They combine the profession of singing and acting with begging . They are great wanderers travelling down to Punjab where they perform to kashmiri audiences .With the curious exception of Akingam company , which is formed of Pandits ( Bhagats ) ,Baands are all muslims . Their wardrobe is of great value .several companies which I et , have wardrobe that has dresses to the value of 2000 rupees .The Bhaggats of akingaam took to stage at the insistence of their Goddess Devi as they told me since Brahmins are averse to this form of acting. Brahmans of Kashmir regard akingaam players with contempt. They sing songs in kashmiri , Persian and Punjabi ”
(Sir Walter Lawerence In his Book THE VALLEY OF KASHMIR page 312 and 313 )
“Bhagat sahib was one of the foundation pillars that revived the Traditional Folk Theatre of Kashmir known as BHAAND PAA’ THHAR . His contribution in this field is immense . “
(M K Raina Noted Theatre personality who is also associated with kashmir’s Bhaand Theatre.)
“ During the rule of Generous Nawabs , some Shia families from kashmir migrated to Lucknow for livelihood and better opportunities . With them , A group of Bhaands also moved to Lucknow. Another group of Bhaands from Kashmir was invited by Nawab Asif Ud Daula ( 1775-1797 ) on the occasion of marriage of his son Wazir Ali . A few of them were active post 1947 as well .Jahangir Bhaand of Lucknow died some years ago and he received regular stipend from Sangeet Natak Academy “
Writes Dr Baikunth Nath Sharga Historian and writer of kashmiri origin from Lucknow .
“ Unfortunately the younger generation still feels that it BHAAND PAA’THHAR is something that was done in villages in the past; A symbol of backwardness . There is a tendency to keep away from it. Ironically , I too faced this problem from my friends and well wishers when I decided to focus on BHAAND PAA’THHAR . But I tell you , it is a perfect form of theatre with enormous scope for humuor , satire ,pathos and what not. It was not a costume drama done by some people just to collect grains after harvest season as is generally believed . “
Informs Moti lal kemmu who has worked tirelessly with Mohd Subhan Bhagat and others for revival of Bhaand Paa’thhar in Kashmir. M L Kemmu and later M K Raina brought New Techniques ,newer methodologies of performance and latest styles to this folk Art that ultimately made it a component of National Theatre movement of the country .
Noted writer and Scholar Dr Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani adds ,
“The credit for getting the Akingam Bhands to the forefront must go to Moti Lal Kemmu and the State Cultural Academy .” Mohammad Subhan Bhagat became what he was entirely due to Kemmu’s help and encouragement. Kemmu is undoubtedly the doyen of modern Kashmiri drama, his success being largely due to incorporation of several elements of the Bhand Pathur in his style with great effect. I have translated many of his plays into Hindi including “Bhand Duhai”, which was directed by M. K, Raina for the Sangeet Natak Akademi and was tremendously applauded by the audience in Delhi and other places in the country where it was shown. Kemmu has written an excellent and well researched book in Kashmiri on the Bhand theatre entitled “Bhand Naatyaam” The second chapter of this book was translated by me into English and was published in the journal Sangeet Natak (VOLUME XLV, NUMBER 3-4, 2011).”
BHAAND PAA’THHAR word itself is derived from two Sanskrit words ; BHAANA or a satirical drama as mentioned in Bharta’s Natya Shastra . Some writers believe that Bhaand comes from Sanskrit word Bhaandiya meaning a bluffer who is also called Mas-kharaa in Hindi or Urdu or the man who mimics others . And PAA’THHAR or PATRAA meaning a character in a play . This theatre became a platform to voice grievances during rule of Pathans and Dogras . The Bhaands would move from village to village after the harvest when kashmiris were free from agricultural activities . Attired in their special costumes and assisted some characters who played the SWARNAAI ( special clarinet ) and drum or Nagaara, they would perform at a conspicuous place in the village.
It is reported that Maharaja Partap singh would collect information about his administration from his secret agents who would watch the Bhaands performing in villages . These Bhaands would raise issues of corruption , Malfunctioning of administration and rigid social customs that created unhappiness in the society .Bhaands also performed pathetic plays based the evil practice of BEGAAR ( forced labour ).
