Translated from the Kashmiri by Ameen Fayaz
It is commonly acknowledged that the literature of a people/ nation is not just the achievement of one single class or race; rather, it is an asset of the entire nation/ people which is passed on from generation to generation (thus belongs to the nation/ people as a collective whole). The deeper we dig into the literary history of a people, the more we find a part which though unwritten is committed to memory by the people and transmitted orally from one generation to another. Whether it be poetry or prose, this part of the literature carries hints of the ways of life of the people, and impressions of their aspirations and general worldview are woven in it in such a manner that it acquires a distinct identity, which, when reflected upon, provides insights into not just the history of the nation but also of its highs and lows, the outlines of its collective consciousness.
This genre of literature is called Folk Literature. It exists in every nation of the world in one way or the other. It is, in fact, a surprising thing that many a nation has shown a similar kind of consciousness in their literary productions. The roads chosen may be different but the objective/ goal remains the same. This is why it is said that in folk literature one actually finds a chance to meet all of mankind. This universal man says what he/ she thinks and acts in accordance with ways of a simple society, without involving logical complexities. This is why it is not necessary to assess whether the aspirations/ longings of such simple societies are the subject matter of any high science or logically interesting from a critical point of view. They are a collective reflection of consciousness which shines in its own environment, appreciated most in its own civilisation and culture.
Keeping in view these introductory remarks, when we look at the folk literature of Kashmir, we encounter such remarkable currents of thought which despite the passage of a long time have become brighter by the day. Of these, spirituality is the base: our folk literature has more connections with the inner self than with the outer one. Impressions of this current of thought have been there since times when our history was yet to be recorded; for example, the story of Aka Nandun, the greatest example of self-sacrifice. The folk story of Aka Nandun has been travelling by word of mouth from generation to generation across the valley in Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim periods. It is quite possible that this story might have even found mention in Gonada’s story book, Brihat Katha. This story became more popular in Sanskrit language as it had a philosophical connect with the world view that Sanskrit created in Kashmir. It is reasonable to assume that some poet/ prose writer reproduced this story in Kashmiri language before the arrival of Islam. However, the first man to write it in Kashmiri was Bahadur Ganayi, in the Muslim period. Later on, Prakash Bhat reproduced it in Kashmiri verses and around the same time a version was produced by Ramzan Bhat in seven parts, followed by Samad Mir, Ahad Zargar, and Mohammad Khar. From Shaivist philosophy to Islamic Tasawuf, whatever thought currents found their way into Kashmiri consciousness shaped the characters of this story. However, its essence was never changed by any poet or writer.
It was under the influence of spirituality that at times mythology made entry into our folk literature, bringing with it magic and superstition. This made the major portion of our folk literature supernatural. If a character remains youthful for thousands of years in one story, in another story an old character does not submit to the death call of Izraiel. In one story we see a character returning to life again and again after many deaths; in another we see a character either riding scepter or having a green skullcap on his head remaining invisible to all the people sitting in a function/ gathering. Such metaphysical subjects have a deep connection with our collective unconscious. The dreams in folk literature are interpreted by different classes of people in their own ways. An illiterate fellow upon seeing a natural scene in a folk story finds a spirit in it, while an educated person philosophises on the same. In folk literature, dreams having a double meaning are most of the times found among people who are by nature driven to an inward-looking approach to life. Kashmiris as a nation/ people are collectively driven to such an inward-looking approach. This is why before the arrival of Islam in Kashmir our ancestors here associated one or the other mythological story with 1) any big water spring/ canal in Kashmir like Nil Nag, Sheeshram Nag and Kosar Nag; 2) any lake like Wular Lake, Manasbal Lake or Mansar Lake; any unique mountain like Harmokh, Mahadev or Kailash Parbat of Bhadrava; or 4) any amazing hillock like Takht-e-Sulaiman, Hari Parbat or Damodar hillock, etc.
In ancient times it was enough that Hindu or Buddhist religion had sanctioned the symbolic use of stories or association with different signposts. For common people it served as a kind of symbol while for the elite section such a thing was a poetic/ philosophical example of something in life. Such concepts/ imaginings were encouraged by the natural landscape of Kashmir till the philosophy of Unity of Being, which is considered the nucleus of the Aryan mind and has contributed a lot to our literature, made its entry in our folk literature.
