The Traditional Music of Kashmir

The Traditional Music of Kashmir

By Dr. Ramesh Kumar

Music, from times immemorial, has remained the most important medium of expression of human emotions. Kashmir, Mathura and Benaras, in the bygone times, were prominent centres for learning art. Due to ravages of time all the written evidence regarding the kind, type and form of music prevalent in Kashmir in the distant past has perished. We can only surmise about the notations and grammar of music which was prevalent that time. The task of preparing a comprehensive historiography on music of Kashmir has thus remained a difficult one.

However, some styles of music and singing e.g. temple Sangeet, Book CoverShiv Gayan and traditional folk music survived the upheavals and persisted to interest on account of their sentimental appeal and emotional attachment. These styles of music are continuing even now as a distinct genre and as a tradition of Kashmir. There are also stray references in old classics like Nilamatpurana, Rajatarangini etc.

'The Traditional Music of Kashmir--in relation to Indian classical music'. by Prof. Sunita Dhar fills an important gap in preparing an authentic historiography of music of Kashmir. It is the first serious attempt to study the extant forms of music in a historical prospective. The advantage of being an 'Insider' has imparted a touch of originality to the work. Presently, Prof. Dhar is Dean of the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts at Delhi University. She has been trained by Padmabushan Pandit Debu Chandhuri.

Historical Overview :

In ancient Kashmir, as in other places, the temples used to be important places for learning music and singing. Dancing girls used to perform in these temples. The author makes a statement of fact when she remarks that during ancient period "one does not find any difference between the music, art and culture of Kashmir and that prevailing elsewhere in rest of India".

There is archeological evidence, which points to the existence of singing and dancing in Kashmir. Tiles and some sculptures, excavated during Harwan excavations bear the pictures of dancing and singing persons and also of the ladies playing on the rhythmic instrument (drum). Another person is shown playing a Veena in an artistic pastime.

Nilamatpurana, a sixth century Mahatmya provides details about the festivals, in which musical concerts and dips in the river Vitasta and collective singing in the evenings featured.

Rajatarangini mentions about the royal patronage to music and about the art of music. It also talks about the musical instruments in this region in distant past. According to Pandit Kalhana, its author the folk musical instruments like earthern pots, brass vessels etc. were used by Kashmiri people from very early times. He mentions an instrument called "Hadukka", which can be compared to a big pipe. The ancient musical instruments, used in Kashmir, had been more or less a reflection of Indian musical instruments in usage during that time.

King Harsa of Kashmir was an expert linguist and a poet too. He had a taste for music and composed songs. The king introduced Carnatak music to Kashmir. King Bhiksacara (1120-21 AD) himself played on musical instruments. He was fond of 'Chhakri', a form of choral singing, popular even to this day.

During the past millennium, Kashmir suffered heavily on account of external incursions and internal turmoil. Music and fine arts too suffered a blow in 11th and 12th century, when a Tartar adventurer, Dulacha invaded Kashmir. It led to anarchy and economic depression. Sultan Sikandar, 'the Iconoclast, at the behest of his alien advisors banned all forms of music and dance. Kashmir was impoverished culturally. Srivara, a contemporary chronicler avers that the Sultan destroyed all the literature and material extant on the subject of music.

It was Kashmir's good fortune that Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin ,who reversed all the policies of his father, ascended the throne. He and Sultan Hassan Shah revived the policy of royal patronage to music and fine arts. Srivara, an accomplished artist and a great musician was appointed Head of the department of Music. The great musician used to sing vernacular of Persian songs for the entertainment of the king. He and other talented musicians of Kashmir visited far south and other parts of India to interact with their counterparts.

Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin invited artists and musicians from Iran, Turan, Turkistan and Hindustan. He offered them good prospects and concessions to settle down in Kashmir. Avenues were also found for adopting and including various Ragas and Raginis of Indian music. Srivara himself writes that the singers from Karnataka sat gracefully before King Hassan Shah as if they represented the six tunes namely Kedara, Ganga, Gandhara, Desha, Bangala and Malva.

Sufiana Music :

The entry of Irani and Turanian musicians saw the emergence of a new form of music, which came to be known as Sufiana Mosiqui. This form of music has its style borrowed from Persian music and is played with musical instruments quite different from those used for Indian classical music and Kashmiri folk music. The author tells us too little about how this music evolved in the cultural clime of Kashmir. Is this a product of syncretic interaction between Kashmir's own traditional music and Irani-Turanian music or simply a transplantation of Irani-Turanian music and the soil of Kashmir? When on listens to Tajik music, one can hardly find any difference.

Dr Sunita Dhar's excellent monograph on the traditional forms of music and the musical instruments in vogue in Kashmir offers much to the casual reader as well as the serious scholar of Kashmir's music.

