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Folk Music of Kashmir

By Suhail Ahmad Bhat

The music of Kashmir has come to be characterized by a peculiarly sweet and melodious quality. Kashmir today has an ancient and continuous record of musical traditions as the hills and valley have inspired it. Music in Kashmir includes classical and folk music, as well as the vocal and instrumental. The classical music of Kashmir bears a strong resemblance to both Indian and Persian traditions and their finer variations. Kashmir's classical music is usually called ‘Sufiana Kalam’. Sufiana is derived from Sufism while “Kalam” literally means poetry.

The classical music like the Indian classical is based on the mixed Indo-Persian style. Whatever variations there be between Indian and the classical Kashmiri music today, the fact remains that Kashmir throughout its history has remained within the orbit of Indian artistic and cultural influence. Indian classical musicians and singers, like Indian scholars and craftsman adorned the courts of many great kings of Kashmir from the earliest times.

Folk music has exercised a tremendous influence on mankind from times immemorial, representing as they do the reaction and response of a people to their environment. These musical traditions handed down from generation to generation depict the old customs and manners, beliefs, superstitions and prejudices of the entire people embodying their collective aspirations and emotions. Yet these folk tales and folk songs have not remained confined to the country; they represent a glimpse of folk traditions which have been carried from one region to another by travelers and scholars who have adapted these traditions to local surroundings. Kashmir literature has an immense wealth of folk songs and fairy tales. They are as antique and historic as the rivers and mountains which have inspired them.

It is usually the rural people for whom folk-tales and folk-songs have a particular appeal. Folk songs and their tunes are colloquial and present a large variety of themes and content. The most common theme of these folk songs is that of love. The "bands" of performers sometimes rises to great heights while for instance expressing the pangs of separation of the beloved one from her lover. Special folk songs are sung on particular occasions and festivals, there are folk songs meant for different vocations in life too. The folk songs are common to all the people of Kashmir, revealing the fundamental unity that lies in their everyday social and cultural life. They also bring out the fact that all Kashmiris have during their long history, readily responded to their environment and have had common sources of inspiration and recreation.

Folk songs in Kashmir preserve the myths, customs, traditions and legends of days bygone. These are the living monuments of Kashmiri poetic glory. Rural itinerant minstrel bands usually carry ‘Andhra’ an‘iron rod’ with loose iron rings on it, and when they sing folk songs they shake the rings skillfully up and down so as to produce a pleasing jingle. These groups have mostly passed on stories and ballads by word of mouth down the ages. Kashmiri folk songs present considerable variety of theme, content and form. They can be broadly classified into opera and dance songs, pastoral lore, romantic ballads, play-songs, semi-mystic songs, etc.

‘Wanvun’ is a prayer in the form of folk music. It commences with a prayer to God. The songs sung on the occasion of marriage are called wanvun. These are always sung by women. Diversity is found in these songs which is not found in other songs. The rites and customs which are performed on the occasion of marriage include wanvun. While hearing these songs one can feel that women turn a simple ceremony of marriage into a grand occasion. Subject of wanvun changes according to the occasion. This embraces all the stages of the marriage ceremony. Through these songs, the women venilate their grievance of rising prices, scarcity of essential commodities, etc.

Khandar wanvun (marriage song)

Bismillah Karith HemaiWanvune





Sakhrithaawagharesonuyai (In Kashmiri language)

Meaning: With the name of God, we begin chorus song,

O’ Prophet (PBUH) come to ours today,

For you laying serene credence of floral welcome,

O’ Prophet (PBUH) come to ours today,

The noble prophet (PBUH) is about to leave,

Dignified came to our home with a guy.

Zarkasay Wanvun (Initial Child Hair shaving songs)

“Bismillah Karith Zarkasayo

IsmiAzamParayo…” (In Kashmiri language)


With the Most Beneficent name of Allah

We have sought auspicious day for your hair removal.

'Rouf' is a very interesting and emotional type of folk dance. It is called 'Row', in the capital and 'Rouf' in villages. It is directly related with spring. On the basis of the climatic conditions, there are four seasons in Kashmir. Every season lasts for three months. At the outset of spring, Kashmiris entertain themselves by dancing and singing. The songs are sung in the form of questions and answers. In Kashmir, in far-flung villages, usually two groups are formed. One group questions and the other answers, musically, while dancing 'Rouf'. Rouf songs are full of diversification and is mostly concerned with the women. This depicts various stages of women's life, which include her childhood in-laws, her own home, love and hate. Rouf repeats all these stages. Through these songs, the Kashmiri women laugh heartily and often weal and woe over her miserable life. These reflect feelings of women folk. Rouf is confined to some famous poets but it has some savior due to women.

‘Lalnavun’ is a type of folk song, which is sung to make the baby fall asleep. In Hindi, it is called 'Lori', in English it is called 'Lullaby' and in Kashmiri, it is called 'Lalnavun’. In Lalnavun songs, the mother prays for the long life of the child. These songs depict the mother's fondness and love for the child. The main idea behind these Lalnavun songs is to make the child sleep. In the book, 'Thirty songs from the Punjab and Kashmir', Rattan Devi Coomaraswamy writes about the cradle songs of the Kashmiri Lullabies.

