Jammu and Kashmir is one of the few States in India with a very vast and rich cultural diversity. The culture of the State is itself very unique and thereby contributes to our unique identity in the Asian sub-continent. Our culture includes a lot of customs and rituals, which, in the context of Kashmir, date to more than 5,000 years which were handed down from generation to generation.
The culture of J&K is, in fact, a rich blend of the interaction of diverse cultural patterns both indigenous and derived from trade, religions as well as external interactions mostly through trade and tourism. The cultural patterns of the State today thus show the lasting impact of a diverse range of cultures.
At a time when other societies in the world were boasting of their martial prowess, we had embraced a religious philosophy based on the rational, where tolerance played a most significant part.
At history’s crossroads for centuries, Kashmir in particular got influenced by several external influences mostly Central Asian, European and Mughal. Hospitality is also one of the prominent characteristics of the culture, making the State one of the friendly places in India.
Although rich in history and known for its unique cultural diversity, to date our State does not have any official cultural policy. And when the State was about to have one, we lost an iconic and culture conscious Chief Minister, who in his capacity as the President of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, intended to make culture a priority area and sector of growth.
As Secretary, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, I am witness to the keenness and enthusiasm of late Mufti sahib in effecting major changes in State’s cultural turf; changes which were aimed at bettering our perception of culture. His concern for culture reminded me of late Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed who founded J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages and made culture a part of daily discourse in Kashmir.
As President of JKAACL, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed wanted revival of spiritual and cultural values and right projection of State’s rich folk traditions. His intention to have a school of Sufiyana and Folk Music in Kashmir, about which he repeatedly spoke at places like Tagore Hall and Abhinav Theatre, expressly echoed his vision of effecting a cultural renaissance in Jammu and Kashmir.
During our interaction he would often say that we need better networked programmmes across the State offering talented writers and artistes help at early stages in their careers. This, he thought, should include chances to work with experienced writers, and artistes and the profiling of work by new writers and artistes through publication, live performances, online platforms and prizes.
As we all know culture usually survives and thrives at the societal level. But it decidedly got a major boost soon after the new dispensation under late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took over the reins of power in the State in March, 2015.
While he was for revival of culture, he also wanted a close liaison between culture and education. Holding of cultural events in schools and exploring of young talent was one of his priorities in culture. Through his personal intervention and initiatives he wanted whole hog promotion of culture with educational sector as an intervener. .
His planned meeting with Academy’s Executive Board – Central Committee and with its General Council for which even a date had been fixed by him prior to his ailment was expected to usher in a renaissance of sorts in the State as he intended to have a broad-based official cultural policy framed for the State during the proposed meeting, which could not materialize due to his sudden hospitalization.
There were many facets of his personality, shades which reflected his yearning for a positive change in every sphere of public life. In recent times I could feel his pulse for the suffering people especially those associated with music and the arts. He was pained to see their plight reminiscent in lack of visible avenues of growth.
Factually, entertainment and the arts is an important feature of any regions cultural identity, and our State has a long tradition of producing famous works of literature like Rajatarangini of Kalhana, and more recently films and music. Kashmir, in particular, also has a rich architectural history. Packed with world-class architectural sites and historical assets spanning the cultural spectrum, the Valley has plenty to explore.
As for Srinagar, the city is the nerve centre of the State – and Mufti sahib wanted to make it the cultural capital of India. That is why while inaugurating the Tagore Hall, Srinagar in October, 2015 he publicly said that we must keep the Hall busy with cultural activities round the year so as to attract art and music lovers to this lone entertainment auditorium.
Soon after throwing open Tagore Hall, he also saw to it that other such assets like Abhinav Theatre, Jammu and Kitab Ghar, Srinagar were also made operational. And fortunately, he made it happen that too within eight months after he took over as the chief minister of the State in 2015.
Now that he is no more, we will miss him; miss him for his vision and concern that he showed for people in general and for the artistic fraternity of the State in particular.
Author is Secretary, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org