Culture in Kashmir

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The culture of Kashmir refers to the culture and traditions of Kashmir, a princely state which was independent till 1947. It is located in the Indian contenent which is now divided and disputed for over 65 Years (consisting of Jammu and Kashmir), northeast Pakistan (consisting of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit–Baltistan) and the Chinese territory of Aksai Chin.

The culture of Kashmiri is a diverse blend and highly influenced by Iran, Turkey, Tibet such as northern South Asian as well as Central Asian culture. Along with its scenic beauty, Kashmir is famous for its cultural heritage; it amalgamates Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist philosophies and has involved composite culture based on the values of humanism and tolerance.

Shawls

There are three fibres from which Kashmiri shawls are made - wool, pashmina and shahtoosh. The prices of the three cannot be compared - Woollen shawls being within reach of the most modest budget, and Shahtoosh being a one-in-a-lifetime purchase. Shahtoos is a banned commodity nowadays.       

Woollen shawls are popular because of the embroidery worked on them, which is unique to Kashmir. Both embroidery and the type of wool used bring about differences in the price. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as raffel.   

Many kinds of embroidery are worked on shawls. 'Sozni' (needlework) is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Motifs, usually abstract designs or stylised paisleys and flowers are worked in one or two, and occasionally three subdued colours. The fineness of the workmanship and the amount of embroidery determines the value of the shawl.

 

Pashmina

Pashmina is unmistakable due to its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of goat found in the highlands of Ladakh, at 14,000 ft above sea level. It is on pashmina shawls that Kashmir's most exquisite embroidery is executed, sometimes covering the entire surface, earning it the name of 'jamawar’. A Jamawar shawl can, by virtue of the embroidery, increase the value of a shawl threefold.

A second, less frequently seen weave done only on pashmina, covers the surface with tiny lozenge shaped squares, earning it the delightful name of 'chashm-e-bulbul,' or "eye of the bulbul". As this weave is a masterpiece of the weaver's art, it is normally not embroidered upon.

 

Copper and Silverware

The old city abounds with shops where objects of copper line the walls, the floor and even the ceiling, made generally for the local market. Craftsmen can often be seen engraving objects of household utility - samovars, bowls, plates and trays. Floral, stylised, geometric, leaf and sometimes calligraphic motifs are engraved or embossed on copper and occasionally silver, to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then oxidised, so as to stand out better from the background. The work, known as 'naqashi', determines the price of the object, as does the weight         

 

Basketry

Willow rushes that grow plentifully in marshes and lakes in Kashmir are used to make charmingly quaint objects, ranging from shopping baskets and lampshades to tables and chairs, all generally inexpensive. To increase their life span, unvarnished products should be chosen and frequently sprayed with water, particularly in hot, dry climates, to prevent them becoming brittle.

 

Wood Carving

Kashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its colour, grains and inherent sheen are unique and unmistakable, and the carving and fret- work that is done on this wood is of a very superior quality.    

Chinar leaves, vine leaves and flowers can be either carved along borders or can fill entire surfaces. The artistry of the carving and its abundance dictates the cost. Trinket boxes and the larger jewellery boxes should have invisible seams. Other walnut wood objects are salad bowls, nut bowls, photo frames, trays and furniture, which range from simple telephone tables to elaborate dining tables with six chairs.In the case of furniture, the price is dictated by the thickness of wood used.

 

Ladakh

The people of Ladakh, by and large, exhibit a natural joie-de-vivre, which is given free rein by the region’s ancient traditions. Socio-religious festivals, including the annual festivals held in the monasteries, provide the excuse for convivial gatherings. Archery is a pastime for all in summer. Among the Buddhists this sport often takes the form of open-air parties accompanied by dance and song. The game of polo is yet nother proud element of the popular culture.

 

Archery and Polo

Archery is an ancestral sport of Ladakh, which is part of the culture. In Leh and its surrounding villages, archery festivals are held during the summer months, with a lot of fun and fanfare. They are competitive events, to which all the surrounding villages send their teams. The sport itself is conducted with strict etiquette, to the accompaniment of the music of surna and daman (oboe and drum). As important as the sport itself are the interludes of dancing and other entertainment. Chang, the local barley beer, flows freely, but there is rarely any rowdiness. The crowds attend in their Sunday best, the men invariably in traditional dress and the women wearing their brightest brocade mantles and their heaviest jewellery. Archery may be the pretext for the gathering, but partying is the thing. In Kargil area, on the other hand, the archery competitions are more serious and bereft of the dancing and music, and these are held in early spring, at the time of the thawing of the winter snow and frost.

