Art, Culture and Food

Art, Culture and Food

by Dr. Ved Kumari

Means of recreation

Amusements - music, dancing, drama and other means of recreation - are the true mirror in which the unrestricted mind of Kashmiris is reflected. The Nilamata says that the land of Kasmira was thronged with ever-sportive and joyful people enjoying continuous festivities. Living amidst scenes of sylvan beauty they played, danced and sang to express their joys, to mitigate their pains, to please their gods and to appease their demons. One thing deserves to be noted at the outset that there being hardly any distinguishing line between the secular and the religious in India, the Nilamata describes all the forms of recreation in a religious setting.

(I) Music

No myth about the divine origin of music is found in the Nilamata, but the injunction for the worship of seven metres may be taken as suggestive of its divine origin. The tune of Samas - the hymns with the musical notes - is referred to and one verse suggests the association of music with the Gandharvas.

On each and every festive occasion, whether it is purely religious like the Sleep and Awakening of god Visnu or semi-religious as the advent and the departure of Nikumbha, or seasonal like the New Snowfall day or agricultural like the day of sowing the seeds, the chief item of the celebrations is music - vocal as well as instrumental. The sound of the musical instruments is regarded as extremely sweet and heart-captivating.

(i) Varieties of vocal music

We do not get reference to different varieties of the vocal music but the use of the terms 'vacana' 'prakirtana' end 'ghosa' [vacana is simple recitation, Prakirtana is singing in chorus and ghosa is the enchanting of vedic mantras or making some other loud sound.] in connection with Purana, Stotra and Brahma respectively, indicates that the mode of singing varied with different types of texts.

(iii) Professional singers

The Nilamata refers to four classes of professional singers viz. Suta, Magada, Vandi and Carana who, according to the Dharmasastras, maintained themselves by lauding the deeds of others. Their mention in one and the same line indicates that some difference, may be minute, was believed to be existing in these different types of singers.

(iii) Musical instruments

The general terms in the Nilamata for the musical instruments are vadya, vaditra and vadya-bhanda. As regards the different types, out of 'ghana' (cymbal), 'vitata' (percussion), 'tata' (stringed instruments), and 'susira' (wind instruments), made of brass, skin, strings and reed respectively and mentioned in the Visnudharmottara Pu. and Jayamangala commentary on the Kamasutra, only two namely, anaddha-vadya' (corresponding to 'vitata') and 'tantri-vadya' (corresponding to 'tata') have been mentioned in the Nilamata. Of the others we have venu and sankha belonging to 'susira' type and ghanta to 'ghana' type, though the terms 'susira' end 'ghana' are not mentioned. Here follows a historical account of all the musical instruments referred to in the Nilamata.

(1) Vina

The Rgveda does not mention it. The Aitareya Aranyaka describes it in detail with its parts - siras (head), udara (cavity), ambhana (sounding board), tantra (string) and vadana (plectrum). The Epics, the Jatakas, the Samyutta Nikaya and the Arthasastra testify to its high popularity. Sangita Makaranda refers to its nineteen varieties. The Nilamata refers to it thrice only but if the references to Tantri-vadya be taken as referring to vina, it will yield that vina was resorted to most by the musicians of Kasmira. The modern hundred-stringed santoor of Kasmira is probably satatantrivina or vana referred to in the Taittiriya Samhita.

(2) Venu

The Rgveda does not mention it. A.C. Das's view that venu may be taken as a later corruption of vana is not sound, because vana is not a wind instrument like venu. Roth takes venu of R.V. VIII. 55.3 as a flute of reed but scholars do not agree on this point. The Jatakas and the Epics know it. The Nilamata refers to it once only in connection with the celebrations of the Awakening of god Visnu.

(3) Sankha

We find no mention of sankha in the Rgveda. The Epics mention it many a time in connection with the music of war. The Nilamata mentions it twice.

(4) Pataha

Pataha, a sort of drum, is mentioned neither in the Vedas nor in the Jatakas. The Mahabharata also refers to it rarely. The Ramayana mentions it many a time. The Nilamata refers to it twice in association with lute. Probably the drum was played upon generally in accompaniment to the lute.

(5) Muraja

Muraja is also not mentioned in the Vedic literature. Bharata groups it with percussion instruments and refers to its three varieties 'alingya', 'urdhva' and 'ankika'. Originally different from 'mrdanga', it became later on identified with mrdanga.

