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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Batanya, an Apostle of Womanhood

by T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'

Whenever I hear the epithet ‘Batanya’ for a Kashmir Pandit lady two different pictures emerge on the canvas of my vision. I shall try to describe both but before I do, let me trace the origin of this word. In Sanskrit dramas the king is always addressed as ‘Bhatta’ and the queen as ‘Bhattini’, both meaning exalted and honoured ones. These two titles are used for Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Pandit ladies in the modified form of ‘Bata’ and ‘Batanya’, respectively. These titles show the respect and reverence they have been commanding all these centuries not because of their wealth or riches, which in any case they did not possess in any substantial measure, but because of their scholarship, piety, character, wisdom and compassion and concern for every one.  

The first picture of the ‘Batanya’ that I imagine is of an affectionate mother, ‘Bhawani’ of fair complexion wearing the traditional Kashmiri dress. She is wearing a coloured ‘Pheran’ with a snow-white ‘Potsh’ inside. The pheran is laced with a red border called ‘dur’ on the neckline and the bottom-line. It has a printed attachment on both the sleeves known as ‘Naervar’. She has a woolen muffler like belt round her waist. This is called ‘Loongya’, a corruption from Hindi ‘Loongi’. The headgear is a complex item. It comprises a cap on the head known as ‘Kalapush’ round which is tied a white folded cloth in four or five layers, called ‘Taranga’. Thereafter there is a plastic sheet either milky white, when it is called ‘Doda-lath’ or transparent like glass, when it is called ‘Sheeshi-lath’. Damsels, young in age would sometimes use a shining sheet with sparkles. This was known as ‘Zitni-lath’ – all the three names were true to their type and quality. On the back of this headgear there is a beautiful decorated covering of muslin called ‘Zoojya’ about one foot long tugged inside the cloth-folds. On the top of it is another white covering with a long twisted tail dangling down the back almost touching the heels. This is called ‘Poots’. When she goes out she puts on a cotton cloth, ‘Dupatta’ or a woolen cloth, ‘Voda Pallav’, depending on the weather, tastefully placed over the head and firmly held in front below the chin with the help of a black-headed pin called ‘Kaladar saetsan’. Incidentally the Malay women in Southeast Asia wear a similar headgear, which they call ‘Tudung’ not very different from Kashmiri ‘Taranga’. 

A gold-chain in her neck, gold ornaments ‘Ath, Atahore and Dejhore’ dangling from both ears is a must for this gracious lady, a mark of her being married and a loving respected mother. On festive occasions and when attending marriages or feasts in relationship she adds some more gold ornaments to her beautiful get up. A necklace or ‘Honzur’ in the neck, earrings or ‘Kana dur’ in her ears, ‘Matshaband’, ‘Katshakar’, ‘Gunus’ on her wrists, ‘Talaraz’, ‘Chaphkael’, ‘Tolsi’, ‘Kantha-maal’ and umpteen different types of typically Kashmiri decorations adorn her personality. 

This mother figure ‘Batanya’ gets up early in the morning. After the usual morning-chores and personal cleaning she cleans the front porch with stairs as also the three sides of the front door with a white clay paste. This is called ‘Brand-fash ta Dar livun’. Then she sweeps and cleans with the same paste the main gallery called ‘Vuz’ and the main stairs leading to the upper floors. Thereafter she goes to the Mohalla temple and performs pooja, does circumambulation and brings home some vermilion tilaka and holy water for other members of the family. On reaching home she sprinkles some water on all sides of the front door; this is considered auspicious. On her return journey from the temple, she sometimes purchases ‘Hak’ (Sanskrit – Shaka) also. On the riverbank and in the temple she prays for the welfare, longevity and peace and prosperity of every one. ‘Raja swasthi praja swasthi desha swasthi tathaivacha….’  Then she cleans the floor of the ‘Thokur Kuth’ and places a pot, filled with fresh water there for the elder male member of the family to perform the daily pooja.   