 

A Polo match at Leh

Polo, the other traditional sport of Ladakh is indigenous to the western Himalayas, especially to Baltistan and Gilgit. It was probably introduced into Ladakh in the mid-17th century by King Singge Namgyal, whose mother was a Balti princess. The game played here differs in many respects from the international game, which is adapted from what British travellers saw in the western Himalayas and Manipur in the 19th century. Each team consists of six players, and the game lasts for an hour with a ten-minute break. Altitude notwithstanding, the hardy local ponies - the best of which come from Zanskar – scarcely seem to suffer, though play can be fast and furious. Each goal is greeted by a burst of music from surna and daman, and the players often show extraordinary skill. Unlike the international game, polo in Ladakh is not exclusively for the rich.

Traditionally, almost every major village had its polo-ground, and even today it is played with verve in many places besides Leh, especially in Dras and Chushot near Leh. In Leh town itself, it has been partly institutionalised with regular tournaments and occasional exhibition matches being played on the polo-ground. The local crowd takes a keen interest, especially in those matches in which a civilian team takes on that of the army. Altogether, polo adds a unique kind of colour and excitement to the summer in Leh.

The tradition of artistic craftsmanship in Ladakh is not as well developed as in neighbouring Kashmir, and most of the luxury articles are obtained through imports. The exception is the village of Chiling, about 19 km up the Zanskar River from Nimo, where a community of metal workers carry on their ancestral profession, working with silver, brass and copper. These are said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal during the mid-17th century to build one of the gigantic Buddha - images at Shey. They produce exquisite items for domestic and religious use, such as tea and chang pots, teacup-stands and lids, hookah-bases, ladles, bowls and occasionally, silver chortens for temples and domestic shrines.

Items of everyday use such as cooking pots and bowls, as well as agricultural implements are supplied by local blacksmiths (gara). They also make the large and ornate iron stoves seen in kitchens of the Ladakhi homes. Craftsmanship in general has not developed beyond the production of everyday items for domestic use. Pattu, the rough, warm, woollen material used for clothing is made from locally produced wool, spun by women on drop-spindles, and woven by traditional weavers on portable looms that are set up in the winter sunshine or under the shade of a tree in summer. Baskets, for the transport of any kind of burden, are woven out of willow twigs or a particular variety of grass. Woodwork is confined largely to the production of pillars and carved lintels for the houses and the low carved tables or Chog-tse that are a feature of every Ladakhi living room.

Many such items, including newly introduced varieties, are available in the Government Handicrafts Centre at Leh. There you can find, in addition to traditional objects, a few special items like pure pashmina shawls, rough compared with those produced in Srinagar, and carpets with Tibetan designs. Similar carpets can also be purchased at the Tibetan Refugee Centre, Choglamsar. The Handicrafts Centre also has a department of thangka painting. These icons on cloth are executed in accordance with strict traditional guidelines handed down the generations.

In the same tradition are the mural paintings in the monasteries, where semi-professionals, both monks and laymen, toil to keep the walls decorated with images symbolising various aspects of Buddhism. The skill of building religious statues is also not extinct. The gigantic image of Maitreya Buddha was installed in Thiksey Gompa as recently as the early 1980s.

 

Oracles and Astrologers

The people of Ladakh, particularly the Buddhists, believe implicitly in the influence of gods and spirits on the material world, and undertake no major activity without taking this influence into consideration. The lamas are the vital intermediaries between the human and the spirit worlds. Not only do they perform the rites necessary to propitiate the gods, but they also take on the role of astrologers and oracles who can predict auspicious time for starting any work, whether ploughing the fields, or taking in the harvest, arranging a marriage or going on a journey.