(II) Dancing

Dancing, going hand in hand with music, is mentioned frequently in the Nilamata. There must have existed various types of dances in ancient Kasmira but as the Nilamata does not mention particular steps or movements characterizing different types, we may classify them on the basis of the occasions on which they were performed. Thus, the Nilamata speaks of dances performed on religious occasions, dances performed in social gatherings held in honour of seasons, and dances performed on agricultural festivals.

Dances are prescribed at the time of ripening of grapes, so horticulture, too, seems to have had some dances to its credit.

(III) Popularity of music and dancing in Kasmira

The earliest definite corroboration regarding the popularity of music and dancing in Kasmira is provided by archaeology. A tile from Harwan, with Kharosthi letters which cannot be later than 4th century A.D., shows three musicians. "The one to left plays a flute; the centre one, cymbals; the third, a pair of drums." Another tile represents a female musician playing on a drum. One more shows a female dancer. The statue of a female dancer was also obtained from the courtyard of Kotisar temple. As regards the literacy evidence, Kalhana's Rajatarangini is full of references to 'gitanrtta'. Music, we are informed, had become popular even with the Buddhist monks. Reference is made to two female musicians songs which expanded in one melodious tone in harmony. Further, Kalhana informs about the existence of the custom of dancing girls associated with temples. King Jalauka dedicated hundred ladies of his seraglio to the temple of Jyestharudra. The two dancing girls whom Lalitaditya met in a forest informed him that dancing at that particular place was an ancient custom of their family. Kalasa's liking for the dancing girls is well described by Kalhana. Harsa had gone so far as to instruct personally the dancing girls to act. Ksemendra sarcastically refers to a singer who sings the songs of departure at the time of invoking a god. Bilhana testifies to the high skill of ladies of Kasmira in dancing. Even the philosophical sutras of Vasugupta take similes from this art, comparing Atma with a dancer, Antaratma with theatre and Indriyas with spectators.

(IV) Nature of music and dancing

As regards the nature of music and dancing referred to in the Nilamata, the major part of the former belonged probably to the category of spontaneously flowing folk-music. Of dances, those which were performed on religious occasions depicted probably the life histories of the gods. Such dances have been quite popular with various nations of the world. Robertson has described how the dances in the neighbourhood of Kasmira, among the Kafirs of Hindukush, are accompanied by chants in praise of the heroes in whose honour they are performed. The dim memories of such religious dances are still preserved by the Hindu ladies of Kasmira, who, at the time of Sivaratri-visarjana ceremony at the bank of some river, go round seven times with their hands lifted above their heads.

Coming to the agricultural dances, we find that these are confined to no race or country. Frazer describes such dances prevalent in various countries of Europe and Asia and regards them as "intended both to stimulate the growth of vegetation in spring and to expel demoniac or other evil influences". The dances performed at the great festival of the Bopfau or Barley Seed-sowing, in Hunza in the neighbourhood of Kasmira, have been regarded by Mrs. Lorimer as imitating the actual agricultural process. Similar dances might have been performed at the Seed-sowing ceremony referred to in the Nilamata. Of course, it is a mere speculation, though not an improbable one.

(V) Theatrical performances

The words 'Preksa' and 'Preksanaka' - mentioned in the Nilamata refer to theatrical performances. The terms have been used in this sense in the Sanskrit literature. The Nilamata mentions also a peculiar phrase "Preksadana". Literally meaning 'the gift of a dramatic performance', it seems to have denoted 'a gift made for the arrangement of a dramatic show.' there may have existed some dramatic clubs which gave such shows on demand and the injunction of 'Yathavidhi Preksadana' i.e. the gift for the arrangement of a dramatic show made in the proper procedure, may have been made with reference to them. These gifts of various types are not, however, defined separately. The Kasmiri poet Bilhana extols the ladies of his native land for the excellent dramatic performances which excelled the acting of heavenly damsels Rambha, Citralekha and Urvasi. The simultaneous use of the terms 'nartaka' and 'nata' in the Nilamata indicates the difference between the two: the former was used for a dancer, the latter for an actor. These people received honours from the public on various occasions and were not regarded as degraded.

The presence of theatre-halls in ancient Kasmira has been suggested on the basis of Damodaragupta's reference to a theatre-hall provided with cushioned couches, but we should not forget that the place referred to by him is Varanasi. Kalhana, on the other hand, compares the fleeing armies with people caught by a downpour while watching a theatrical performance. Most of the functions referred to in the Nilamata were performed either in the vicinity of bonfire outside the houses or in open fields. So it appears that the functions of the general public, in ancient Kasmira, were mostly held under the open sky.

