hero of kashmir

The music of Kashmir is incomplete without the dance steps which make it a complete package of entertainment. Though Kashmiris do not have a particular form of folk dance, most of them are mixed and are performed along with music. The style of dance which Kashmir has is indeed simple but fabulous at the same time. Almost every festival and fair consists of dance and music which is a big attraction for the tourists along with the locals. There is a variety of dance that is performed according to the occasion and some major dance forms are Rouff, Bhand-e-Pather, Bacha Nagma and Wuegi Nachun.

Bhand-e-Pather, a part of Kashmiri folk theatre, is a realistic drama, one which incorporates mythological legends and contemporary social satire. Mostly performed in the countryside, it is used to entertain and inform the public, especially on different ceremonies and launch of new government welfare programmes. The artists have a separate dress code, in accordance with the theme, for the various plays performed. These plays are always performed in an open ground. The characters in the Bhand-e-Pather are well versed, and because the performances are based on social issues and government welfare programmes, they are seen stressing upon the betterment of the society.

The artists who perform in Bandh Pather are Bandh and the plays performed by them are called Pather. In Bandh Pather, artists in colorful costumes move from one place to another in groups and perform plays highlighting the social, economic and political issues of the society in a satirical manner. The vocabulary used in Bhand Pather has connections to the Vakhs and Shrukhs of great medieval and modern mystics of Kashmir. Over the period, this theatrical experience has evolved as a mature and complete theatre with roots in academic, historical and the cultural backdrop.

The group of Bhands has its leader Magun. Magun must have the talent of being a skillful actor, a dancer, not professional though, an acrobat and a musician. Simply put, the leader should be multi-talented. The performance of the Bhands is worth watching as it provides a dose of acting, dance and music. The famous Shehnal or the Sawamal is their principle instrument which has a strong metallic sound with the impact of the open air and attracts audience from far off places. Traditionally the other instruments used in Bhand-e-Pather include Dhol (drum), Nagara (an accompaniment to the Dhol) and Thalij (metal cymbal). Another feature of the play is the whip, which is not the real one but a dummy, and one of the actors can be seen getting whipped many times. He does not get hurt as it is solely done to depict oppression if the script of the play demands so. The curtain which is installed by them is also used for the entry of new characters into the play. The plays of the Bhands are called Pather and the artists use different occasions and formats for the plays. Some plays are Shikar Gah, Darze Pather, Gosein, Angrez Pather, and Navic Pather. In its early days, when Bhand-e-Pather was introduced, it was performed in Sufi shrines in Koshmi. As many as 72 theatres have been established across Kashmir valley.

“Bandh Pather” is as old as Kashmir. It acted as a mirror to society at a time when there was no media. It spread awareness, exposed wrongdoings, highlighted issues and much more,” said Ghulam Mohidun Aiyaz, who has written seven books about Kashmiri folk theatre.

“What makes our folk theatre different from the others is that a single artist acts, dances and plays music. It doesn’t involve backstage sound or recorded music like any other theatre. Everything an artist performs is live before the audience,” he said.

There have been some recent efforts to revive Bhand Pather and provide support to the few artists still involved. Theatre actor and director M.K. Raina worked with members of the Bhand community to produce Bhand Pather adaptations of William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Othello. The National Bhand Theatre, one of the few active Bhand Pather troupes in Kashmir, have been performing in centers outside of Kashmir in an effort to keep the form in the limelight. The Tulkul Arts and Media Collective have also used Bhand Pather to inform the general public about legal rights and issues such as the Right to Information Act (2005), National Food Security Act (2013) and the Solid Waste Act (2016), to name a few. This sort of Art culture is playing a great role in bringing educational and cultural upbringing along with awareness of history and present topics of interest.

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