Kashmiri Folk Theatre Print

Relevance Of Kashmiri Folk Theatre
Shafi Shauq

Our approach to Kashmiri folk thetre, in collecting as well as understanding it, so far  has been preservative rather than appreciative and as such prescriptive rather than descriptive. In taking it as a repertoire of the relics of the past, this approach  is  a continuation of the

earliest enthusiasm  of the colonial times when the orientalists of the West engaged themselves in collecting this forgotten treasure for its antiquarian value. However, the folklorists who collected it and preserved it as a rich legacy merit commendation for saving  its linguistic expression, craft, and paraphernalia from vanishing  into oblivion. Mohammad Subhan Bhagat who not only revived Kashmiri folk theatre but also innovated  in all its aspects, rightly wrote:

So far as the question of the survival of this folk art is concerned, I can say  with confidence that the art has the potential to change and continue by accepting ever- new moods and hues of the ever-changing times and assimilating them into its texture. Nevertheless, the surviv al of this folk art depends on the cooperation of the common folks whose representative it stands. In the past it thrived only because of the patronage of the rajas, maharajas, and landlords. It is encouraging to note that in modern times too people are showing their whole-hearted love for it. (Bhagat 11976. 19-20)

Kashmiri folk theatre, in spite of its present impasse, is to be recognized as a energetic and energizing medium of expression which is intimately and organically related to the native, the local, the here and the now. Today all arts are drifting away from theoretical generalizations  which  propose  naive dogmatic and reductionist formulation of the economic, social and cultural reality of man. They celebrate  foregrounding  the all-inclusive, miscellaneous, and heterogeneous condition of man in particular space and time.  Since folk-theatre is inherently equipped with  means of representing the here and now,  it has tremendous scope of becoming the most popular form of art in future . It derives its strength not from any classical models set by any pre-existing texts, as does the elitist drama, but from  miming and parodying the living people around. The “ Darza Paethir”, “Buhiry Paethir”, “Raazi Paethir”, “ Gwaseeny Paethir”, and Shikaar Gah”, to name only a few, are not dramatic representation of men and women of any historical past, but everyone of every age. The Maagun (the impresario), the maskhari ( the buffoon), raazi ( king), ardely ( the common man ), Gwar (the priest), and aasshaq ( frivolous lover), gupeely (the coquette ) and other character in the known folk repertories are not fixtures of  past theatre, but everybody of any time. They effectively and pleasantly represent men and women with all their charms and incongruities, noble and ignoble manners and conduct. They are not characters determined by any set value, but by time. They change according to the social, economic and cultural context and, as such,  it is not idle to foresee a bandipathir that shall represent men and women of the contemporary reality marked for its western manner of living , craze for the hi-fi culture and IT, corruption, disintegration of families, diaspora and loneliness; we can have a new type of pantomime like Angryiez Paethir, Computor Paether, mobile Paethir and what not. The fact is that the “BanDh” is not a legacy of the medieval times, the BanDh is our instinct, present in everyone of us, in all ages. The professional entertainers bring the latent BanDh in us to the fore and,  the resulting humour, in the words of Schopenhaure, detaches us “from our world of good and evil, of loss and gain and enables us to see it in proper perspective.” This fundamental purpose of the burlesque and laughter is best understood by the clowns of a Bandipaethir. Here, for instance is an excerpt from  Drazi Paethir:

Rest of the Clowns: Tell us something delectable.

Clown II: But say something so spicy( pointing towards the ladies) that they too get thrilled. Do not tell us anything that will cause us hang our heads in shame.

Elder Clow: ( Singing ‘rof’ in cahoots with ladies) bi ranay tomli manah, bi ranay tomli manah.

(The choristers play at wasool and the clowns and the ladies dance in a ring and sing a doggerel about rice.

Dard: (Coming behind amidst the din and holding Clown II by the ear, tearing him away from the ladies) What are you doing?

(M.S.Beg, 1999. 855-6)

Every Bandi Paethir effortlessly combines wit, comedy and humor and thus returns to us  the adults  the euphoria of the child. This enobling effect is most needed by the men and women of modern times who otherwise tend to show uncanny propensity to horror, fear, depression, and terror. Sigmund Freud in his monumental essay Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious wrote about this cathartic value of comedy:

For the euphoria which we are thus striving to obtain is nothing but the state of a bygone time, in which we were wont to defray our psychic work with slight expenditure. It is the state of our childhood in which we did not know the comic, were incapable of wit, and did not need humour to make us happy. (Basic Writings, p. 803)

Being essentially a polyphonic theatre , Bandi Paethir is aimed at playfulness in mixing pantomime, masquerade, drum beating, shahnai, chants, dance, and weird costume. The audiences enjoys it spontaneously as they are free from the constraint of identification. The spectator, in spite of the distance between the real and the theatricality, is one with the players. In some performances of Bandhi Paethir, there is scope for the audience to become performers.