'Ladishah' is originated from ‘Ladi’ and ‘Shah’. 'Ladi' means a row or line-'Shah' has been added with the passage of time with the coming of medieval rulers. 'Ladishah' is a satirical song, which reflects the society's condition. It is a type of song, which makes people laugh, but at the same time, it is a satire on the existing government. The singers of 'ladishah' remain in groups and carry an instrument with them, which is called 'dhukar' or 'dhukru'. 'Dhukar' is made of iron (1 -1.5 mtrs. long), with metal rings hanging around it. The singers wander from village to village. They generally go to other villages at the time of harvest to earn their livelihood. They are satirists, who compose their songs on the spot, on the issues pertaining to social, small and big evils. Their manner is very humorous and entertaining, but bitter at the same time. Throughout the history of Kashmir, a number of popular legends have travelled and finally come down to the modern listener or reader through ladishah singers or story-tellers and in a number of such stories they feature as prominent characters as well. In the history of Kashmir, there was a king named Mukunda. His ears were very big. Thus, he wore a huge turban to hide them. This secret was only known to his barber. Unfortunately, the barber died. As a result, the king engaged a new one and directed him to hide the secret of his big ears. He never knew that the new barber was a ladishah. The barber disobeyed the king and the secret exposed to the public.

'Chhakar' has an important place in the Kashmiri folk music tradition. It entertains old and young ladies and gents. It may have been originated from Rigvedic 'Shaktri' or anti-shakri rhyme. In Aryan culture, chorus singing after deva-yajna was a common practice. But according to Shri Mohan Lal Aima, 'mantryamand's ghada instrument originated 'chhakri'. Ghada, has an important place in 'chhakri'. Tumbaknari is another compulsory instrument in ‘chhakri’ which is a kind of long gourd. It is open from the back. On the front side of the tumbaknari, the skin of a cat is stuck. Usually, ghada is played by men and tumbaknan by women. Sometimes, sarangi and rabab are also the accompaniments. Male dancers perform dance, which is called 'bach-kot' (originated from Vedic vatkat.) 'Chhakri' has great relationship with farmers, who at a break from the hard task, sing and dance in the evenings. 'Yagnopavit' and marriage ceremonies are not possible without 'Chhakri'. On an auspicious day, tumbaknaris are purchased and 'Chhakri' singing begins from the house cleaning ceremony. The credit of making 'Chhakar' famous in Kashmir, goes to the professional artists who, along with their full team, sing and create a musical environment, which is full of fun and entertainment. 'Chhakar' traditionally was confined to villages, though songs, set to 'Chhakri' music, were sung on wedding occasions in the urban areas. The credit of popularizing it goes to Radio Kashmir. 'Chhakar' programmes are often viewed on T.V or heard on All India Radio, in the valley. This type of folk song has been in practice for a long time. According to the Rajtarangini, king Bhashmakar had made a type of folk song popular in which, utensils of clay or brass was used. Even today, gaagar, chimta, matka, ghada, etc. are found to be used as the instruments with 'Chhakar' gayaki. 'Chhakar' is sung collectively in a group. 'Chhakar which is sung by professionals has only men in it. A very important feature of 'Chhakar' gayaki is that the singers themselves play the instruments. The style of singing is such that the first line of the song is sung by the leading singer. The same line is repeated by other members of the group. The speed of the song gets very fast and the work get difficult to understand. When 'Chhakar' is in its full swing, people from around get up and start dancing.

Naind Gyavun’ is related to 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. India is an agricultural country. The tradition of agricultural songs is prevalent in every state and region. The nature of agricultural songs is joyful, exciting and merry. The people in Kashmir are rice eaters. To prepare the paddy fields is not an easy task. It requires hard labour with proper planning. Singing makes difficult tasks of the farmers easy and enhances their zeal. After cultivation, the land becomes uneven and soil lumps are formed. The lumps are broken and the soil is made even. The task of breaking of soil lumps is called 'Yattpur'. After 'Yattpur' farmers sow paddy plants. Sowing of paddy plants is called 'Thal'. When the plants start dancing in the breeze, the farmers come back for cultivation of the soil and weed. Making the fields suitable for agriculture is called 'Naindai'. In harvest season which comes in Kashmir in October and November, farmers have to be quick and vigilant in harvesting and carrying grains for storing. They are scared of the uncertainty of rains and snow. They find no breathing time in between, but sometimes give pause to their work. They sit beneath a tree and entertain themselves with singing. It is accompanied by 'Manjira' etc. Since these songs sung in chorus pertain to farming, they are called 'Naindan Chhakar'.

Kashmiri music has evolved through many historic phases. Lying in middle of South East Asia; it absorbed a permissible cultural impact in its language and culture. A good influence of Persian, Arabic and Sino-Indian languages induce rich cultural synthesis in Kashmiri music. Persian and Sanskrit are mainly overlapped in a modified form in Kashmiri language. Thus Kashmiri music is embedded with Persian Sanskrit and Indian music strands. It has been observed that the majority of the folklore forms and items have been facing crisis in sustaining the tradition with maintaining its authenticity or authentic values because of the growing impact of globalization and modernization on the socio-cultural changes of the societies. Advancement of science and technology has also contributed to this change. As a result, many of the folklore traditions, folk culture and various forms of traditional culture with folkloric flavor have been facing crisis over the last one and a half decade. Preservation of these with maintenance of their originality or authenticity is of the utmost necessity.


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