The author divides the traditional music of Kashmir into four categories-songs sung by women folk, minstrel, farmers and religious songs.

Songs sung by women :

Vanvun, a prayer in the form of music has played a leading role in maintaining the continuity of our culture. Its subjects refer to the events of vedic period. It preserves our faith in spiritual and ancient beliefs. Vanvun, Veegya Vacchan, Hikat and Vaan are songs sung by women folk of Kashmir. The author divides Vanvun during 'mekhal' (Janev) and marriage ceremony into ten categories--Garnavaya (house leaning and washing), Dapun (personal invitation of guests for the approaching function), Manzirath (heena dye and night singing), Kroor (after a white wash flowery decoration at the main door), Shran (sitting on stool and dropping milk, curd and bathing), Devgun (welcome to vedic gods), Varidan (gifts to the relatives), Yonya (holy fire), Tekya Narivan (holy mark on the forehead and sacred thread tied around the wrist), Kalash Lava (after the worship of Kalash, sprinkling of water). Dr Dhar provides samples, along with meaning, on all these forms of Vanvun. She traces the vedic origin of such customs like wearing of Kalpusha-taranga by Kashmiri women, Zarkasaya, Veegya Vacchan. For example, in vedic period, when Goddess Sinnavali's (one of the thirteen wives of Sage Kashyapa) marriage was performed, God Poosha had prepared a beautiful headguear to, decorate her head. This was called 'Kapal-apush' in Sanskrit. Lord Indra, beautifying it further, had wrapped a white strip of cloth around it. This custom is followed today by Kashmiris as a routine. 'Kalpush' in Kashmiri, is 'Kapal-apush' in Sanskrit. The white twinkling strip is 'Tarang-Kor' in Kashmiri. While putting on this head gear, ladies sing to bride.

'Pooshan Thovnaya Sinnavali Devi

Cheh Koori Thovnaya mael maleh'

Meaning: Vedic God Pushan himself prepared 'Kapal-apush' and decorated it for the head of Sinnavali, but in your case, your father and mother have put it on your head.

'Zarkasaya' (mundan) has originated from Jatanishkasan in Sanskrit, i.e. removing hair and making the child bald. Devgun has originated from 'devagaman' in Sanskrit, which means the arrival of God. 'Veegya Vacchan' has originated from a vedic word, 'vishesh yog vacchan', i.e. to be sung on a special occasion. In this vanvun, bridegroom or the boy whose 'Yagneopavit is being performed stand on Vyug, a round shaped drawing designed with different colours.

'Ruf' an emotional type of folk dance is sung during spring. It is mentioned in Nilmatapurana. According to Prof. Dhar it might have originated from 'dwarf dance', of Vedic language. In Vedic language, it means a bee, which further developed as Ruf. Earlier, even Vaksh of Lalleshwari were sung in question-answer form in the 'Ruf'.

"Hikat" is a form of 'raas'. Reference to it is found in writings of Bhatt Avatar. Nund Rishi too was acquainted with it. This has originated from 'hi-krit', i.e. any piece of work done Joyfully.

'Vaan' singing is performed during occasions of grief. In olden days, an old professional singer, 'Vangarinya' in Kashmir used to visit on the day of the death. He would enquire about the names of the ancestors and family members etc. and sing till the tenth day.

Lalnavun is a type of folk song and is based on Vatsalaya Ras. During medieval times Muslims styled their Vanvun singing as different from Hindus. In Vanvun of Kashmiri Hindus a medium tone is used and there is no element of tribal music in it. In Muslim Vanvun fast tone is used. The quantity of Hindu Vanvun poetry is much more than that of Muslims. The latter divide themselves into two groups; one group sings a line, which is repeated by the other. They generally sing standing. A similar type of group singing is prevalent in Kumaon and Garhwal hills.

Songs sung by Minstrels :

Songs sung by minstrels, professionals include those sung by Chhakar singers, Bhands and Ladishah singers. The author traces 'Bhand Paethar in history and provides a detailed account on how it is performed. 'Ladishah' is a satirical song, which reflects the society's condition. According to Prof. Dhar 'Ladi' means a row or line-'Shah' has been added after the advent of Muslim rule.

About Chhakari, the author says that it owes its origin to Rigvedic 'Shaktri'. In Aryan culture, chorus singing after deva-yagya was a common practice. According to late Mohan Lal Aima, 'mantrya mand's ghada instrument originated 'Chhakri'. Bachhi Nagma was previously known as 'bacchi gyavun'.During Pathan rule nagma, an arabic word was added to it. The dress of a Bacchi Nagma performer matches that of a 'Kathak' dancer. References to this form of singing is found in Nilamat. Rishi Macchar is another type of singing, performed by minstrels. 'Rishi Macchar' is derived from vedic 'Rishi + Mat+har i.e. insane i.e. intoxicated movements of the Rishis. These rishis were spiritually intoxicated and Rishi Machhar saints used to move in groups to collect alms. They would visit people and repeat those rhymes, which pertained to the morality of life. 'Dhamaly' means leaping and Jumping. This type of holy sport is also popular in UP. It is related with an exercise of saints, who jump over burning fire.