The fundamental method of Bandi Paethir is parody, a juvenile instinct that for the adults gets expressed in many art forms, but in its complete form in the shape of a folk-drama. Since every folk performance deals with the present, it burlesques the men and women engaged in actual life situations. A BanDhi Paethir , despite its set costumes and accoutrement, explores the triviality and incongruities of human behaviour that is apparently very serious. By striking a balance between assumed seriousness and implicit triviality, frivolity and absurdity, a BanDhi Paethir makes his audiences conscious of his flaws and limitations which cause them suffering. In this  way, a BanDhi Paethir is and has been a powerful medium of social transformation and has the potential of being a medium of mass education in times to come. In the past, it has been the most popular and effective strategy of revolt against various social evils and exploitation, and in the contemporary complex world when mankind is beset by numerous hazards like over-population, AIDS, pollution, noise, joblessness, and terror, we hope that the BanDhi Paethir becomes a popular form of street theatre to bring out attitudinal education among the masses. It has the power to involve artists as well as the audiences in a participatory hermeneutic activity. Seen against the elitist forms of art and literature, a BanDhi Paethir counteracts appropriation and  privacy of meaning by setting up a dialogical relation between identification and distance.

Like any other form of folk art, BanDhi Paethir is a congregational performing art in which there is hardly any difference between the performers of the proscenium and the audiences. Being inalienably linked with festivals and rituals, the art, though purely secular, is sacred. It is participatory in nature rather than objectively distanced. Nevertheless, the producers and the artists have to bear  in mind that they are not to present a facsimile of the existing social reality but  an art form which is an imaginative representation of reality, and thus involves artifice and skill as much as possible. The maestros in the genre knew it well, now it is the turn of the inheritors of the tradition that they make it a “Complete  Artwork” which inolves other art forms like music, dance,song, martial arts, acrobatics, trickery, ploys, and, if necessary/ if possible, even modern techniques like animation, laser beam  effects, and mirror props.  In order to be aesthetically more presentable,  BanDhi Paethir has to come out of its narrow thematic and technical boundaries and be open to borrowing from the performing arts of other communities. No art form can survive in isolation.  It could easily imbibe good constituents of folk forms of art like Munipuri dance, Naga Mask Dance,  Assam’s drum-dance, ghatak dance of North India Dhamaal of Punjab and also from the South Indian arts. It can also revive all the extinct  performing arts of Kashmir like Gatki Beezy, Dameely, Swarnay waan, Kanyily Wan, Tambuuri Nagma, Vyiegy Natsun, Garaayey, and LaDiy Shah.

Untill BanDhi Paethir is re-integrated with the changing cultural patterns of Kashmiri people , various institutions like, Sangeet Natak Academy, Cultural Academy, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage have to do whatever they can in making this legacy popular among the new generation who in their inexorable  stimulus-hunt  are getting dejected  with stereotyped films and cheap television serials.  BanDhi Paether, if made aesthetically presentable in terms of artists, accoutrement, costume and technique, is sure to fill the gap and become an integral part of Kashmiri society.

An art can have a secure future only when its pursuers find it as a viable profession___ every art is essentially a profession, various theories of art notwithstanding. The practicing  BanDhs, in spite of their significant role were, and still are, a marginalized under-privileged community. A BanDh of young generation is generally shy of showing allegiance to the class. What Walter Lawrence  wrote about the BanDhs over one hundred and ten  years ago is still true of the community. He wrote:

The story of the Akingam Bhaggats is peculiar. Brahmans considered acting to be degrading, and even now the Brahmans of Kashmir regard the Akingam players with contempt. But the Brahman players say that they took to the stage by the express order of the goddess Devi. The legend relates that many years ago Devi appeared to the ancestor of the Akingam Pandits, and, placing a fiddle in his hands, said, “ Play upon this fiddle.” He protested his inability, but on the goddess persisting, he took up the bow and played unearthly music...(Lawrence, 1895, 313)

Time has come that we recognize the glory of BanDhi Paether , make it representative of  Kashmiri culture and a proud segment of our cultural tourism. Let us hope that the roaming entertainers and educators associated with BanDhi Paether once again throng into our villages, modern urban halls, Badamveer festival, all our sacred shrines. Let us strive to make it possible that the  professional Bandhs feel proud of their descent. It is possible only when the performers are handsomely paid for their skill  and labour.

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