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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Some thoughts on preserving our cultural traditions

Piyaray Lal Raina

There is a lot of discussion going on through all our modes of communications as to how we can preserve our cultural after our migration from Kashmir. It is genuine concern. We have a glorious culture of our traditions guarded and developed by our ancestors over a long period of more than five thousand years nobody would like to dissociate himself with such an inheritance. The culture of a group of people does not evolve overnight. It is not philosophy only. It is collective history; wisdom and thought of a group of people living under similar geographic conditions. Traditions are the manifestation of that culture. It is natural that longer the life of a culture the more complex will be its traditions. 

The components of any culture can be categorized as:

1)      Language of the people through which they write and read

2)      Religious traditions

3)      Social customs

4)      Festivals

5)      Music, singing and dance

6)      Food

7)      Dress

8)      Art

1) Language

The language we speak is known as Kashmiri. It is spoken by about four million Kashmiris, both Hindus and Muslims. Despite its status as a regional language in the Indian constitution, it has remained as a spoken language only. No doubt we have Arabic as an official script for writing this language but in actual usage it is not used in any official correspondence. It has not developed as a mass medium for conveying our written thoughts. There is hardly any literary material available which people would like to read.  How can we then preserve this language even as spoken one? Perhaps the answer is to speak it in the family and familiarize children with its usage. In the mean time we should develop a Devnagri and Roman fonts which is accepted by all for preserving whatever literature we have in Kashmiri. We have few Devnagri fonts but they are not universal in acceptance .As for example Devnagri font in which Koshur Samachar published from Delhi writes Kashmiri section is not followed by other people who write in Kashmiri language.

2) Religious Traditions

We are deeply religious people. Perhaps it is due to our groupings as Brahmins. Although as Brahmins we are supposed to know how to perform their religious rituals but over a time we have established a subclass of priests called gorus within our community who guided us in the performance of our religious functions. Due to social stigma gorus community had shrunk in numbers while we all lived happily in Kashmir. After our migration, some diasporas of community are left without the services of priests .The problem is more magnified for those who have migrated to foreign countries like we are in USA. Our religious scriptures are all in Sanskrit and we have little or no knowledge of what goes on the performance of these rituals .We do not have translations of the books that describe the methodology for the performance of our rituals. A few suggestions for preserving the religious traditions are as under:

a)      Institutionalization. During good old days we had the privilege of having priests calling at our homes for performance of our rituals. In the changed situation we should build establishments at central places where our community members are living, with facilities for the performance of religious and social functions. It should have place for installing deities, living place for a priest and some cooking facilities.

b)      Recruit new priests. To man these establishments we need to recruit priests .If we can not find priests among our community then we may have to train priests from other communities who are willing to do the job.

c)       Separate spiritual from social content. Almost all our festivities in the social life are linked with our religious activities with the result over the years spiritual content of a religious function has almost disappeared. For example Yagnopavit, if performed as per our sacred texts should not take more than three or four hours but as per current practice it takes a full day from morning to late evening for the performance of this samskara. It is so partly because priests have developed interest in prolonging the ritual to gain time to receive maximum possible collection of abid and also because we keep on serving all sorts of food items while the sacred vedic recitations are going on. This reduces the sacredness of the ritual. We could keep both going on if we separate the two. For example if we perform sacred rituals in the morning three or four hours and then serve all the food items in the lunch or dinner (depending upon the muhurat time of yagnopavit) time that would do justice to all.

d)      Simplify our rituals. We have lot of recitations in our rituals. Even priests from outside Kashmir find it difficult to recite as per our texts .All karmkandas, (texts used for performance of a ritual) are regional in character and most of the regional bodies keep on modifying these karmkandas as per their needs of time. That is the essence of Sanatana Dharma. It is time for us to revise our karmkanda. We have to simplify it.

e)      Translate texts. We are now in the twenty-first century. During the last 16 years, since we left Kashmir, world has changed a lot and it will still keep on changing at a faster rate. Our youth is more pragmatic. They do not stick to blind faith. They look for the meanings of their actions we must provide them an opportunity of knowing the sanctity behind the Vedic rituals by translating Sanskrit texts into the language, which they can understand.

3) Social customs

Social customs are the breath of a community. It is through the social customs that we share the joys and sorrows of our loved ones. Despite our dispersion into small-scattered groups we keep up our contacts with our community members and always feel glad to find a new arrival. A few suggestions to preserve our social traditions are:

a)      Know your social customs It is important to know the customs of our social functions such as those associated with the marriage in the family, celebrations of festivals and even in the case of a death of a family member or close relation. This is our great inheritance, which binds us together. After all humans have been described as social animals to distinguish them from other animals.  

b)      Make global directory of our community. Almost all Diasporas of our community have made some sort of directories, which they use for interaction at the time of performance of social events such as havan or shivratri. We need to publish them in one volume to serve as our global address book.

c)       Establish Mrityoo Samgri Bhandars. It is said that you know your true friend in your adversity. Death of a loved one in the family puts family members in great disarray. In Kashmir, we had a great tradition of having Mriyyoo Samgri Bhandars (death related material warehouse) in our neighbourhood localities where one could get all the materials needed for the cremation of a body without any botheration of locating the available sources of procurement or immediate payments. The need for establishing these bhandars was recognized primarily to provide solace to the bereaved family at a time when they it needed most and was appreciated.  Senior community members managed these Bhandars.

d)      Community pride symbols. We have a saying in Kashmir which states that for finding a place for a night halt in a village look at the condition of village mosque, meaning thereby that if the community in that village is generous they would have provided good amenities for halt of a pilgrims in their mosque. Post migration, our community largely has done well financially. However, we do not have a tradition or culture of giving for social or community causes. While we may spend lavishly on marriage function of our children, we are poor donors when it comes to community activities. There are many of our community members still languishing in deplorable conditions in Jammu camps. They have suffered as a result of migration and have not been able to wean themselves out of the situation primarily because of lack of skills and they need help in the education of their children, medical care and marriage of their daughters. We should keep these community members in our minds and take a lesson from the traditions of Sikhs who have a great tradition of community life. We should build small community hospitals, educational centers, community centers, and enhance help in education and job opportunities for our community. Can we take a leaf out of many communities, who donate 10% of their annual income or spending in a marriage function or special event for community causes?

4) Festivals

We have great traditions of celebrating our festivals, which are numerous, reflecting our long historical presence in Kashmir and our faith in Shaivism. We must educate our children with the background of our tradition of celebrating our festivals. For example, our children must also know why we celebrate Shivratri and Janam Saptami (Lord Krishna’s birthday vs other Hindus celebrating His birthday) differently than other Hindus.

5) Music, Dance, Food, Art

Our community has had a history of developing great talent in various fields of art and literature. We should encourage these artistes and strive to develop new artistes. We should teach our kids our food preparations and continue to have picnics where we enjoy good food and music.  We should also enhance our repository of music, art work, literary work, poetry, phrases, dramas, etc.

 

 ** The author is a regular contributor of articles regarding Kashmir Pandit traditions. He has recently authored a book Socio-Cultural and Religious Traditions of Kashmiri Pandits (http://kp-culture-and-religion.blogspot.com) He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and DLF City, India He can be contacted by email at pl_raina@yahoo.com.

Kashmiri Writers P.L. Raina

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