Naindai Gyavun are farmer's folk songs. Naind is the changed form of the word 'Ninad' of Sanskrit. The word 'gyavun' also has originated from gayan of Sanskrit. Since these songs are sung in Chorus, these are also called 'Naindan Chhakar'. Religious songs include leelas and its tradition continues to be strong even in exile.

Musical Instruments :

In the chapter on instruments used with the Traditional Music, the author goes back to the history, discusses the material these instruments are made of and also describes the technique of playing. Her observation is that the ancient musical instruments used in Kashmir "had been more or less a reflection of the Indian musical instruments in usage during that time". She discusses at length these instruments e.g. Tumbaknari, Sarang (Sarangi) and Kashmiri Sarang, Gagar, Nagda, Dhola, Shankh, Swarnai, Khasya (Khos-cup), Thaluz, Rabab, Noet, Nai (Flute), Santoor, Saaz-i-Kashmir, Setar/Sehtar, Wasul/Dokra/Tabla.

In Iran Tumbaknari is called Tumbakh or Tunbak. In West Asia it is tumbal or tumbari. Gagar holds valuable place in the religious festivals of Kashmir. Shankh, the 'sushirvadya', one of the ancient instruments of India is associated with religious functions and has a vital role in 'Leela' singing. Atharva Veda and Bhagvad Gita carry references to it. Swarnai, a 'sushir vadya', holds the same place in Kashmir folk music as the Shahnai in the Indian music. This instrument has been mentioned in Nilamata Purana and Rajtarangini. This musical instrument is intimately related to marriages, festivals, shivratri, navreh, Id and other auspicious occasions.

Late Mohan Lal Aima did an intensive study of Noet playing and revived the art. References to Noet-playing are present in Nilamat and Rajatarangini. Delving into its origin, Prof. Dhar observes that in Kashmiri language, the original words 'Kalash' or 'Ghat' might have lost their existence and 'Noet' have gained popularity due to the fact that it was associated with 'UV' (nat). In due course of time, the word 'nat Kalash' might have lost 'Kalash' and become popular as 'noet'.

In Kashmiri, Nai means flute. In Nilamat it finds mention as 'Punya hved shabdin vansi venurvenaya sut magadh shabden tatha vandisvanenc'. Both Vansi and venu refer to 'nai'.

Rabab and Sarang :

The author is not sure whether Rabab and Sarangi have indigenous origin or not. At one place she says these travelled to Kashmir from Persia, Afghanistan and Arabia, while at the other she quotes Ain-i-Akbari to suggest that Rabab was invented by Tansen. According to A.Lavience, Rabab existed during the times of King Ravana, when it was called as Ravanastram.Similarly, Maharaja Sarang Dev of Kashmir is said to be the inventor of Sarang. Prof Dhar believes Santoor too has a native origin. It used to be called Shat-tantri Veena. Some scholars believe that this instrument could be related to Sakta sect. Santoor is made of mulberry wood and is trapezoid in shape. According to Shakts, triangular is a symbol of desire, knowledge and action. Mulberry tree, is sacred to Kashmiris and is related to 'Bhairov'. The extreme popularity of Santoor in our own times is attributed to such great artists-Tibet Bakal, Saaz Naivas Kaleem, Sheikh Abdul Aziz and Bhajan Sopori.

Saaz-i-Kashmir has originated in Kurdistan, Iran and is popular throughout Muslim world. In Iran it is called Kamancha. Sitar is said to be the product of fusion between Persian Tambura or ud (Shape) and Indian Veena (in principle). Others opine that Sitar evolved gradually from Tritantri Veena.Wasul or Dokra have gone out of use and replaced by Indian Tabla.

'Hafiza Dancing':

In the last chapter, the author has listed some famous songs along with their text and notation. The omission of 'Hafiza dancing' is a major shortcoming of this monograph. Infact in late nineteenth century, one of the main attractions for visitors was Hafiza, the nautch dancer. Many of these dancers stayed and worked in the Shalimar Gardens. The bungalow, lit by candles and lanterns, was used for performances and entertaining visitors. The women themselves usually lived in tents. Azeezie was one of the most popular Hafiza dancers in 1860's and appears in Baker and Burke Catalogue. The author could have also attempted a review of life and works of outstanding Kashmiri musicians. 'The Tradition Music of Kashmir' has good readability, and is reasonably priced.

*The Traditional Music of Kashmir. In Relation to Indian Classical Music

Author : Dr. Sunita Dhar

Published by: Kanishka Publishers

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