Now she enters her theatre of activities, the kitchen. She lights fire in the traditional ‘daan’ with two or three cooking ranges. On one she cooks rice in a ‘Degchi’ and on the remaining two choicest dishes of ‘Hak’, ‘Monja’, ‘Nadaer’, ‘Oluv’, ‘Gogji’ and the like. While cooking, stirring the vessels and putting the firewood in order, she goes on chanting holy hymns like ‘Indrakhi Namsa Devi’ or a hymn from Panchastavi like ‘Maya Kunadalini kriya Madhumati’ or the favourite ‘Bhawani Sahasranam’ and I get the echo, ‘Madhur madhu pibanti, kantakan bhakshyanti’ and so on and so forth. These hymns, stotras and mantras sung in the accompaniment of these daily chores add taste and flavour to these dishes and the food. This ensures longevity, health and prosperity of the members of her family. In between she prepares ‘Mogael chai’, the typical Kashmiri black tea with cardamom, cinnamon, a couple of times and ‘Sheerye chai’, tea with milk, salt and common soda in the afternoon. After a brief siesta in the afternoon, when the men folk are away at work, she cleans rice, washes clothes, grinds wheat and pounds chillies. 

Spare time is utilized in interacting with neighbours and keeping abreast with the happenings in the families living in the vicinity. She lends a helping hand where it is needed and gives her advice where it is sought. She is a source of encouragement and a key figure in ensuring moral make-up in those that are in distress or faced with some problem. Her words, ‘Narayan kari raetsrai – God will be kind and favorable’ lift many a depressed person. Come guest and she will not leave him unfed or un-served. ‘Ti banya, nyebokhui ma drakh – How can it be that you will leave without having something to eat’? In the true spirit of Vedic dictum, ‘Atithi Devo bhava – treat a guest like a god’, she serves every guest, known and unknown, with respect, love and care. Her philosophy is ‘Daan to’t ta bar vo’th – kitchen range always hot and ready to prepare food for the guest and the door wide open to welcome him’. If the guest is an elderly person she treats him or her like her father or mother. If he or she is of the same age as she, he gets the treatment of a brother or sister. If the guest is a youngster he is treated like a child with soothing love and a bundle of blessings. ‘Tse aay ta thadan paay – may you live long and ever prosper’ is the oft repeated blessing on her lips. 

She puts up with the carefree nature of her husband and careless attitude of her children smilingly. She will put their personal effects, books, papers, clothes and other such items at their proper places. Sometimes she will scold the youngsters but these utterances will either mean nothing or be in the nature of good wishes. She will burst out, ‘Tse zeer gatshan’, ‘Tse paha lara phutani’, ‘Yi kyah sedyoy’, which amount to nothing as literally they mean ‘may you get a push’, ‘may your borrowed ribs break’ and ‘what has straightened in you’, respectively. On being wished and saluted she will shower basketful of blessings, to not only the person saluting but also to the entire world. To her own children she will wish, ‘Gatsh kulakyan gulan saan phol ta nav –May you blossom and prosper along with the children world over (literally, flowers)’. Sometimes she adopts another pious routine. She gets up early in the morning at wee hours and goes to Hari Parbat for circumambulation and offering prayers at ‘Devi-aangan’. Here also she prays for the welfare of the entire mankind, even for the plants and animals, skies and waters, ‘Sarve bhavantu sukhenah sarve santu niramaya sarve bhadrani pashyantu, ma kaschid dukhabhag bhavet – Let all be happy, let no one be worried, let every one be faced with good things and let no one be grief-stricken’. 

This Bhawani- Maa is a pillar of strength. She has earthlike patience, ocean-like depth and sky-like vastness. She lends support and good counseling to the men-folk in the hour of crisis. She gives manners and imparts values, ethical and moral, to her children. She is at hand for relations, friends and neighbours to suggest solutions to their problems whenever they are faced with any, be it domestic, social or otherwise. She has advised many a daughter-in-law to try and adjust to the changed environment of her new home and try to endear herself to her in-laws. She has counseled many mothers-in-law to handle their new daughters-in-law with love, compassion and consideration and thus has contributed to the peace and harmony in their household. She is kind to the maid, the servant and the sweeper, who do all odd jobs for their family. She will feed them occasionally, serve them a hot cup of tea when it is cold and give them odd woolen items, clothing and other things of day to day use and thus subscribe to their comfort and fulfill their small needs. 

Her compassion is exemplary. Whatever she cooks for the family a portion of it is earmarked for the birds. This she puts on the shelf outside in a corner of the window frame, called ‘Kaw paet’ or the shelf for the crow. A portion of the cooked rice she puts in two small brass pots called ‘Sanivaer’ and this eventually goes for the consumption of various insects when it is emptied every morning before being filled with fresh water. Before eating her food she keeps a portion outside her plate for the stray dog in the lane. This portion carefully shaped is rightly called ‘Hunya Myet’ or a portion for the dog. On Tuesdays, Saturdays and other holy days she prepares yellow rice with turmeric and distributes it among her neighbours. She shares everything brought by her daughter-in-law from her father’s house with her neighbours and relations. This includes walnuts on Shiva Ratri, yogurt on being in a family way, ‘Tsochi’ or pancakes whenever she comes back after a longer stay there and so on. 