For example we may talk about the story of Himal and Nagrai. There is a symbolic representation of the marital relationships between Nagas and Aryans in this story. It was a historical necessity at that time. This national integrity of the two races was still taking shape when this romantic story was prepared. The characters of this story show the Hindu imagination and their customs and traditions; they also involve beliefs that only a Hindu can have and not Muslims. Nevertheless it is a fact that the folk literature of a people is always their national heritage which does not become a cause of religious division/ conflict and is always kept alive by the people as their national/ personal achievement.
Moreover, it must be remembered that people do not measure the plot of a story only by logic and reason; rather, they carry it forward through some unconscious/ intuitional condition for which the characters of the story may even be required to visit the Talpatal (underworld) or fly up to the sky for seeking help. The listener must in any way get some mental satisfaction from the story. Everybody knows that religion pays most of its attention towards satisfaction of the heart/ mind/ soul. That is why our ancestors and many of our contemporary Kashmiris also would get a kind of satisfaction/ ecstasy from the stories of Nilmat Purana, the same way a scientist might feel at some new invention/ discovery.
When Islam reached Kashmir in the 15th century, our literature came under the influence of Persian culture which changed many of its directions. Before this, singers and story writers would narrate/ sing the love story of Himal and Nagrai as an exemplary romance; but with the arrival of Persian in Kashmir, Laila Majnoon, Sheereen Farhad, Zun Aftab, Loh ta Preva, Bumbar ta Yimbarzal were introduced and brought a new fervour in folk literature. After some time, the romance of Habba Khatun became a new legend in Kashmir. It still echoes in the villages of Kashmir with the permanent political message that the Mughals occupied our country and turned us into slaves. However, even while being under the occupation of Mughals, Pathans, Sikhs and Dogras and bearing their oppression, Kashmiris continued to build their own world of imagination in which there were more aspirations than real intent of action. It is assumed that during this era there emerged the story of Yakay Khan in our folk literature. While listening to this story, unarmed Kashmiri villagers would aspire for a day when they would without any weapons of war rise to freedom and peace.
Persian added some new colours to these half-broken wishes/ aspirations and the element of genies intensified its influence day by day. That is why even today in our folk literature we are told that there are fairies in forests, genies in uninhabited places, Mushran at flood-ridden places, Bhram ra Chok in snow-clad maidans, Tchota Yacha on dunghills, Wihath on mountains, and Dulphas in rainy nights. In short, Tasrufdar (Kashmiri name for genies that possess and take control of human body) is always there outside the house, no matter what is going on inside.
The Persian literature even changed some of our characters. If before Persian the role of a Helicopter in a story would be played by “wuchi prang”, it is now played by “aagar pachini” (a fictional bird in Persian mythology). Earlier, the Soda Beur and Boda Beur (names of cats in folk tales) who would not talk to each other during the winter season would get reconciled to each other and talk when one had to show path to some wayfarer; now, Khizr on dry land and Ilyas in oceans would come to help of those who have lost their way in wilderness. However, we must accept the fact that despite many changes in our characters, our metaphysical characters continued to retain their place in our stories, of which the character of “Moj Dewath” is the most important. In Habba Khatun’s Sath Lanji, all the supernatural acts are carried out by Moj Dewath. The story writers/readers in the villages of Kashmir don’t even believe that Yousuf Shah Chak had really married Habba Khatun because they believe that the two were actually brother-sister who had drunk the milk of Moj Dewath; therefore, marriage between the two was not permissible. If these story telling people are asked a question about the romance between Yousuf and Habba Khatun, they would come up with a simple answer that their love was a “pure love” wherein there is no question of becoming husband-wife. What one can infer from this belief of Kashmiri villagers is that when folk literature and historical facts clash with each other, common masses don’t care much for the history; they would rather catch what has reached to them as a matter of tradition by word of mouth.
