Kashmiri folk dance has different significance for everyone. For some it is about connecting with God, for some it is about revisiting the past and for others it is about keeping the tradition alive. An art of expressing joy, happiness and faith; Rauf, Hikkat, Bache Nagma and Dhumali are some of the Kashmiri folk dance styles. Performed with folk songs, these dance forms are considered a mark of cultural identity.
People believe that every step of any form of folk dance brings them back to the rich culture and tradition of Kashmir.
Rauf, a popular dance form is performed by groups of women lining up with each other and moving their feet back and forth, while singing traditional songs without any musical instruments. The outfit of colorful scarves, Tilla embroidered Pheran Salwar and silver jewelry adds beauty to this dance form. Rauf, a folk dance, is meant to be performed on every happy occasion.
Tabasum Rehmaan, owner of an NGO, Lotus Cultural Group, started participating in the Rauf dance in 2011. Starting with school festivals and then one of the programs aired on DoorDarshan TV, she now runs a Rauf group made up of 15 to 20 young girls. .
Tabasum performed Rauf in different states of India and was very well liked by the public. “Through Rauf, we represent our place and our tradition. It’s in my blood and I love it very much. Folk dance is an important symbol of our culture, ”she said.
Aiza Wani, another performer of Rauf, learned to dance by watching her mother and aunts. “I love wearing the costume. It makes me beautiful. Learning the coordination of the feet with the rest of the group was not hard work but now there are a lot of steps being added in the Rauf and I love learning them all. Sometimes I take my own steps and practice them with my friends.
Zareef Ahmad Zareef, poet, writer, environmentalist and social activist from Kashmir, said that during the Rauf dance, various poems were sung about the culture, cuisine and everything that people were doing at that time. He said: “The children would listen to these songs, ask questions and learn things from their culture. In addition, songs about satire and criticism were sung and performed during Rauf. “
During the holy month of Ramzan, the women gathered in an open space and performed Rauf while the men of the house went out for evening prayers. Maahe Ramzan gaare chamai Aze hai tamanah Dramai (the month of Ramzan has arrived and my hopes are coming true) was the song sung during the performance of Rauf to welcome the month of Ramzan.
Then Rauf would also continue during the Eid days. While performing Rauf, Naats, Hamud and Manqabat poetry in praise of God and his prophets was recited.
“Our culture, rituals and traditions were highlighted in these songs and expressed through the Raufs. Another popular song sung during Rauf’s performance was Tulai Langun Tulan Chas, Makhdoom Sabun Gasan Chas… ”he said.
Another form of dance, Hikkat was performed during Chakari – popular folk music performed by a group of men with musical instruments like Tabla, Harmonium, Nut, Rebab, and Sarangi. In Hikkat, two women cross their arms, hold hands and circle around while the rest of the women gather around them and sing songs. This is done at weddings.
Zareef Ahmad added that women who were versatile in singing songs were called to weddings and other women used to sing. The songs were about the bride, groom, their family and prayers for the couple etc.
One of the singers from a Chakri group performs the Bacha Nagma dance. It is usually performed in weddings by a young boy called Bacha, who dresses in colorful women’s clothing. The boy wears bells on his ankles and dances and sings festive songs. The outfit worn is usually loose, so it swirls with every turn he takes.
Rahil Ahmad, an artist from Bacha Nagma, said that dance plays a role in people’s entertainment. When performing outside the valley at cultural events, he mixes Kashmiri songs with Bollywood songs to meet the needs of the national audience. “We always get huge applause from the audience. The best thing about folk dance forms is its purity that it is made in its original form. You can learn it and don’t need a choreographer to teach you. It’s simple and beautiful, ”said Rahil.
Another form of dance – Dambali is performed on special religious occasions. It is performed in specific shrines by a group of men called Dambal Maet in Kashmir. With the remembrance of God, the dance consists of jumping on the ground while holding your breath and chanting the name of God “Allahu”.
In Srinagar, in the shrine of Jaan Baad Sahib in Zakura, Dambali takes place during the time of Urs.
Zareef said, “This is the Maqam of Qalandars (song of the dervishes). They were participating and doing Zikr e Haq. They used to perform it in other places as well, but due to the conflicts it was limited to shrines only. Then they would collect people’s money and rice for the celebration of Urs.
Later, Zareef said, Dambali was modernized by the Cultural Academy and artists made Dambali in other places in India.
Bashir Ahmad Shah, a Dhamali artist and resident of Wathora, Budgam, said, “Whenever the dance is performed, we don’t know how we are attracting the audience. Whether it’s coronavirus or whatever, we’ve executed it in all situations. We did Dhamali in places where no one was aware. In various states of India, I have performed. People were really happy to see it.
There are 70 other Dhamali groups living in the same neighborhood and it is compulsory to teach children this art of dance. “We want our children to learn and carry on the legacy. It is our bread and our butter. There is nothing as versatile as this form of dance. It connects you with God. What else do you need?”
Having recently performed at one of the Hazrat Sultan Sahib shrines in Kokernag, Anantnag, he said that most people are watching this form of dance for the first time in their lives.
Bashir learned the art from his father, Ghulam Qadir Shah, who taught many others in the village. “My father put the responsibility of keeping this dance form alive on my shoulders. I too teach young people, ”he said.
Experts and artists believe that Kashmiri folk dance forms are fading over time, and some have already died out. Most forms of dance are limited to weddings and cultural events only. Hafiza Nagma is an extinct form of dance, where a woman would sing and perform small numbers while sitting with a group of men. The men played Sufi music with musical instruments. It was later banned by the then ruling ruler Dogra in Kashmir.
Tanveer Hussain Mir, producer at DoorDarshan Srinagar, said earlier programs of various dance forms were shown on television every day. “Now it is shown on television occasionally. The reason for this is the change in people caused with the passage of time. Previously, Rauf was broadcast regularly, now it is broadcast only during Eid festivals.
“In Srinagar it is rarely performed now, but there are still college and school girls who voluntarily participate in cultural activities and play Rauf.”
Zareef believes that Western dance forms took root in Kashmir, resulting in the decline of traditional dance forms. “Everything that is saved now is only on the books. Writers and poets have kept it only in books. Folk dance is no longer performed by the common masses. The Kashmiri language should be highlighted. With our language, our customs and rituals are associated. The Kashmiri language is now taught in schools because no one can teach this language to children at home. If Kashmir is resurrected, then we can restart the rest of things, ”he said.
Raheel said, “We are losing roots in our culture because we think it is old fashioned. Folk dance is part of our culture. More festivals should be organized by the government to popularize folk dances among the masses.
Some artists believe that due to Covid 19 cultural events are not being organized, resulting in further loss of artists and art.
Tabasum said that during Covid 19, the Rauf dancers suffered a huge setback. “Since the start of Covid 19, very few events have been organized. Earlier this year, in January, we went to an event at Red Fort, Delhi. Since then, we haven’t received any big opportunities. An artist will not survive like this. The government should interfere in the upliftment of art and artists.