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
However, some styles of music and singing e.g. temple Sangeet,
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,
'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.
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
*The author is a keen researcher on History and Culture of Kashmir.
Article reproduced from: Kashmir