty-one. The twain could not meet. Tragic as it is!

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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