Art and Resistance

Muhammad Tahir

Muhammad-TahirThere is a famous story about great Persian poet Ghani Kashmiri. Once he was summoned by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb through his governor in Kashmir Saif Khan but the poet refused to oblige, telling the governor to tell his King that Ghani is insane. When the governor asked him that he was not so, Ghani, in a dramatic act, tore away his shirt and walked away like a mad man.

By temperament an artist is a non-conformist and art is revolutionary. There are several figures like Ghani Kashmiri who either through their artistic work or individual actions have demonstrated this formidable element of their character and will. Some choose seclusion while others come to the fore to assert their voices. Both ways they speak their souls out.

In modern historiography any meaningful and comprehensive study of the past is incomplete without unconventional cultural resources like myths, legends, folk songs, proverbs etc. If we take a cursory look at the resistance art in Kashmir, we can find our rich cultural resources as votaries of artistic expression carrying political subtexts and themes. These artistic idioms also carry with them expressions of social experiences and records of historical evolution of Kashmiri society.

Take Band Pather, our traditional drama style.  In the context of Kashmir’s long history of subjugation by outsiders Band Pather had always been an artistic tool of silent protest against the injustices of foreign rule. Dr. Farooq Fayaz in his important and well researched book Kashmir Folklore: A Study in Historical Perspective (2008) has discussed this topic succinctly.  This genre, flexible in its style to accommodate contemporary themes, has developed into an independent folk art, containing in each of its types, specimens of the Kashmiri history. If Dard Pather and Raaze Pather depict the lavishness and tyranny of Afghan rule, Angrez Pather equally evokes the oppression of British intervention in Kashmir. “During the period of great political crisis” writes Dr. Fayaz, “which followed the fall of Karkota rule in Kashmir, Pathers began to reflect in a symbolic manner the court intrigues, religious conservatism, social rigidity, feudal exploitation of Damaras and bureaucratic vandalism of official cadre known as Kayasthas.” (115-16). Themes that frequently feature in Band Pathers are “contrasting shades of socio-political life of the people”. Musical element is indispensable without which agitating tone of Band Pather is difficult to create. Pather (Performance) begin with Karidaars (Drum Players) beating the Nagara (Drum) and dancing around the demarcated arena for the performance. The linguistic diversity is remarkable with mix of Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit, Kashmiri, Hindi, and English used to enhance the comic effect. In their usual performances Bhands (folk actors) scoff at feudal elite that act arrogantly and are conscious of their status, ridicule religious dogmatism, conservative nobility, corrupt revenue officials and ritualistic religious leadership.

As such Band Pather was a remarkable genre of resistance with a mass appeal; an art form that provided with a vent for the people, in the absence of free press, to express their anger, albeit in a camouflaged manner, against the cruel system of governance by outsiders.

Similarly, Kashmiri verse particularly during the early 20th century was dominated by political content. We can see a clear pattern in Kashmiri verse during early 1930’s wherein new socio-political realities and historical memories are rendered into artistic expression, molding not only new thought and political awakening but also Kashmiri poetry per se.

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