Music & Dance of Kashmir: A Historical Perspective: Part II

In the Sikh Period Kashmiri dancing girls came to be called nautch girls, the title which was given to the dancing girls of entire Northern India
"The Chak rulers were lovers of music and dance. Among them, it was Yousuf Shah Chak who was a great lover of music, songs & dance. He spent a lot of time in listening to musicians & songstresses." [Representational Image]
"The Chak rulers were lovers of music and dance. Among them, it was Yousuf Shah Chak who was a great lover of music, songs & dance. He spent a lot of time in listening to musicians & songstresses." [Representational Image] File/ GK

It was Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlat Beg [1540-1551] to whom Kashmir must be indebted for bringing excellence in music & playing of musical instruments like lutes, dulcimers, harps, drums & flutes for their songs & compositions including chorus in Kashmiri language.

To recapitulate, chorus songs were introduced to Kashmir by Raja Kalasa. Lute & Ud were already known musical instruments in Kashmir. By the time of Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlat Beg, more instruments of music added beauty to the art of music and singing.

The Chak rulers were lovers of music and dance. Among them, it was Yousuf Shah Chak who was a great lover of music, songs & dance. He spent a lot of time in listening to musicians & songstresses.

Beautiful like moon, Zoon, Habba Khatun, melodious singer & poetess of Kashmir, captivated his heart which turned to their lifelong bondage of spousal love. She became queen of Yousuf Shah Chak & she is remembered for her romantic lyrical verse with unique Kashmiri genre of sadness.

Kashmir was a Subah/province of the Mughal Empire. It was their private garden, a favourite summer retreat. There is evidence that Akbar on his visit to the valley heard the Persian poetry from poets.

Though a great admirer of art of music, there were no performances by musicians & dancers at his court during his three visits to the valley; albeit his each stay in the valley was marked by great celebration & gaiety among the masses.

He paid much attention to music & was the patron of all who practiced this enchanting art, & his imperial court had numerous musicians including Hindus, Iranis, Turanis, Kashmiris, both men and women.

The court musicians were arranged in seven divisions, one for each day of the week. “All authorities and traditions are agreed that the best performer at Akbar’s court was Miyan Tansen”. Abul Fazl declared that “a singer like him has not been in India for the last thousand years”.

“He was a close friend of Sur Das... Tansen became a Muslim, assumed or was given the title of Mirza, and is buried in Muslim holy ground at Gwalior”. According to GMD Sufi, Tansen’s masterly exposition of different Ragas under Muslim traditions of revival & modernisation suited Muslim taste & it had influence on “the musicians of Kashmir”. However, Abul Fazl has not mentioned any classical musician from Kashmir in the list of “imperial musicians” at Emperor Akbar’s Imperial court.

Jahangir & his queen, Nur Jahan, would spend time in Mughal gardens & visit some scenic beauties of Kashmir. He was fond of frivolous amusement, of song and music. Parties were held at his court day in & day out where song & dance parties charmed the audience.

Did he have musical & singing parties during his visits in Mughal gardens & other beauty spots of the valley? There is no direct evidence found in memoirs & chronicles about the claim that dance & song parties were held in enchanting gardens by the Mughal Emperors.

However, to avoid simmering hot conditions of India, the Emperor Jahangir & his queen loved to spend summers in their fairest province: Kashmir. The special imperial guests, courtiers and some musicians & songsters accompanied the royal couple during their visits to the valley. It is also claimed that “Kashmiri” singers & dancers also performed in the Mughal gardens to amuse the Mughal Rulers & courtiers.

“Across the narrow watercourse” the Kashmiri musicians played & a Kashmiri female dancer swung her castanets, “while beside her a sword juggler” was “busily engaged in going through his performance”. “Naming Kashmir as Baag-i-khas or the special garden, they [Mughals] used the Valley as a pleasure garden to entertain their guests in the Mughal gardens”. The authenticity of such sweeping statements of some authors cannot be verified from the chronicles.

Music & dance were part of Mughal tradition throughout their Empire. The minstrels & musicians lived in the seraglio of Mughal Emperors. There were musicians & dancers in cities & towns of the Mughal Empire.

However, Mughals who were more busy with administrative work, consolidation of power, laying out of hundreds of gardens & encouraging development of art, craft & industry in Kashmir, did not have time to encourage local music in Kashmir.

Perhaps, the reason was they were not familiar with local language. Emperor Aurangzeb was an exception to all Mughal Emperors. He had no interest in music & fine art. According to Prof. Beni Prasad, in the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, “music and other entertainments at the court were interdicted…… The cultivation of bhang or hemp was forbidden.

Public women and dancing girls were commanded by Aurangzeb to marry or to leave the realm. Sati was severely forbidden once again. …. No more obscene songs were to be sung at the Hindu festival of Holi”.

The Afghan Subedars adopted a rough & tough way of governance in Kashmir. Some proved hard masters for the subjects, while some were benign & kind. There is no evidence that Afghan Subedars held song & dance performances by men or women in their palaces.

However, Ameer Khan Jawansher [1771-1776] was most romantic character among them. He married a gorgeous looking girl from Shia community of Hanjis of Nandpora, Srinagar which naturally induced him to be kind with them.

He used to spend good moments of life with his wife & her relatives at Sona Lank, which he had rebuilt. Sipping cups of wine, he often entertained himself with dance & song performances of girls at Sona Lank.

In Sikh Period, Kashmiri dancing girls came to be called “nautch girls”, the title which was given to the dancing girls of entire Northern India , whole Punjab, towards end of Mughal Rule of India. “Nautch” has been derived from the Hindi word “nach” which means “dance consisting chiefly of gesticulation with a shuffling movement of the feet forwards and backwards” & “nach” is a derivative of Sanskrit word “nritya”, through Prakrit “nachcha”.

In 1835, Vigne was with Sikh Governor, Kernel Mihan Singh[1834-1841] in Shalimar Gardens. Sikh Subedar taking country spirit was listening to the nautch-girls who were playing nautch before him with the company of musicians singing & playing their violins. A troupe of dancing & singing girls was always a striking feature of the river procession of Sikh governor, Diwan Krippa Ram [1827-1831 AD].

The nautch girls also performed in Shalimar garden, Shergadhi palace before Sikh governors, courtiers & English dignitaries. About female dancers & singers of Kashmir, Hugel who was royal guest of Ranjit Singh & who was in Kashmir in September, 1835 writes that throughout Northern India, the girls were called “Nauch girls”, sometimes, “Kanchanis” & more politely “Nachwali” dancers.

They were under the surveillance of the government. This was the condition of these female dancers throughout India. They were little better than slaves. He adds about Kashmiri dancing girls: “These poor creatures are doomed to a hard fate; they are not allowed either to sing or dance without permission, and if they get this, an officer of the Government always accompanies them, who grasps whatever they receive. When I had dismissed the troop, they demanded one hundred rupees for the evening’s performance”.

Nautch performances by nautch girls of Punjab was a permanent feature of the Lahore court on the occasions of Hindu-Sikh festivals, other royal functions & celebrations. Kashmiri dancing girls also performed nautch in the Sikh Darbar of Lahore. Hugel has named two of them as “Heloise” & “Kaira” who were the prettiest in the troupe with ornaments decorating them. He watched nautch performances of nautch girls of both Punjab & Kashmir.

To be continued

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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