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Kashmiri music | A century old legacy

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Kashmiri music is gaining popularity as artists across India are taking interest in Kashmiri folk music

Mohammad Hanief

 Jammu and Kashmir boasts of a rich culture that comprises local handicrafts, a variety of traditional delicacies, rich traditions, festivities, and Kashmir’s very own music and dance. The folk music of J&K is characterised by some peculiar musical instruments, dance forms and singing styles, which are different from the folk culture of any other Indian state, and are integral to every Kashmiri celebration and special occasion.

Kashmir has its own style of dance performance and music that is simple and fabulous. Almost every festival and fair has an element of dance and music that is a big attraction for tourist also. There is a wide variety of dance and music that is performed according to the occasion.

Music is deep-rooted in the living paradise of Kashmir. It signifies its cultural glories and not just as means of entertainment and leisure, but as a central part of heritage. Its divine music is like food for the soul – birthed in the congregations of Saints and Sufis that would surpass the physical world into the metaphysical through music. It is a gift of nature – heard through winds in the trees, countryside calm, willow orchards, and shades of Chinar through seasons. Trees in Kashmir have granted a natural sense of rhythm to artists; it is said with the changing atmosphere and moods of the Valley, the wind carries emotions passing through a variety of trees, paving way for music that only true artists can hear.

Kashmir also has a history of traditional musical instruments like Tumbaknar, Sarang, Rabab, Noet, Nai, Santoor, Sitar, Saz-e-Kashmir, etc., having a unique sound, importance, and reason. They were given a centre stage in Bollywood movies like ‘Fitoor’, ‘Haider’, and ‘Raazi’.

Chakri is one of the most popular types of traditional music played in Jammu & Kashmir. Chakri is a responsorial song form with instrumental parts, and it is played with instruments like the harmonium, the rubab, the sarangi, the nout, the geger, the tumbaknaer and the chimta.

An age old musical instrument native to Jammu and Kashmir, the Tumbaknari’s presence is a must at any celebration. This simple drum made from baked clay has maintained its form and position since medieval ages, with its roots believed to stretch far back into Iran or Central Asia.

Santoor is a stringed instrument made of wood, steel, and bamboo. This is a traditional instrument found in Jammu and Kashmir as it is majorly used in the traditional music of Kashmir called Sufiana Qalam. It has now acquired an important place as a classical music instrument.

The Rabab, as we know it today, is believed to be a new version of the Rabab mentioned in historical texts. Also known as the Kabuli Rabab, the instrument is the national instrument of Afghanistan from where it made its way into India and was adopted by the people of Kashmir.

Nout is a solid instrument made of clay, lacquer, and metal. Used in religious ceremonies, this instrument is found in Kashmir. Majorly used for rhythmic accompaniment along with Rabab and Saitar in Sufiana Qalam and other devotional and traditional musical forms of Kashmir.

Kashmir has had a rich musical tradition going back centuries. The early Brahman communities played music very similar to Indian classical music such as the sitar. The advent of Sufism brought a new musical tradition, that of sufiana kalam, which involves the instruments santoor and saz. With this music, there are many dance forms in Kashmir, the most popular of which is the roof. This dance heralds the arrival of the spring, performed by girls, and is usually performed at Eid festivals.

Traditionally the music composed by ethnic Kashmiri’s has a wide range of musical influences in composition. Due to Kashmir’s close proximity to Central Asia, Eastern Asia and Southern Asia, a unique blend of music has evolved encompassing the music of all the three regions. But, overall, Kashmiri music is closer to Central Asian music, using traditional Central Asian instruments and musical scales.

Rouf is a traditional dance form usually performed by girls on certain important occasions like Eid, Marriage and other functions. Rouf includes dancing and singing simultaneously. No musical instrument is required in this. Girls arrange themselves in two or three rows, each row has 5-6 girls. Each row of girls then move one step forward and then back in swaying motion while singing the Roof song or Wanwun. Usually Rouf is called Wanwun when played in marriages.

Ladishah is one of the most important part of Kashmiri music tradition. Ladishah is a sarcastical form of singing. The songs are sung resonating the present social and political conditions and are utterly humorous. The singers move from village to village performing generally during the harvesting period. The songs are composed on the spot on issues relating to that village, be it cultural, social or political. The songs reflect the truth and that sometimes makes the song a bit hard to digest, but they are totally entertaining.

Sufiana Kalam is the classical music of Kashmir, which uses its own Ragas (known as Maqam), and is accompanied by a hundred-stringed instrument called the Santoor, along with the Kashmiri Saz, Wasool, Tabala and Sitar. Sufiana Kalam has been popular in Kashmir since arriving from Iran in the 15th century and has been the music of choice for Kashmiri Sufi mystics.

Classical music in Kashmir performed by Hindus is mainly influenced by Indian classical music, using instruments such as the Sitar. The most popular folk instrument is Santoor (Shat-tantri-veena), a hundred string percussion instrument which is played by Goddess Sharada (the Goddess of learning and art in ancient Kashmir).

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.

Lately, many music studios are coming up in Kashmir. Kashmiri music is gaining popularity in the mainstream as artists across India are taking interest in Kashmiri folk music and language. Once again like the early Bollywood era, artists are choosing Kashmir as their video shooting destination. Perhaps this is the new beginning, the revival of the Kashmiri music and culture that we have been waiting for.

Some Kashmiri songs with their contemporary rendition and Hindi translations have taken Bollywood and non-Kashmiri artists by storm. They have been appreciated worldwide. The perfect example of this is Vibha Saraf’s hit song ‘Khanmoj Koor’ for the film ‘Raazi’, the Hindi rendition of which is written by Gulzar, and won her an IIFA and Zee Cine award in 2019. Due to the fame of the song, even the Telugu film industry is looking into songs in the Kashmiri language for their movies!

Few local artists too have been recognised on the National stage. Singer Rasiq Imtiyaz Khan’s solo Kashmiri song ‘Lolan’ has been released by Zee Music Company, one of the top labels in the country.

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