The second picture of the ‘Batanya’ that emerges on the horizon of my imagination is that of a daring and daunting ‘Lakshami’. She is beautiful and charming. She wears a sari with necessary paraphernalia of blouse, petticoat etc., a salwar-kameez or even a bell-bottom with top. She may or may not have the traditional Kashmiri ornaments like ‘Dejhor’ and ‘Atahor’ but she would certainly adorn a chain, a pair of ear rings, a couple of gold bangles and a ring. She is agile, quick and sharp. She may be dressed simply but she would be elegant and graceful. She would have don a little make up as well commensurate with the need of her environment as also social and official circle she moves in. Even in the attire common to the ladies of many other communities in our country, she would be conspicuous as a Kashmiri damsel because of her typically Kashmiri demeanour, mannerism and accent. 

She is ‘Lakshmi’ and adds to the family income by her earnings. She may be a Doctor, a Lawyer, a Banker or an Officer. She could be a Teacher, an employee in some government or private office, a Media person, an Engineer, an Architect or in any other profession. She gets up early in the morning. After usual cleaning and a bath, she attends to her kitchen. In a short period at her disposal she has served bed tea to all, given breakfast to young and old, packed lunch boxes for office going males and school going children, prepared children for school and left a couple of dishes in the refrigerator for senior members of the family to consume at lunch time. If she owns a car she drives up to her workplace. Otherwise she rushes to catch a chartered bus and reaches in time at her desk. Whatever her profession she is well versed, efficient and an accomplished expert in her field. She is popular among her co-workers. She is respected by juniors, loved by seniors and held in high esteem because of her expertise and usefulness to the establishment and the organization. She is quick to grasp, fast in taking a decision and lucid and firm in expressing her views. Her compassion and consideration stands her in good stead here also. She is soft and well mannered and careful about her respect, prestige and dignity. 

In the evening when she comes back from her work she again attends to household chores. Often she has to retire for the day late in the night. She looks after the needs of the elders, ensures that the children have done their homework, makes advance preparation for the following day and takes care of other household requirements. She not only adds to the family income and supplements the earnings of her husband but also manages the finances of the house efficiently. She does not like extravagance, wasteful expenditure and spending on un-necessary items. She saves money for the rainy day, for bigger social events and for more pressing and desirable items of expenditure. Her efficient management of the household and family earnings makes it possible that sufficient funds are available for the higher education and professional training of children. She foresees the requirements for their marriage and goes on making due preparations round the year. Her kitchen store, pantry, wardrobe and the storeroom are always full with various items of need. If the guests arrive, neat and nice bedding, sheets and towels are ready for him in the guest room. Her refrigerator and the freezer therein are always full with items that may be needed should an unexpected guest come and stay for the dinner. She is a perfect host and knows the relative importance of each guest. She entertains him as per the norms set by the family tradition and social custom. 

Her role in maintaining relationship is very vital. She has to keep good relationship with people on her father’s side, people related to her husband, friends and neighbours as also those who come in their contact in the office, family business or otherwise. This good relationship gives the family happiness in celebrating important happy occasions and provides help and assistance in times of sorrow and grief. Why I call this picture of a ‘Batanya’ as ‘Lakshmi’ and not a ‘Saraswati’ or a ‘Durga’ is after giving a serious thought to her role in this form. ‘Saraswati’ is the goddess of knowledge but only theoretical knowledge. She represents Pure Science. ‘Lakshmi’ on the other hand is Applied Science and Knowledge in practice. She represents Technology. That is what a ‘Batanya’ is. She applies her wisdom, her knowledge and her discriminating abilities to the family matters as also in the official business in her workplace. As ‘Durga’ her looks would be fierce and scaring but she is soft, loving and mild. She can be a ‘Durga’ at times, and that is when her prestige and self-respect are threatened and she is forced to change her stance and adopt a different role to assert herself. In her normal posture she is a ‘Lakshmi’ and a ‘Griha-lakshmi’ at that. She brings fortune and good luck to her family. In Kashmiri idiom when a girl is born in a family she is always referred to as a ‘Lakshmi’ or a harbinger of good fortune. Likewise when a son in the family is married his bride is called ‘Branda kaen’ or the foundation stone of the main entrance porch of the house. In other words she is considered to be the pillar on which the entire edifice of the family is resting. 

