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Jammu Kashmir - Cultural Background

Jammu and Kashmir has the distinction of having multifaceted, variegated and unique cultural blend, making it distinct from the rest of the country, not only from the different cultural forms and heritage, but from geographical, demographically, ethical, social entities, forming a distinct spectrum of diversity and diversions into Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, all professing diverse religion, language and culture, but continuously intermingling, making it vibrant specimens of Indian Unity amidst diversity. Its different cultural forms like art and architecture, fair and festivals, rites and rituals, seer and sagas, language and mountains, embedded in ageless period of history, speak volumes of unity and diversity with unparalleled cultural cohesion and cultural service.

While the Kashmir has been the highest learning centre of Sanskrit and Persian where early Indo-Aryanic civilization has originated and flourished, it has also been embracing point of advent of Islam bringing its fold finest traditions of Persian civilization, tolerance, brotherhood and sacrifice.

People of Jammu and Kashmir - According to historians, the ancestors of Kashmiris are early immigrants from India proper. With the spread of Buddhism, many scholars came to Kashmir from far-off lands for research and study. The contact of Kashmiris with the Roman, Greek and Persian civilizations resulted into a fusion of cultures. Most of the people claim their descent from the Indo-Aryan stock but one can easily find people belonging to diverse and different races inhabiting Kashmir with distinct looks, dresses, food habits, customs, speech and traditions.

Kashmiris have made remarkable contributions to the arts of story-telling and mystical poetry, the Shaiva philosophy, grammar and the sciences. The artistic and cultural genius of the people of Kashmir is evident in their folk songs and dances as well as the various arts and crafts that are world-renowned. Known for their charming beauty, most of the people in the valley are very fair complexioned, with light brown to dark hair, blue or grey to black almond eyes, rosy cheeks behind Indian tan, chiselled features and fine physique. Superstitious by nature, Kashmiris are generally non-aggressive and temperate in nature and are God-fearing. Regarded as non-martial in character, they are considered extremely warm, friendly, and hospitable.

Kashmiri Muslims are generally more active, energetic and dynamic in nature and are considered unrivalled craftsmen, known for their time-honoured intricate and beautiful designs that they produce on papier-mâché, wood, silver and gold. Shrew’s businessmen, they also indulge themselves in agriculture, sheep rearing, cattle rearing and other cottage industries. Ninety percent of the population in the valley professes Islam of both Sunni and Shia sects.

Kashmiri women generally have such love of jewellery that their headgear, ears, necks and arms glisten with ornaments. The typical ornament that Hindu women wear is the Dejharoo, a pair of gold pendants, hanging on a silk thread or gold chain which passes through holes in the ears pieced at the top end of the lobes. The Dejharoo symbolizes that the Kashmiri Pandit woman is married. Muslim women wear bunches of earrings, the weight of which is supported by a thick silver chain along with several bracelets and necklaces. The whole ensemble lends a most artistic effect to the appearance of Kashmiri women.

Kashmiri Pandits live a simple and frugal life. Individualistic and largely intellectual, they avoid manual labor and cling to professional and administrative jobs. Due to the terrorist activities lately, many of them have been uprooted from their homeland but the government has been trying to relocate them here. The Kashmiri Pandits do not have castes like Hindus in the rest of India.

Rice and meat is the staple diet of the Kashmiris and Kashmiris pride over Karam Sag (a kind of leafy green vegetable), nadru (lotus stalk) and turnips that are considered precious enough to be presented as token gifts. The culinary art of Kashmir, especially, the cooking of lamb dishes in various ways, is very famous. The tea that the Kashmiris drink is called Kahva, which is a concoction of green tea leaves brewed in the samovar and enriched with pounded almonds, cardamom seeds, and cinnamon stalks overdosed with sugar and served without milk. The other kind of tea is Shir chai, which is salted and milked, pink in color and is topped with lots of cream.

Kashmiri Muslims used to wear the pheran, a long loose gown hanging down below the knees, a white turban tied on a skull cap, a close-fitting shalwar and lace less shoes called gurgabi. A white piece of material is hung on their shoulders like a stole. Hindu men wear churidar pyjama instead of shalwar. The less affluent Muslims wear skullcaps, which looks cute and does not carry any shawl. Unlike a Hindu woman's pheran, which gives her a Roman look, the Muslim woman's pheran is beautifully embroidered in front. Whereas a Muslim woman's pheran is knee-length, loose and embroidered in front and on the edges, a Hindu woman's pheran touches her feet. For the sake of smartness and ease it is tied at the waist with folded material called lhungi. The long loose sleeves are fashionably decorated with brocade.

With this type of Hindu costume goes the headdress called taranga, which is tied to a hanging bonnet and tapers down to the heels from behind. The folds of the taranga are made of brightly pressed lines fastened to a pointed red-colored and brocaded skull cap with a few gold pins at the sides. Over the head and ears are pieces of muslin embroidered in gold thread. Muslim woman's headgear, the Kasaba, looks very different from the Taranga. It is red in color, tied turban-like and held tight by an abundance of silver pins and trinkets. It has an overhanging pin-scarf, which falls gracefully over the shoulders. A work-a-day shalwar goes with it. Unmarried Muslim girls wear skullcaps, embroidered with gold thread and embellished with silver pendants, trinkets and amulets. With the passage of years, an appreciable change has come about in the dress of the Kashmiri women. Saris, shalwar-kameez, churidars and jeans are becoming popular, yet none of these belong to them as much as the good old pheran.

