Folk dance of Kashmir holds different importance for everyone. For some it is about connecting to God, for some it is revisiting the past and for others it is 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 folk-dance form takes them back to century’s old rich culture and tradition of Kashmir.
Rauf, a popular dance form is performed by groups of female folks by lining up with each other and moving their feet back and forth, while singing traditional songs without any use of musical instruments. The attire comprising colorful headscarves, Tilla embroidered Pheran Salwar and silver jewelry, adds beauty to this dance form. Rauf, a folk dance, is meant to be performed on every blissful occasion.
Tabasum Rehmaan, owner of an NGO, Lotus Cultural Group, started taking part in Rauf dance in 2011. Starting with schools’ festivals and then one of the programs telecasted on DoorDarshan TV channel, she now heads a Rauf group comprising 15-20 young girls.
Tabasum has performed Rauf in different states of India and got huge appreciation from the audience. “Through Rauf, we represent our place and tradition. It’s in my blood and I am very fond of it. Folk Dance is an important symbol of our culture,” she said.
Aiza Wani, another Rauf performer, learnt the dance form while watching her mother and aunts. “I love wearing the costume. It makes me look beautiful. Learning coordination of feet with the rest of the group was not a tough job but now, many steps are added in the Rauf and I love to learn them all. Sometimes I make my own steps and practice them with my friends”
Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a Kashmiri poet, writer, environmentalist and a social activist said that during the Rauf dance, various poems were sung about culture, cuisines and everything people used to do at that time. He said, “Children would listen to these songs, ask questions and learn about things belonging to their culture. Also, songs about satire and criticism were sung and performed during Rauf.”
During the holy month of Ramzan, women would assemble in an open space and perform Rauf while the men of the house were out for evening prayers. Maahe Ramzan gaare chamai Aze hai tamanah Dramai (the month of Ramzan has arrived and my hopes are fulfilled) was the song sung while performing Rauf to welcome the month of Ramzan.
Then Rauf would continue for Eid days as well. 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 Rauf. Another popular song sung while performing Rauf was Tulai Langun Tulan Chas, Makhdoom Sabun Gasan Chas…,” he said.
Another form of dance, Hikkat was performed during the Chakari – a popular folk music played by a group of men with musical instruments like Tabla, Harmonium, Nout, Rebab and Sarangi. In Hikkat, two women cross their arms, hold hands and swirl round in circles while the rest of the females gather around them and sing songs. It is done at weddings.
Zareef Ahmad further added that women who were versatile in singing songs were called to marriages and other women used to sing along. The songs were about bride, bridegroom, their family and prayers for the couple etc.
One of the singers from a group of Chakri performs the dance of Bacha Nagma. It is usually performed in marriages by a young boy called Bacha, who dresses up in colorful women's attire. The boy wears anklet bells in his feet and would dance and sing festive songs. The attire worn is usually loose so that it whirls with every spin he takes.
Rahil Ahmad, a Bacha Nagma artist said dance plays a role in entertaining people. When he performs outside the valley in cultural events, he mashes-up Kashmiri songs with Bollywood songs to cater to the national audience. “We always receive huge applause from the audience. The best thing about folk dance forms is its purity that it’s done in its original form. You can learn it and don’t need a choreographer to instruct you. It’s simple and beautiful,” Rahil said.
Another dance form- Dambali is performed on special religious occasions. It is performed at specific shrines by a group of men called Dambal Maet in Kashmiri. With remembrance of God, the dance involves jumping on the ground while holding breaths and chanting the name of God “Allahu.”
In Srinagar, In the Shrine of Jaan Baad Sahib in Zakura, Dambali takes place during the days of Urs.
Zareef said, “It is the Maqam of Qalandars (song of Dervishes). They used to participate and do Zikr e Haq. They used to perform it in other places as well but because of conflict it was confined to shrines only. Then they would collect the money and rice from people for the celebration of Urs.”
Later on, Zareef said, Dambali was modernized by the Cultural Academy and artists would do Dambali at other places in India.
Bashir Ahmad Shah, a Dhamali artist and a resident of Wathora, Budgam, said, “Whenever the dance is performed, we don’t know how we get the audience. Be it coronavirus or anything, we have performed it in every situation. We have done Dhamali at places where nobody was aware about it. In various states of India, I have performed. People were really delighted to see.”
There are 70 other groups of Dhamali who live in the same area and it’s mandatory to teach the kids this art of dance. “We want our kids to learn and continue the legacy. It is our bread and 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 shrines Hazrat Sultan Sahib at Kokernag, Anantnag, he said that most of the people were watching this form of dance for the first time in their life.
Bashir has learnt the art from his father, Ghulam Qadir Shah who has taught many others in the village. “My father has put a responsibility on my shoulders for keeping this dance form alive. I too teach young folks,” he said.
Experts and artists believe that the folk-dance forms of Kashmir are fading with time and some have already vanished. Most of the dance forms are confined to weddings and cultural events only. Hafiza Nagma is an extinct dance form, where a woman would sing and perform small acts while sitting with a group of men. The men would play Sufi music with musical instruments. Later on, it was banned by the then ruling Dogra ruler of Kashmir.
Tanveer Hussain Mir, Producer at DoorDarshan Srinagar said that earlier programs of various dance forms were broadcasted on television every day. “Now it is broadcasted occasionally on Television. The reason is change in the people caused with the passage of time. Earlier Rauf was regularly broadcasted, now it is broadcasted on Eid festivals only.”
“In Srinagar it is rarely performed now but still there are some girls from colleges and schools who voluntarily take part in cultural activities and perform Rauf.”
Zareef believes that western dance forms have taken roots in Kashmir which led to the decline of the traditional dance forms. “Whatever is saved now is only in the books. The writers, poets have preserved it in books only. The folk dance is no longer performed by common masses. Kashmiri language should be highlighted. With our language, our customs and rituals are associated. Kashmiri language is nowadays taught in schools because there is no one who can teach kids this language at home. If Kashmiri will be revived only then we can revive the rest of the things,” he said.
Raheel said, “We are losing roots with our culture because we think it’s old fashioned. Folk Dance is a 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, the cultural events are not organized which led to the further loss of artists and the art.
Tabasum said that during Covid 19, the dancers of the Rauf have received a huge setback. “Since Covid 19 has started, very few events have been organized. Earlier this year, in January we went for an event to Red Fort, Delhi. Since then, we haven’t received any big opportunities. An artist won’t survive like this. Government should interfere in the upliftment of art and artists.”