It is very important to note that this ‘Batanya’ in the form of a ‘Lakshmi’ is multi-faceted. She is an obedient and caring daughter to the elders. She is a loving mother who makes the life of her children, gives them the basic teaching and lays a firm foundation of their future life. She is an active life partner to her husband and remains with him in thick and thin, against all odds. She is a cementing force who keeps the bonds of relationship in tact under all circumstances. With all these multifarious activities she attends to other social calls as well. She will be at hand in mourning or marriage. She will participate in all rituals, private or collective. If there is a cultural programme she will be there. If there is a common ‘Yajna’ she will be present at the ‘Purna-aahuti’ if not earlier. If there is a demonstration against any atrocity on the community she is in the vanguard. Her contribution to the family, the community and indeed to the country is enormous, invaluable and indispensable. 

This ‘Batanya’ has tolerated the proverbial ‘neelavath’ under the cooked rice in her plate when she appeared in the form of Lal Ded. She has withstood smilingly the taunts of her mother-in-law on finding the rice pudding insufficient when she came as Roop Bhawani. She bore the cruelty and infidelity of her husband when she was born as Arni Maal and asserted in no uncertain terms, ‘Shayi yaar aestan ta tuthitan pardyan, toti chham ardyan vondasaey sath – Let him be kind to others, so long as I have the belief that he is mine I couldn’t care less’. When she appeared as Raets Ded she compared harsh words with lashing of a whip in these words, ‘Kamcha prath chhu maazas laha kharan, mokha prath chhu karan aedjyan soor – lashing of a whip leaves scars on the flesh whereas scolding breaks the very bones’. As Bhawani Pandit Bhagyavan Ded she again lamented, ‘Pananyan rudukh dur pardyan hovuth noor- You kept distance from your own people but showered light on strangers’. Unmindful of the treatment she received from her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and others in the new home she has adapted and adjusted to the changed environment and new atmosphere. She has contributed to the prosperity, well-being, honour and prestige of the family. Service and sacrifice have remained her motto always and she has given her best in recognizing and fulfilling her duties. There is hardly any work that she has shirked to do. If need arises she does shopping of daily items. If the servant is not available she cooks, washes, irons and attends to cleaning. All this she does smilingly, carefully and willingly. For this role that she performs and for the contribution she makes to her family, the society and the country at large she deserves accolades, praise and appreciation. 

Her role on important occasions like marriages, yajnopavits is full of affection, love and delicate emotions. She draws the ‘Vyug’ , a type of drawing resembling ‘rangoli’ for his brother and his bride on their marriage and on the occasion of the former’s upanayana. She is prominent in dancing on this circular drawing on the ground called ‘Veegya natsun’ and sings ‘Mye chham bailalaen satha ratha vanday malinyo I have full faith in my brother, I give my blood for my father’s house’. She has to decorate the front gate on these happy occasions. This is called ‘Krul kharun’. She has to light a special cooking range on yajnopavit with multiple outlets and cook rice in small earthen pots for the auspicious pooja, ‘Varidaan’. She applies ‘Mehndi’, henna to her brothers and sisters on the occasion of yajnopavit and their marriage. She is the first to welcome the bride and the groom at the front door. She ties ‘Rakhi’ on the wrist of his brother on ‘Raksha Bandan’ and applies ‘Tilaka’ on his forehead on ‘Bhaiduj’. On the death of his father or mother the daughter has to perform a special ritual called ‘Noona-shrada- shraddha performed using salt in the ritual’.     

Professionally also she is exemplary. In the medical profession she excels in both diagnosis and treatment. In teaching she is a patient instructor, facilitator and inspirer. In legal field she is forceful in her arguments and specific in details. As an engineer she is innovative. As a poetess and writer she is lyrical, musical and full of human emotions. As a journalist she is investigative and unfolds news behind news. In every walk of life she is a bold leader and a faithful follower. She lends a delicate touch to anything she undertakes, handles everything with care and concern and ensures finesse, charm and beauty in the end result. She uses her head all right but the element of heart in all her activities is more prominent and pronounced. And why not, after all that is what womanhood is all about. We must appreciate and acclaim the role being played by her and the contribution made by her as a continuing process. Let us not forget what Manu Smriti says about women, ‘Yatra naryastu poojyante ramante tatra devata- gods like to stay at those places where women folk are given due respect and regard’.  

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles

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