Thursday, October 1, 2009

Folk Theatre of Kashmir



Of Kashmir

The history of Kashmiri theatre goes back almost thousands of years – since we have the recorded history of Kashmir. The height of the popularity and public recognition of our theatre can be judged by the fact that every house patronized the performing arts – music, dance and drama as the young girls and boys were being trained by their talented mothers. There is a definite evidence to prove that in the days of Kshemendra, Kashmir had theatre of its own. A magnificent stage was erected for the royal court where famous dancers, musicians, and actors used to perform, which were highly applauded by the King and the people.

In Kashmir, according to Neelmat Purana, there were four most important occasions in a year when mostly these music, dance and drama activities were taking place i.e. (1) on religious festivals (2) on social occasions, (3) on agricultural festivals and (4) in winter on first snow fall occasion – so have the music, dance and drama of Kashmir taken the shape and form.

The golden era of our music, dance and drama art forms – the richest performing art forms of Kashmir, was the 4rth to 7th century AD, when our music, dance and drama had reached to the zenith of its glory and every village had a stage of its own where music, dance and drama performances were held.

After the advent of Muslim rule (14th Century) in Kashmir, The Kashmir theatre has received comparatively a great setback in urban community for lack of state patronage and public support for obvious reasons. However it did not disappear completely in Kashmir as the folk theatre form continued to receive applause in the remote and rural areas when they were performing in the folk-theatre-festival called Bhand-Jashan on one hand and entertaining the public on another. These Bhands almost played the role of good ambassadors of the public before the royal court as they had been advocating the popular plight by performing and enacting through satire and mimicry, the apathy and aggression of the rulers over the masses.

Traditionally talking of our theatre, the oldest and the richest art form of our folk theatre is popularly known as “Bhand-Pather” which has preserved our theatre art form in all its manifestations. It has survived in all times only for its popular idiom, versatile metaphor and unique style in content, presentation and performance. These folk and wandering performs (popularly known as Bhands) are spread all-over Kashmir and have peculiar dress, improvising wit and humour in their acting, dancing and music – with the result it acquired the popular name of Bhand-Jashan – the performing occasion of Bhand-Pather, which later became the rocognised folk form of our theatre.

The Bhands of Kashmir used to perform from village to village while wandering and collecting food, money and cloths for themselves offered by the people, which was their only source of income and survival. They also happened to be invited on the marriage occasions of royals, rich and landlords to perform for days together – thus enjoyed a popular social recognition.

Almost all the Pathers (the folk plays) were played extempore. And the most popular Pathers happened to be “Grees-Pather” (Pathers about Farmers), Watal-Pathers (Pather about cobblers), Darzi-Pather (Pather – portraying the tyranny of the Dards), Bakerwal-Pather (Pather about Bakerwals – a nomad tribe of Kashmir), Buhri-Pather (Pather about Bohris – the traders), Raze-Pather (Pather about the Rajas), Shikar-Gah (Pather about the animal kingdom and the human behaviour with animals), Gosani-Pather (Pather about Hindu-hermits), Angreez-Pather (Pather about the English), Armeen-Pather (Pather about the vegetable-growers) Hanz-Pather (Pather about Fishermen), Chakwal-Pather (Pather about Chakdars) and many more. To say there was hardly any cult, tribe, trade or community of which these Bhands didn’t make mimicry – thus is the Pather named about.

There happened to be a number of these Bhand families present all-over the Valley – especially in Akingam, Mohripora, Shangus, Gundpora in Anantnag District; Wathora, Ichhgam, Hanjigund, Soibug, Bambrooda-Beerwah in District Badgam; Thokerora, Balapora, Imam-Sahib, Wanpora, Rohmu in District Pulwama; Bomai-Sopore, Bandipora, Rihama, Tilgam, Palhalan, Lolpora in Baramulla District; and Kralpora, Gulgam, Karihama, Hatmulla, Drugmulla and Shumnag in District Kupwara.

There are almost over fifty registered folk theatre groups presently in Kashmir Valley. Among them the most popular and professional groups are Kashmir Bhagat Theater – Akingam, Anantnag; National Bhand Theatre – Wathora-Chadora, Badgam; Alamdar Bhagat Theatre, Mohripora-Anantnag; Wuller Folk Theatre, Zaingair-Baramulla; Gulmarg Luka Theatre, Palhalan-Pattan, Baramulla and Dilkash Folk Theatre, Hatmulla-Kupwara. The detailed list of these registered folk theatre groups is given separately. The tragic part of most of these contemporary groups is the fact that they have remained the traditional folk theatre groups less than the commercial performers of Bhand-Parties by day and night defection in the run for money in the trading media world.

The most contemporary legendry folk theatre personality – both as performer-cum-director and playwright was Late Mohammad Subhan Bhagat (1927-93) from Akingam-Anantnag, who not only organised these Bhands in a repertory professionally but consolidated the Bhand-Pathers and gave them a formal script shape in his book Bhand-Jashen, published in 1984. Mr. Bhagat has been the leading light for the new generations of these Bhands who has won many laurels and honours on State and National level.

In all its manifestations and with all short-comings and defaults – Bhand-Pather is the richest traditional theatre-art form of Kashmir.

Bhawani Bashir Yasir