Bhaands of Kashmir hail mostly from Akingaam , Muhripora , Shaangus and Gondpora in Anantnaag district . Apart from these villages , Bhaands also belong Achhabal , Qayamooh ,Kokernaag , Frisal, Aarwani, Waathoora and Dooru .
Bhaands were also patronized by many Hindu kings in 10th and eleventh century . This form of art also flourished during the period of Sultan zain Ul Abdin. Since Bhaand Paa’thhar could not sustain them financially , most of them worked as Artisans . Kangri weaving was their most preferred vocation .To perform Paa’thhar ( Drama ) , they use masks, Drums ( Dhol Nagaara ), Swar Nai ( Clarinet ) and colourful costumes. Bhaands are quick witted and straightforward people .
Mohd Subhan Bhagat was born in 1927 at Akingaaam village of Breng Pargana in Anantnaag distirct of kashmir. Born in a family of Bhaands , His father , Jamaal Bhagat was a well known Bhaand ( Mass-kharaa ) of his time. His uncle Kamaal Bhagat was also a noted Swarnai player . This family traces its roots to a Hindu Bhaand named Shankkar Shaala or Shakkar shalla .
It is pertinent to mention that kanwal Muhru , sodha Muhroo , Gulaab Muhroo and Maadhav Muhroo were also Well known Hindu Bhaands from Mohripora near Akingaam . Hindu Bhaands would perform in Shiv Bhakti temple near Akingaam where they were also joined by muslim Bhaands . Bhaands of Akingaam would also visit and perform at the Shiv Bhagti temple for the annual ritual . And Bhagat caste is exclusive to the Hindu Bhaands who converted to Islam later.
So Mohd Subhan Bhagat had no where to go and received all his training within the family only. He read upto class 6th and thereafter jumped into the family profession wholeheartedly. Starting his own group , he wrote , acted , directed and produced many Paa’thhars ( Plays ) for this troupe called BHAGAT THEATRE.
At a point of time it appeared that this folk Art of Kashmir would go into extinction. But , After the establishment of Jammu And Kashmir Academy Of art Culture and Languages , this folk art saw a new lease of life . Together with Academy officials notably Moti Lal Kemu , Mohd Subhan Bhagat is one such person who has contributed immensely for revival of this Traditional Folk Art of Kashmir . His troupe revived the dying folk Art by performing Bhaand Paa’thhar in various cities and festivals of the country .Some Paa’thhars (plays ) written and directed by him that touched heights of popularity appear in his collections that are titled ..
(1) TAQDEER is his first Collection of Kashmiri Paa’thhars ( Folk Dramas ) published in 1970. It includes three plays namely Taqdeer( Destiny ) Pouz Appuz ( Truth and Falsehood) and Yi Ti Chhu Banaan ( This also happens )
(2) KAASHER LUKKA THEATRE ( It is a Book based on some serious work on kashmir’s folk Theatre )
(3) DEEVAAI RANG (A collection of Bhaand Paa’Thhars )
It is due to his sincere and dedicated efforts , Bhaand Paa’thhar has been revived and given a respectable place in folk Theatre of the country . His efforts were duly awarded with the Sangeet Natak Academy award and Bhand Paa’thhar also received international notice.
Many Bhaand theatres have now come up and are doing good work to promote this traditional and old folk theatre Kashmir. Presently children of Mohd Subhan Bhagat ( Notably Ghulam Mohd Bhagat ) are also busy in carrying forward the mission of their father .
This family faced the ire of Militants whereby their expensive sets , costumes and musical instruments were looted or burnt and their lives threatened and some members of their troupe were kidnapped . A shocked Mohd Subhan Bhagat, felt highly depressed with the sudden change in the cultural ethos due to onset of armed militancy in Kashmir . And soon he succumbed to his deep anguish .
At his own level , M K Raina ( veteran Theatre personality of the country ) has also taken it upon himself to assist and help every group that is sincerely engaged in the revival of this art in valley.
Autar Mota is a Blogger , Translator and writes in English , Urdu , Kashmiri and Hindi.His write-ups have appeared in many national magazines and journals.