The folklore of Kashmir is an integral part of our centuries old cultural heritage. It is our recognition and identification as a nation and society. In older days, folklore was the most important means of entertainment and transmission of knowledge. It was also a way to transforming information from one generation to the other. Generally speaking, it is tremendously helpful in value inculcation as most of the tales, songs and saying are full of advice, sagacity and wisdom. Pleasure derivation is another important aspect of our folklore. Some four or five decades back, there used to be story tellers in every Mohalla, and people would gather in one house or the courtyard of a house to listen to different epics from the panorama of our folklore. Naegrai Heemal, Zuhra Khatoon, Haya Bund, Gulala Shah and so on are some important epic tales who our ancestors would enjoy listening to.
Typical marriage rituals including songs called wanvun are an inseparable part of our folklore. Our marriages are considered incomplete without the typical Kashmiri wanvun. Ladies particularly young girls sing melodious songs in chorus in which the groom , his parents and siblings are admired. The new bride is pampered through different songs. This is an important way to conserve our language which is facing the onslaught of modernization.
Baande Paether is undoubtedly the most important aspect of our folklore. It had been the biggest source of entertainment in bygone days. We have produced some renowned and world class theatre artistes. It was not confined to entertainment only but these theatrical satires would most often highlight some important social issues. And it was the only source of sustenance for a particular community called “Baands”. With the advent of multiple sources of entertainment, and the three decade-long conflict in the valley, this vital limb of our folklore is in doldrums. Though Doordarshan, Srinagar and Radio Kashmir are trying their best to keep this legacy alive but the desired and required work is not done for the existence of this centuries old tradition of our folklore. Administrative workers just remember it on the world theatre day. But then, it is forgotten for the rest of the year. Baands and theatre artistes are in highly deplorable conditions. They don’t wish their children to continue this legacy because it is no more a source of livelihood for them.
Children’s songs particularly lullabies is another part of our folklore. Mothers of bygone days would make their children sleep through melodious lullabies. Now, our mothers hardly know anything such. Modern and young mothers have forgotten this thing. Lullabies are now confined to our books only. It was not just soothing to make the child asleep quickly but it was a source to cement the bond between the child and mother.
Story telling particularly those of mythological monster was done in olden days. I vividly remember the story of “Raantas” a famous mythological demon of Kashmiri folktales. It was mostly attributed to the women with horrible looks or deeds (some people still use the term to define a woman with quarrelsome nature). I vividly remember those bone chilling cold nights when my late maternal grandmother used to tell us those horrendous tales. I and my other siblings would enjoy those episodes with zeal and zest. Every evening, we used to ask for early dinner and sometimes we were reprimanded for this demand by our mother. We used to force our grandma to take evening meals with us so that she could take us to that imaginary world of heroics and fantasies. Although “Raantas” was the symbol of death and fear but still we would enjoy it as we all knew its existence.
Folk music is the backbone of our folklore. Nende Baeth (Songs sung by men during deweeding the paddy saplings), Chhakri and Rouf and our light music are integral organs of our folklore. Our folk music is liked at the global level. Many Bollywood composers have used our folk music tunes in the movie songs. And the story doesn’t end here. Legendary singers like Asha Bhosle and Runa Laila have sung typical Kashmiri folk songs. Our folk musicians have performed in different countries of the world, and have earned a good name for themselves and Kashmir.
Itinerant minstrel locally called Ladi Shah would travel across the streets and villages of the valley. Carrying a Dehra with them (light iron rod with loose iron rings), they would sing ballads and satirical songs in a melodious voice by striking the iron rings with the iron rod very skillfully to produce a pleasing jingle. But, now, Ladi Shah has disappeared from our Folklore though some TV and Radio channels are working hard to keep this tradition alive.
Sayings, proverbs and riddles are a big treasure of folklore. The sayings and the proverbs often talk about the realities of life with good lessons. The riddles though please children a lot but help to preserve the language. Children love it; hence a great service is done to the Kashmiri language.
—The writer is a teacher columnist and a social activist. He can be reached at: email@example.com