It was Habba Khatun who experimented with a blend of Kashmiri music and Persian tunes. It influenced our folk literature in its verse form. After Habba Khatun those poets who attempted to make Habba’s Sath Lanji did so with an experimental zeal which was liked and appreciated by Kashmiri people. It was after this story that there started the tradition of using songs in long prose stories. Many local stories were written on the model of Habba Khatun of which Wizramal, Jahara, Talaw Razdani, Panjtul Bahar or Panjtal Mahtab could be counted as a good addition in our tradition of storytelling. Our story tellers wrote many foreign stories on the same model. Stories like Zehra Khatun, Shah Sayar, Allah Dadd, Laila Majnoon and Sheikh Sanaa were written in a combination of prose and poetry. Some foreign epics were also translated into Kashmiri poetry, for example, Gul e Sanobar, in which the Kashmiri writers retained the original plot and changed the other technical aspects in their own way.
The sources of non-Kashmiri stories in the folk literature of Kashmir are connected with that treasure which sprung from the mind of Hatim Tilwani. Although under the influence of Persian, the language, expression and imaginative style in these stories is altogether different from one that Kashmir had before fifteenth century, yet there are some common characters: elite figures like kings, queens, princes, waziers; middle-class characters like Khoja, sodagar, and priests; lower-class characters like Marawatul, Tcharung and Khor; and characters from the supernatural world like Rantas, Daan, Mokul and Yach.
Apart from stories, there are Taku and Nasri Shruki that are actually aimed at testing the mind of the contestants. Prizes were specifically meant for puzzles and the prize could be a whole village. If a puzzle maker could go on bereaving a contestant in village after village, thereby finally winning the whole of Kashmir, it would convey the message that in this world one hears a lot of noise but ultimately there is no substance to it. The stories of our folk literature reflect a pessimistic mindset. They set a target that we are not able to attain.
In the category of entertainment prose, we have the tradition of Thata Bakra which is a combination of humour and obscene speech/ writing. When humour crosses all limits, it becomes obscenity. This is what happened to our Band Pather also. Hundreds of years ago, our Band Pather had a standard. However, as a result of slavery and ignorance, our historical Band Pather (then called Darza Pather) gradually turned hollow and devoid of any standard. Substandard satire ate up all the technicalities of this art. When Band Pather started declining, we saw a new form of the same art coming into being called Ladi Shah. The experts of this art, however, can be counted on finger tips.
In the end, we must look at the people who preserve folk literature. These are people who by virtue of being traditionalists and conservatives commit to memory the old literary traditions instead of preserving them in books. Because of certain social factors, villagers are by nature traditional and conservative, while people living in cities modify themselves more often, which has generally an impact on their literature. That is why, instead of cities, the bulk of folk literature continues to exist in villages. The biggest treasure is our proverbs, wise sayings, and idioms which are the manifest representation of hundreds of experiences of life. A researcher like Grieson has commented on our proverbs: “There can be very few people in the world whose proverbs reflect such a great wisdom as Kashmiri proverbs do.”
Literary genres other than folk literature like puzzles, Tuks and allusions which have been preserved by villagers of Kashmir are, however, equally the national heritage of all Kashmiri speaking people for their eloquence, chastity and meaningfulness. The only difference is that of treatment/ usage: one may be just using these proverbs/ wise sayings/ folk tales orally while another person may be using them as the means of enriching his/ her mother tongue, thereby making his/ her literary production (poetry/ prose) a masterpiece of art and a legend forever.
Blurb: It is, in fact, a surprising thing that many a nation has shown a similar kind of consciousness in their literary productions. The roads chosen may be different but the objective/ goal remains the same. This is why it is said that in folk literature one actually finds a chance to meet all of mankind. This universal man says what he/ she thinks and acts in accordance with ways of a simple society, without involving logical complexities.
Blurb: In folk literature, dreams having a double meaning are most of the times found among people who are by nature driven to an inward-looking approach to life. Kashmiris as a nation/ people are collectively driven to such an inward-looking approach. The stories of our folk literature reflect a pessimistic mindset. They set a target that we are not able to attain.
Blurb: Because of certain social factors, villagers are by nature traditional and conservative, while people living in cities modify themselves more often, which has generally an impact on their literature. That is why, instead of cities, the bulk of folk literature continues to exist in villages. The biggest treasure is our proverbs, wise sayings, and idioms which are the manifest representation of hundreds of experiences of life. A researcher like Grieson has commented on our proverbs: “There can be very few people in the world whose proverbs reflect such a great wisdom as Kashmiri proverbs do.”