BY AVTAR MOTA
Music has been a part of Kashmir’s social life since ancient times. During every festivity, whether religious or semi religious or seasonal ( sowing , harvesting spring ,and new snowfall ) , the main item of celebration has been music ; vocal and instrumental .The Nilamata Purana makes mention of professional singers and dancers active in ancient Kashmir . The Nilamata Purana also makes mention of Vadya ,Vaditra and Vadya Bhanda as the category of key musical instruments .If one reads Vishnudharmottara Purana , one finds mention of Ghana ( cymbal ) , Vitata ( percussion ) , Tata ( stringed instruments ) and Susira ( wind instruments ) . So musical instruments of ancient Kashmir are altogether different from what we see presently . The Harmonium , Tabla , Sitar , Banjo , Sarangi , Rabab and some more musical instruments in use currently have nothing to do with ancient musical tradition of Kashmir that had Venu, Veena ,Pataha, Shankha, Damru, Muraja, Dundhubi and other musical instruments. Even Tumbaknaar is not the ancient Kashmiri musical instrument. The Santoor may have been the ancient musical instrument of Kashmir as we find mention of Shat Tantri Veena ( hundred stringed percussion instrument ) in ancient scriptures like Taittiriya Samhita although the Nilamata Purana is silent about it .
The Leela singing by a group of singers/musicians popularly known as Leela Mandali is very old tradition of Kashmir. It finds mention in the Nilamata Purana ,Kathasaritsagar and some more tex’ts apart from works of Biilhana and Kshemendra.These texts hint at the existence of ‘Sangeet Mandala’ apart from Nritya Mandapa’ in the ancient temples of Kashmir . These books also inform about the presence of Devdasis in some temples of Kashmir.The practice of sacred devotional singing finds mention in Acharya Abhinavgupta’s Tantraloka.It finds mention in Mahabharata ,Vedas and many other ancient scriptures. The style, instruments, and lyrics may have changed drastically but the purpose and occasion remain unchanged.
Group singing in temples or shrines during social or religious festivities has been a part of the civilizational ethos of Kashmiris . We come across many reference in ancient texts and religious scriptures about group or Mandali singers performing on festivities like Sri Krishna’s birth day, Shivratri celebrations, spring festivals, marriages and other socio- religious events.
Coming to Mandali singing , we find this practice in vogue in temples, shrines and homes in ancient, mediaeval and modern Kashmiri society. Every temple or shrine in Kashmir had musical instruments . Professional or amateur singers would perform at these places on special occassions. These musical groups would also perform in houses carrying their own instruments . The ancient instruments were replaced by Chimta, Matka or Gaagar, Khasoo, Thaal, Harmonium, Tumbaknaar, Banjo and many more. Some temples or shrines in Kashmir had a regular night long Mandali singing sessions which extended till morning hours . There was a practice of Mandali singing at Hari Parbat temple on every Saturday. It was attended by people from all parts of the city . Similar practice was in vogue at Pokhribal temple and even inside Mohalla temples in Kashmir valley. Many families also had regular Mandali singing sessions attended by their friends and relations. Leelas of Krishen Joo Razdan, Parmanand and Lal Vaakh were quite popular in these sessions. The Mandali singing would begin with Vaakhs of saint poetess Lal Ded. This Mandali tradition had a great role in civilizational continuity and preservation of heritage amongst Kashmiri Pandits.
The Mandali singing tradition that had evolved over centuries in the Kashmir valley is fast disappearing after the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from their original homes and hearths. Serious efforts are needed at all levels to preserve and protect this rich tradition . We need to remember and know how effectively the Bengali society has fought the onslaughts of modern living ,urban migration and other issues to preserve its rich heritage of Baul singing. Every musical tradition in the world is nothing but a part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Avtar Mota is a noted writer and columnist