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
Shiv 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
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
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
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
Cheh Koori Thovnaya mael
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
'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
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
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
*The Traditional Music of Kashmir. In Relation to Indian
Author : Dr. Sunita Dhar
Published by: Kanishka Publishers
4697/5-21A, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, N.Delhi-110002