Gujjars are the hill people of Kashmir, which are mostly herdsmen by occupation. Said to be Rajputs migrated from Rajasthan and adopted the Muslim faith, they are tall and well built, with a prominently Jewish cast of features. Their dialect, Gujari is now identified as a form of a Rajasthani. Their nutritious diet consists of maize bread, whey, jungle roots and fruits. The dress of a Gujjar woman of the hills in the valley consists of as ample shalwar and full-skirted tunic with loose sleeves. Very much similar to that worn by the Turkish village women, a thick veil on their head falls back to their shoulders. They knit their hair in multiple plaits, which hang in front and cover half of their moon-shaped faces.

Ladakh on the other hand, has been the highest and living centre of Tantrayan Buddhism. Jammu, the same way, has been the seat of Rajas and Maharajas which have cemented and enriched the cultural, historical and social bonds of all these diverse ethnic and linguistic divisions of the state. The ancient archeological monuments and remnants speak volume of the district cultural traditions of the state.

Kashmir is rightly said to be Nature's grand finale of beauty. In this masterpiece of earth's creation seasons in strong individuality vie with one another in putting up exquisite patterns of charm and loveliness. Nature has left an indelible mark on the folk performances of Kashmir as they are intimately interlined with the moods and movements of the seasons.

Jammu the land of the Dogras, offer an entirely different fare of dances and music. Over the centuries long spell of separation from their soldier, husbands and brothers have led the hardy but graceful women of the Duggar to evolve many diverting dances and songs to keep themselves in cheer in their free moments. The songs of separation the ever increasing yearning for reunion with the beloved, the hard life on the mountain slopes and various other themes connected with their day-to-day life find their echo in folk songs and dances.

Ladakh is the repository of ancient cultural heritage. It is the only place in the world where Tantrayans Buddhism is practiced as a way of life. People of this region are deeply drenched in music, dance and drama which embody religious fervour. Ladakhi songs and dances are simple in thought, content and performance to. Ladakhi dances reveal the simple and noble nature of the Ladakhi people. Song and drama both are the means towards salvation.

Popular performing traditions of J&K  - Jammu Region

Kud - It is basically a ritual dance performed in honor of Lok Devatas. This dance style is performed mostly during nights. It is spontaneous dance and people of all ages and sexes participate in this folk dance form. Instruments used during this dance are Narshingha, chhaina, flute, drums etc. It is the rhythm of music which contrils the movement of participants. This dance continues for the whole night. Number of participants ranges from 20 to 30 members.

Heren - It is a traditional theatre form performed during Lohri festival by 10-15 members. This style is mostly performed in hilly regions of Jammu.

Fumenie and Jagarana - This dance style is performed by the ladies on the eve of groom's departure to inlaws house. Both the songs are sung by a group of females consisting 15-20 members. This traditional dance form depicts the feelings and emotions of women folk.

Bakh/Gwatri/Kark/Masade  - It is a chorous narrative singing sung by a group of 10 singers without the accompaniment of any musical instruments.

Gwatri  - It is a singing/ dance combined tradition in which the singers narrate some text which is enacted by the Gwatari dancers.

Karak  - It is a tale ballet singing form sung by a community called 'Jogies'. They narrate a popular folk tale in their dance style, performed by three members with accompaniement of typical folk instrument called 'Rabab'.

Benthe  - This is chorous singing tradition performed specific community of trible called Gujjar and Bakerwal. Dance is performed by 5-7 members.

Popular performing traditions of J&K  - Kashmir Region

Bhand Pather  - It is a traditional folk theatre style combination of play and dance in a satirical style where social traditions , evils are depicted and performed in various social and cultural functions. Bhand Jashan is performed by a group of 10 to 15 artists in their traditional style accompanied by light music for the entertainment of people.


Chakri  - It is most popular form of Kashmiri folk music. It has some resemblance with chakra of mountaineous regions of Uttar Pradesh. Normally Garaha, Sarangi, Rabab were the musical instruments used in the past. But now thw harmonium too has made its way in its presentation.

Sufiana Music  - Sofians musiqui came to Kashmir from Iran in the 15th century. Over the years it has established itself as the classical music form of Kashmir and has incorporated a number of Indian Ragas in its body. Hafiz Nagma in fact, used to be part of sofiana music. The instruments used in this form are Santoor, Sitar, Kashmiri Saz, Wasool or Tabala. In Hafiz Nagma a dancer is a female while her accompanists on various instruments are males. Hafiza moves her feet on musical notes.

There are only a few families in Kashmir who are practising this musical form in Kashmir. Whereas the tallest ustad Ghulam Mohd. Qaleenbaft is unable to move out because of health problems, Ustad Ghulam Mohd. Saznawaz and Ustad Abdul Ghani Namathali are imparting training to their family members and are the practising artists.

Popular performing traditions of J&K  - Ladakh Region

Marriage songs and dance (wedding dance)  - In Ladakh marriage is conducted with great enthusiasm and lasts for at least a couple of days. The main feature of Ladakhi marriage is recitation of long narratives. Marriage songs are sung by the marriage party led by a leader. Singers wear unique costumes especially made for the gay ceremonies.

Jabro  - This dance form is peculiar to Chang- Thang and Rong areas of Ladakh region. Both males and females face each other forming rows or circles and dance leaping hand in hand forwards and backwards reciting melodious songs.

Alley Yate  - It is basically the dance of shepherds of Zanskar area of Ladakh region. It is a combination of poetry and dance. This dance is peculiar to the time when people go out of their homes with flocks.




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