Exiting the Stage

  • Malik Nisar
  • Publish Date: Jul 3 2018 7:42PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 3 2018 7:42PM
Exiting the StageRepresentational Pic

The performing folk art of Bandpather is dying out

 

Until not very long ago, the performing folk art of bandpather was a popular part of Kashmir's cultural milieu. Now, though, this art is dying out, if it hasn't already.

Traditionally, bandpather employs song, dance and comedy to deliver a social message and often even a political statement. 

“There was the time when bhaghat, or band, were central to Kashmiri society. People used to invite us to marriage ceremonies. Indeed, no wedding would be held without inviting us. Now, we might as well be aliens,” says Ghulam Qadir Bhat, 65, one of the most popular bhagats of North Kashmir who lives in Palhallan village.

Bandpather, as the name indicates, is performed by traditional artists called band. Among the most important centres of these professional entertainers are Akingam, Takiya Imam Sahib, Wathore, Brwagmal, Balapura, Pakhpura, Lolepore and Palhallan and band from each of these villages have a distinct style of their own. The profession generally runs in the family.

“There are three groups of band in Palhallan alone, each with their own style. They are Mansbal Folk Theatre, Arhibal Folk Theatre and Gulmarg Folk Theatre. We are duly registered with the government. In olden days, the government would let us showcase our art through the Sangeet Academy, but now even they don't care much about us because we are illiterate people. They only want literate people now,” complains Ghulam Qadir. “We are landless people. This was our only source of income.”

Abdul Rashid, 55, another famous bhagat from Palhallan, blames the conflict for the decline of bandpather in Kashmir.

“Bandpather is unique in its form and structure. It is a unique art. But now we are losing it,” he says.

Rashid rues that there’s no drama or theatre school in Kashmir which could have helped bands to modernise, and mainstream, their art. “Facilities need to be provided to promote theatre and drama in Kashmir. Currently, there are only two theatre auditoriums in the valley. We need to do much better for theatre to flourish.”

Bandpather is believed to have gained wide popularity in 14th century. Over the centuries, it became enmeshed in Kashmir's social life, especially in the villages. But the advent of modern means of entertainment and, eventually, the conflict, dealt a big blow to the art.

“I was an avid lover of bandpather. I would walk miles and even bunk school to watch bandpather. Perhaps because it used to be the only source of entertainment in villagers in those days. But as cinema and TV became common, the younger generation lost interest in the folk art,” says Dilawar Mir, an elderly resident of Kreeri village, Baramulla.

All is not lost, though, argues Bilal Wani, a student of music from Baramulla. “Bandpather hasn't died. We only have to give it a contemporary touch while keeping its traditional feel. We have no dearth of spectators and artists if only we make an effort in this direction.”

To this end, the primary responsibility lies with the state government, particularly its arts and culture department. “The need of the hour is that the government take this matter under consideration, so that this piece of our heritage is not lost forever,” Bilal suggests.