What do you get when you combine vivid scenic beauty, including various serene lakes and gardens, soft pashmina shawls, exceptional handicrafts, and apples so delicious that, trust me, will spoil the rest for you? You get paradise on Earth. You get; Jammu and Kashmir and it a personal guarantee that its folk dances will captivate you with their charm. It’s shocking, nay, disheartening, that more people aren’t aware of this. So let’s fix that, shall we? Let’s take a look at some of the splendid folk dances of Jammu and Kashmir you must experience in the valley.
1. Kud Dance
At the zenith of folk dances in Jammu and Kashmir lies the dance of Kud, which is executed by the inhabitants of the region at night gathered around the bonfire contributing to its ‘homey feel. This truly enchanting piece is considered a thanksgiving dance because it is presented to state deep gratitude towards the Lok Devtas (gods of the people). This piece is mainly by farmers who sometimes refer to the gods as ‘Gramdevta’ (the gods of the village) to show their appreciation for providing the people, cattle, and crops protection from natural disasters. What makes this piece extraordinary is its inclusive nature. The steps are quite simple and men, as well as women of all ages, enjoy the rhythmic dance of Kud.
Tourists also often join in and are overwhelmed purely because of the joy and merriment around them. It is normally performed by 20 to 30 members who are beautifully dressed in vibrant colors. The men wear kurtas and churidars, conventionally of the same color along with a turban while they are playing a melodious tune on the trumpet. The blend of music produced by the various instruments such as drums and flutes is a true representation of the culture of Kashmir.
2. Rouf Dance
An integral component of the ethos of Jammu and Kashmir, this mesmerizing dance was initiated by a society of Muslim Kashmiri women. It is presented by a group of women who stand in front of each other through its entirety. Their attire comprises beautiful traditional dresses paired off with exquisite jewelry. It is ordinarily executed during spring when the weather is quite blissful as well as on festivals such as Eid and Ramzan. Furthermore, it also celebrates the yielding season. The women rhythmically perform to the melody of mystical poems that comprise the music for this dance which is praised by all for its intricate footwork referred to as Chakri in the local language which can only be described as eloquent. That also forms the reason this dance has received recognition both nationally and internationally.
3. Dumhal Dance
Another eminent dance form of Kashmir is Dumhal. The dancers comprise of the men of the tribe of Wattal, who execute this moving piece mostly on special occasions of merriment to the tribe itself. A bright and vivid robe with a conical-shaped cap that is decorated with ornamental beads forms the get-up for this alluring dance. The dancers apart from dancing also sing in a melodious chorus accompanied by drums. The specialty of this piece is that the dancers dig a flag/banner with a special message on it at the location previously decided and the performance commences with them dancing around said banner.
4. Hafiza Dance
Hafiza forms an essential fragment of the Kashmiri culture. It is executed by Kashmiri women wearing bright-colored attire. The movements give the impression that they are quite simple. However, the reality is far from it for the dancers are trained and make it seem effortless. The dance is predominantly performed on the occasion of weddings. It is said that Hafiza has been inspired by Persian literature and Sufi philosophy and is danced to the melody of Sufi Kalam Music, the classical music of Kashmir. That is accompanied by a special instrument called ‘Santoor’ which is a stringed instrument and is played by a stick.
5. Bacha Nagma Dance
The Bacha Nagma Dance is a variation of the Hafiza dance which was thought to be ‘too intimate’ as per the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and was therefore banned. The dance’s origins can be traced back to Afghanistan. It is executed by young boys to disguise themselves as girls by the clever usage of long skirts and other colorful female attire along with makeup. It is usually executed on festive occasions such as parties and as well as during the yielding seasons. This dance was a very prevalent source of entertainment due to the loud music and the overall exciting temperament of the dance, during ancient times. The adolescent boys can impeccably imitate the steps and formations of the female dancers. They also sometimes sing by replicating the voices of girls, adding on to the ‘entertaining’ quality of it.
6. Bhand-Pather Dance
The Bhand-Pather is an infamous dance throughout Jammu and Kashmir. It is a dance with the twist that well, the dancers utter dialogues. When broken down into it, this play-cum-dance has three elements: Classical Instrumental Music, Dance, and Acting. The word Bhand refers to Clown and the word Pather means Celebration which indicates the humorous style of the plays. The music is produced by various instruments such as the dhol, nagara, and swarnai. It is executed typically on joyous occasions, such as festivals. In this dance, the men sometimes take up the parts of women and Muslims take up the parts of Hindus which teaches the audience the lesson of unity in diversity and embracing our differences. Unfortunately, its popularity is declining in the current scenario and therefore we need to take sustainable steps to preserve it and stay connected to our roots.
I have always been a firm believer in embracing your past and culture. However, it seems like not everybody shares the same opinion. The decline of folk dances and the shifting focus on contemporary dances is concerning, to say the least. It is the need of the hour to generate awareness about the same and encourage taking pleasure even in the simplicity and grace of folk dances. I truly hope that said realization is achieved via joint action by the community to protect the sanctity of our culture.