Around 48 kilometres away from main city of Srinagar, a two storey house in Kreeri village in north Kashmir's Baramulla district has a history of preserving the legacy of its ancestors.
The house of Yawar Nazir Bhat holds several secrets known to only a few. The Bhat family has produced great Rabab artists of Kashmir who dominated instrumental music for years together including legendary Sonuallah Bhat, Ghulam Qadir Bhat, and Abdul Hamid Bhat.
Yawar, the youngest of the family, is on a path to revive the legacy of his grandfather Sanaullah Bhat, who is remembered as the king of Rabab.
"My ancestors have introduced Rabab in the Kashmir valley and I believe it is my duty to revive the legacy of my grandfather. Rabab is in my blood. Like my grandfather, uncle and cousin, I want to take this tradition ahead," he added.
He said that despite the odds, he is working hard to bring Rabab to a wider audience and wants to take forward the art of his grandfather to the next generation.
Yawar’s grandfather, Sonuallah Bhat was among the first rabab players from Jammu and Kashmir. He played Rabab for almost 30 years and represented Kashmir at national and international forums. Raj Begum- the Melody Queen of Kashmir has called Sanuallah Bhat as a legendary Rabab artist and a great composer.
Sonaullah Bhat was a staff artist with All India Radio in Srinagar from 1932 to 1962, and performed in many countries across the world. He has played Rabab in countries like the US, Russia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Yawar learnt the technicalities of Rabab from his cousin-brother, Abdul Hamid Bhat son of Ghulam Qadir Bhat, who was also a legendary Rabab player.
Ghulam Qadir Bhat has performed in Canada, Russia, the USA and at other international platforms.
“New generation is more towards modern instruments. But I feel we should not forget our history and our culture. It is easier to learn Guitar or Piano than to learn Rabab. It takes 3-4 years to learn the technicalities of Rabab but in order to revive it in Kashmir and keep the legacy of my ancestors alive, I prefer Rabab over other instruments,” said Yawar.
At 27, he has already made his name and has performed in various stage shows and concerts across India. He was supposed to perform in Zimbabwe and Madagascar in 2019 but covid-19 pandemic dashed his hopes to perform at an international level.
Yawar was also running a music academy ‘Kohinoor Academy’ in Baramulla and imparting hands-on training to youngsters on Rabab, Guitar, Piano, Tabla and singing but due to the pandemic, he closed the academy.
He has plans to start it afresh. But says that in the absence of big venues, live stages and the lack of social and economic support the survival of artists is difficult.
Rabab is a lute-like musical instrument and is one of the national musical instruments of Afghanistan; and is also commonly used in Pakistan in areas inhabited by the Pashtun and Baloch speaking people, It is also played by Sindhi people, in Kashmir, and by the Punjabis of the Punjab. The Rabab is known as 'The lion of instruments'.
"There is no such instrument like Rabab and no other instrument can replace it. I have been playing Rabab for 6-7 years now. I enjoy playing Rabab and usually get so deep in it that I sometimes get lost in it," Yawar added.
While giving reference to a book by Dr. Nazir Ahmad, a doctor of Kreeri area of Baramulla Yawar said Sonaullah Bhat was invited to Kabul once by the King of Afghanistan Zaffar Shah, where he defeated a Pathan in a Rabab face-off.
Yawar Bhat is of the opinion that the government must come forward to revive the Rabab culture by holding programmes at state and national level, involving youth in learning musical instruments and providing a platform to the artists to revive the same.