(VI) Other sports

The Nilamata gives us an idea of other games and sports also resorted to by the people of Kasmira.

(i) Garden-sports

Garden-sports have been popular in India since early times. The Ramayana refers to girls going to the gardens in the evening for play. Panini - an inhabitant of Gandhara in the neighbourhood of Kasmira - was familiar with such sports. The land of Kasmira being full of gardens and parks, her people, naturally, accepted Nature's invitation to sing, dance and play in her company. The Nilamata points out their intimacy with Nature expressed in joyful dances performed at the arrival of Spring. Kasmiri women enriched their natural beauty on such occasions with garlands of Ira flowers. The Nilamata probably described a few garden-sports in connection with Asokikastami, but unfortunately the verses are lost now. The Harwan tiles showing ladies carrying flower-vases indicate Kasmiris love for flowers. The pose of the queen-mother in the scene of Siddhartha's birth, with her right hand holding a branch of the Asoka tree and the left placed on the shoulder of her sister Prajapati, is just a replica of a lady plucking flowers from a tree or just swinging with the help of a branch of a tree.

Special meals, taken in the gardens in the company of friends and the members of the family, were a part of such garden-sports. We have reference to such feasts in the Bhagavata Purana also.

(ii) Water-sports

The Nilamata prescribes water-sports for the maidens on Sravani festival. An idea of such sports can be had from the Kamasutra and Harivamsa.

(iii) Wrestling

Wrestlers are mentioned in the Nilamata as being honoured by the people and it is reasonable to suppose that the Kasmiris did enjoy the shows put forth by them.

(iv) Gambling

Chance plays a great part in human life and no wonder if man tried to gain some knowledge of future events through games of chance and also adopted them as means of recreation. Giving instances from many ancient and modern races, E. S. Hartland has rightly pointed out: "Gambling is a passion confined to no race or country, to no rank of society, to no plane of civilisation". Beginning from the famous hymn of the R. V., Indian literature provides innumerable instances of gambling. The Nilamata prescribes gambling on Dipavali, to know the goodness or otherwise of the coming year for the players. The belief still exists in various provinces of India but has gone away from Kasmira. The neighbouring land of Tibet has it in the form of annual gambling ceremony wherein the Grand Lama at Lhasa plays dice with the demon and by defeating him announces good luck for the coming year.

(v) Hunting

The Nilamata describes the land as filled with the sound of bow. On some Harwan tiles also we find huntsmen with bows and we may state on this basis that hunting was also an amusement for the Kasmiris.

(vi) Playing with toys

Playing with toys must have been a form of entertainment for children. Toy has been mentioned once in the Nilamata in connection with the worship of Skanda - the presiding deity of the children. Playing with birds tied to strings was another amusement for children.

II Arts and Crafts

The Nilamata contains some information about the different branches of art, namely, architecture, sculpture and painting, and refers to some handicrafts also.

(I) Architecture

The terms - bhavana, grha, nivesana, alaya, vesma, ayantana, attalaka etc. have been used in the Nilamata for buildings but it is not possible to distinguish between the significance of one term and the other. The place of Buddhist worship is mentioned as Caitya and the dwelling place of the Buddhist monks as Sakyavasa. As archaeology has revealed, the former consisted of a chamber surrounded by a circumambulatory passage and containing the object of worship, while the latter usually had cells surrounding an open courtyard. No example of the period of the Nilamata has been preserved. Of Brahmanical temples the Nilamata gives hundreds of names but architectural details of none are given therein. It may be inferred, however, from the ruins of the apsidal temple of Harwan that the temple of early Kasmira consisted of an antechamber (mandapa) with a cell (garbhagrha) behind,

The Nilamata says nothing about the building-materials. All that is known about the houses mentioned in the Nilamata is that those had doors and ventilators and were whitewashed. The decoration of houses with fruits, leaves and garlands of rice-plants is also referred to. About town-planning the Nilamata gives no information. There is reference to roads which were even and to catuspathas (squares where four roads meet). The Vitasta Mahatmya contained in the Nilamata refers to bridges over the Vitasta but does not elucidate their formation.

