Folk dances of Kashmir
By Suhail Ahmad Bhat
Apart from the scenic beauty Kashmir is renowned for its traditional dances as well. The festive spirit in Kashmir is generally celebrated with traditional folk dances. The rich heritage of Kashmir culture includes the local music and traditional folk dance. Folk dance of Kashmir is an integral part of the rich culture of the valley, as there are various forms of folk dances in Kashmir like Kud Dance, Rouf Dance, Dumhal Dance, Bhand Pather, Bachha Nagma, Hafiza Dance and Bhand Jashan The rich heritage of Kashmir includes famous dances that are presented on all the major functions and weddings in the valley and also there are some special dances presented on functions like birthdays, crop harvesting etc. Kashmir dance forms are not only limited to the valley but they attract the eye of all the people from all over the country. These traditional dances now form an integral part of the rich culture of the Kashmir.
One of the famous dance forms of the Kashmir is Kud dance. It is performed to honour the gods or Lok Devtas as a thanks giving ritual and is mostly done in nights. This form has lots of interesting and twisted movements. Unlike other dance forms in kud dance young people as well old people participate equally that makes it more interesting. Rhythm and beats of the music dominate in this form of dance and dancers plan their movement accordingly. Some special Musical instruments are used in this form of dance like chhaina, drums, narsingha, and flute. Spontaneity is another key feature that is found mostly in all the folk dances. This kind of dance is generally performed in the centre of mountains and is performed during the rainy season. The reason behind this is the farmers and villagers who work as farmers want to oblige their local deity or Gramdevta for protecting their cattle, maize crops, children and family from all sorts of natural calamities. The local farmers perform this dance generally and people join from nearby villages in the celebrations. Everyone is in their best attire and dance through the night and celebrate in a festive spirit. A kud dance typically consists of 20 or 30 dancers and is generally continued till late hours in night.
Of all the dance forms the most famous practiced in Kashmir is Dumhal. Dancers performing this dance are dressed up in vibrant colored robes and conical caps which are generally studded with beads and look really beautiful. Only males of Wattal can perform this dance and that too during special occasions. This dance is very different from all the dances performed and takes place on set locations and set occasions. There is a special ritual manner in which dancers have to dance and a banner is dig into the ground and dance generally takes off with group of men dancing around this banner. Dancers sing a melodious voice in chorus and they are joined by drum beats in between.
Another famous traditional dance form in the Kashmir region is Rouf. This dance form is practiced on festive occasions like Eid and Ramazan. It is performed by groups of women facing each other. The most notable feature of this dance form is the footwork of dancers. This well-known dance form is pronounced “Ruff” in villages and as “Row” in cities. It is a dance performed during spring season and has always been an integral part of Kashmiri people since a very long time.
Bhand Pather is a form of theater dance performed in Kashmir. This dance form does not only include dance but also plays between dances that captivates the audience. It shows the normal lives, traditions and evils prevailing in the society. Groups of fifteen to twenty people perform this theater dance wearing traditional attires. The Bhand Pather (Kashmiri language) is all about conveying the tales from current issues ranging from political to social. This is also famous by another Kashmir language name called Bhand Jashan- “Bhand” means “clown” and “Jashan” means “celebrations”, so it is also known as the “festival of clowns”. The dance is accompanied by the “Surnai” a traditional musical instrument – the Kashmiri version of Indian classical “Shehnai”.The dance is performed by both men and women, the group of dancers used to tour near villages for the shows especially on certain occasions like weddings, festive seasons and childbirth etc. The acts performed always carry a message and sometimes are used to spread awareness about people’s sufferings, hardships, social issues and social evils. It also shows the past events- how life was in the past. At the end of the act people used to offer rice as a token of their efforts. The women used to wear Pheran (traditional dress of Kashmir) type kurta, shalwar, dupatta and traditional jewelry. Men wear colorful kurta and pyjamas along with colorful headgear and a dupatta tied on their waist as well as on their head.
Bachha Nagma is yet another dance form which is generally performed at cultural gatherings or special functions like weddings and is only performed by boys. Even man can perform this dance but have to be dressed as boys. It consists of six to seven boys and there is no external singer. One of the dancers is the lead singer who sings in a melodious voice and other members join him in chorus. The dresses worn by dancers somewhat resemble those worn by kathak dancers. In some parts this dance form is also known by the name Bachha gyavaun that means young harmonious voice.
Hafiza Dance is a dance that is performed at weddings and is a form of Kashmiri traditional dance. There is a special instrument used in this dance known as santoor that contains almost hundred strings and is played with the help of sticks.
Wuegi Nachun this dance form is generally performed after all the rituals of wedding when the bride is about to leave her parental home. Kashmiri pundit women gather around bridal rangoli and dance.
India is a vast, culturally rich and diverse country. This diversity is embodied by Kashmir and exemplified in the domain of performative arts by its wide array of folk dance forms that encompass almost every aspect of public and private life in the valley across social, cultural and class divides. Kashmiri dance forms, therefore, are not only reflective of Kashmiri life but also contribute significantly to the cultural vibrancy of India as a whole. Many of these dance forms are under threat of extinction in the fast-paced world of the twenty-first century, but these must be preserved for the sake of Kashmiri heritage.