The term “Baandh”, the enactors of famous Kashmiri folk-art Bande Pather, has been reduced to derogatory status. No matter how much one tries to say otherwise, the reality is that our indifference to our folk continues unabated. We as a society have pushed our culture which includes folklore into oblivion. Kashmir has been unique in that the folklore it evolved, catered to its aesthetic and social needs simultaneously. Kashimr’s folk-theatre, folklore and other forms of folk-art were sensitive to both the artistic subtleties as well as the social realities of their times. Thus, we see in Kashmiri literary, plastic and performing arts, a unique amalgam of artistic creativity and socio-political sensitivity.
Modern temperament, in its hasty and artificial modes of judgement, has consigned all traditional modes of enactment, self-articulation and self-construction to the margins of social mainstream and has not only belittled but altogether ignored the value and worth of these modes of expression and experience. We tend to ignore that our folklore, be it Bande Pather, Ladishah or other myriad and multiple forms of folk-art, are no mere plays, no ordinary theatrical episodes, but the liveliest and the most dynamic repositories of our socio-cultural evolution, the integral components of our cultural collective identity and invincible witnesses to our historical and existential drama.
Laddi Shah, which is a storytelling musical genre originated in Jammu and Kashmir with its roots in traditional and humorous folk singing originally sung by minstrels while locally wondering from one place to another. It is usually sung in Kashmiri language to express anguish or to entertain people in a rhythmic form primarily revolving around political, social and cultural issues in the form of ballad or melodious satire. Bhand Pather is an age-old traditional folk theatre of Kashmir. It is usually held in open spaces. In this interesting theatre form, there are no predetermined scripts. This form of theatre has a traditional performance from and portrays social, cultural, religious and political dilemmas prevailing among masses.
There is no harm in celebrating music and drama from other cultures. It promotes multiculturalism and paves the way for bringing people closer to one another. But when it comes at the cost of the erasure of indigenous art-forms and threatens the very raison d’e etre of tradition’s in its many manifestations, an alarm is to be raised.
What has been observed over the past years is the sheer indifference on part of Kashmiris to their vernacular modes of music, theatre, clothing and modes of living. It involves a submissive and blind imitation of alien cultures even when it comes at the cost of cultural erasure as well as erosion. The thought doesn’t cross our minds that this moribund imitation cuts at our roots and threatens not only our social identity but also posits us against a situation where we can’t situate ourselves against any tangible frame of reference to define our subjective self and our existential being.
The things of cultural import be they from any order, are no mere objects of entertainment, as stated before, but are the axes and coordinates in which one locates him/herself and in relation to which he shapes the consciousness of his existence as a socio-historical being.
How many people are left in the younger generation to understand the lyrics of Shamas Faqeer, Wahab Khar or even the poet of recent past Ahad Zargar? Our youth are moved by jazz and pop but how many are there to understand and appreciate the beauty of Sufiyana Mosiqi? This cultural decadence is not confined to a few art forms but is so pervasive that it has altogether metamorphosed our cultural sensitivities and pushed us into orbits of alienation.
It is no regression or anachronism to appreciate our past and to cherish our tradition and traditional values, be they ethical, social or cultural. We often tend to see the discarding of the past as a passport to progress but the fact remains that one can be progressive and traditional at the same time. In our haste, we perhaps, ignore the fact that progress and prosperity doesn’t come to nations by turning their face away from the past but by mastering the fields of knowledge and by staying attuned with the intellectual call of the day. The West continues to preserve and celebrate Mozart as well as the memories of Gothic architecture. It continues to preserve the centuries old London street houses and values all the objects of its cultural and traditional importance. Progress doesn’t lie in copying the Western hegemonic habits of life or art but to imbibe their scientific spirit and academic rigour without belittling our roots and without turning away from our vernacular modes of thought and experience. While we have opened our case with the performing arts of Ladishah and Bande Pather, the analysis applies to all the modes and manifestations of tradition and culture and is a call to celebrate everything that is best in our cultural praxis while at the same time navigating our path through the emerging challenges of modernity.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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