(II) Image-making

The Nilamata refers to images made of stone, earth, gold, silver, copper, brass, wood, sand, straw and ghee. Instructions for making Sayanamurti images of Visnu with his feet placed in the lap of Laksmi are given in vv. 409-10. Reference is also made to Caturmurti Visnu with four faces, four arms and Ayudhapurusas. The Visnudharmottara Pu. describes this form in detail and J. N. Banerjea rightly takes it as an illustration of the Vyuha doctrine of the Pancaratras.

(III) Painting

The Nilamata testifies to the existence of the art of painting in ancient Kashmira. In connection with the celebrations of Buddha's birthday festival, the people are directed to decorate the Caityas with beautiful paintings. References are made to paintings painted on the cloth, the wall and the ground. Bhumisobha or decoration of the ground with paintings seems to have been a necessary item of most of the religious and secular functions. Viug - a circular pattern drawn on the ground on which a Kasmiri bridegroom has to stand before entering, for his marriage, the house of the bride - is a direct descendant of 'bhumisobha' mentioned in the Nilamata. Damodaragupta refers to courtesans practicing the art of painting for advertising their trade. Somadeva refers to portrait painters carrying out confidential missions of their masters.

(IV) Handicrafts

Craftsmen and their tools are referred to in the Nilamata which enjoins upon the inhabitants of Kasmira the worship of Visvakarma - the originator of all crafts. The industries in which these craftsmen were engaged, have to be inferred only from the stray references to finished products. Thus, the articles of dress point to the art of spinning, weaving, dyeing and washing. The ornaments, the pitchers made of gold and silver and the silver-stools presuppose jewellery. Weapons of war, probably, made of iron or some other hard metal, indicate smithery. Similarly pottery, wood work and leather-work are pointed to by earthen-pitchers, wooden pitchers, wooden seats and leather shoes. Probably, wood was used also for structural purposes and for making kutagaras, umbrellas and walking sticks.

III Dress and Ornaments

The terms used in the Nilamata for clothing in general are vastra, ambara, vasas, vasana and samvita. Cinamsuka is used for silk imported from China. Kambala is woollen blanket and pravarana - referred to in connection with the festival of the New Snow-fall - seems to be the same as pravara mentioned in the Mahabharata as a cloth offering protection against cold Panini also knows it. Kautilya mentions it as pravaraka and says that it is made of the wool of wild animals.

References to a pair of clothes worn by Visnu, a pair of clothes (one shining like the lightning and the other China-silk resembling the rays of the moon) worn by Nila, a pair of clothes to be offered to a Brahmani and a pair of clothes to be given in charity on Atyantamahati indicates that the male as well as the female dress in Kasmira comprised of two garments, the upper one and the lower one. Mention is made of white as well as coloured clothes. The term 'ahata' is used for new clothes. The word 'civara', which occurs often in Buddhist literature for a monk's robe, is used in this sense in the Nilamata. Bed-sheet is also referred to once.

As regards ornaments, we have reference to earrings, bracelets, diadem and jewels.

IV Cosmetics and other requisites of personal decoration

Personal decoration is recommended often in the Nilamata. The garlands and perfumes which seem to have been necessary materials for the worship of the deities are no less essential for the worshippers who, too, are enjoined upon to be well-anointed and well-decorated at the time of worship. Reference is made to various sorts of scents, perfumes, unguents, flowers and garlands. Some processes of decoration like rubbing the body with emollient unguents (udvartana), anointing it with unguents (utsadana) and applying sandal-paste etc. after bath (anulepana) are referred to. Other requisites of personal decoration are collyrium, comb, staff and shoe-wear.

V Food and drinks

Most of the references to the articles of diet occur in the Nilamata in connection with the offerings made to the gods but it is not difficult to infer from them the food and drink of the common people because "what a man eats his gods eat."

The term 'anna' from  ad 'to eat' used for food in the Nilamata, includes all sorts of eatables. 'Sasya' represents all cereals and pulses and 'saka' all green vegetables. References are made to cooked, dry and lasting food which in their turn suggest uncooked, watery and perishable food. Spices, sweetmeats, fruits, roots and medicinal herbs are also mentioned.

Meat also seems to have been a popular item of diet, otherwise there would have been no necessity of prohibiting strongly the eating of meat for five days dedicated to the worship of Visnu. Even Visnu's image at one place is stated to be worshipped with animal sacrifices. The offerings enjoined to be made to the Pisacas, Chandodeva and the goddess Bhadrakali include non-vegetarian dishes.

Pana includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. 
Excerpts: 'NILAMATA PURANA' by Dr. Ved Kumari

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