The most famous monk-oracles are those of Matho Gompa. Chosen every three years by a traditional procedure, two monks spend several months in a rigorous regimen of prayer and fasting to prepare and purify themselves for their difficult role. When the time comes they are possessed by the deity known as Rong-tsan, whose spirit enables them to perform feats that would be impossible to anyone in a normal state such as cutting themselves with knives, or sprinting along the Gompa's topmost parapet. In this condition, they will answer questions concerning individual problems and public welfare. However, the spirit is said to be able to detect questions asked by skeptical observers for testing him, to which they react with frenzied anger.

 

Monestic Dance Likhir

In some villages there are also lay people who have special powers as oracles and healers. Some of them belong to families in which there have been several such recipients of spirit forces, while others do not have any such hereditary background. The spirits possessing these laypersons are believed to be unpredictable, and not always entirely benevolent, and some people resist being possessed by them. However, once they have accepted, they undergo a process of initiation and training by monks and senior oracles before they are able to start practising.

 

Museums

Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani Museum of Hertiage

Housed in the Gen. Zorawar Singh Auditorium, University of Jammu, the museum has a rich collection of artefacts and items of historical interest which offer a glimpse of the cultural development of the three regions of the State; Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

 

Amar Mahal Museum

Amar Mahal Palace is located  near the Mubark Mandi complex. Built like a French Chateau on a hill overlooking the river Tawi it was constructed over a hundred years back and at present houses a museum.  The exhibits include Pahari paintings, family portraits of the rulers of Jammu and Kashmir, and a library. The museum also conducts a "heritage walk" programme for interested student to familiarise them with the history of Jammu.

 

Folk Music/Song/Dance

Bakhan

This folk song is a widely prevalent form of mass entertainment in our region. The haunting Melody of Pahari songs add to the beauty and joy of daily life.There are certain songs which are independent of instruments. "Bakhan" is such a best example. "Bakhan" are in verse. The metre is irregular and is determined by modulation in tone. The movemtn of hand indicates the variations in the note. This is the only form of lyric in Dogri which resembles the Western harmony of sounds without loosing its individual note and rhythm.

 

Geetru

A dance-song of Dogra Pahari region of Jammu being performed at the occasion of feasts, festivals and marriages by the rural folk parties of this region. Male and female both participate in this dance-song in their traditional costumes. This type of dance-song is performed at any time of the day as well as night. Performing Arts

 

Kud

It is basically a ritual dance performed in honour of Lok Devatas. This dance style is performed mostly during nights. It is spontaneous dance and people of all ages and sexes participate in this folk dance form. Instruments used during this dance are Narshingha, chhaina, flute, drums etc. It is the rhythm of music which contrils the movement of participants. This dance continues for the whole night. Number of participants ranges from 20 to 30 members.

 

Heren

It is a traditional theatre form performed during Lohri festival by 10-15 members. This style is mostly performed in hilly regions of Jammu.

 

Fumenie and Jagarana

This dance style is performed by the ladies on the eve of groom's departure to inlaws house. Both the songs are sung by a group of females consisting 15-20 members. This traditional dance form depicts the feelings and emotions of women folk.

 

Surma

This song in Dogri, set to dance reveals the anguish of a newly married girl whose husband is away in the Army. The ever increasing yearning of re-union is depicted through this song-dance.

 

Bakh/Gwatri/Kark/Masade

It is a chorous narrative singing sung by a group of 10 singers without the accompaniment of any musical instruments.

 

Gwatri

It is a singing/ dance combined tradition in which the singers narrate some text which is enacted by the Gwatari dancers.

 

Karak

It is a tale ballet singing form sung by a community called 'Jogies'. They narrate a popular folk tale in their dance style, performed by three members with accompaniement of typical folk instrument called 'Rabab'.

 

Benthe

This is chorous singing tradition performed specific community of trible called Gujjar and Bakerwal. Dance is performed by 5-7 members.

 

 

Environmental Health and Hygiene

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The Cashmir Foundation is working along side skilled volunteers to bring a standard of health and hygiene in par with the worlds best. This standard is the Royal Environmental Health of Scotland also known as REHIS. Our volunteers and trustees are well aware of the problems faced in Kashmir when it comes to food safety and the methods to eradicate and control disease. Cashmir teaches locals health and safety training, food safety training and first aid CPR which means cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Cashmir understands that most of the diseases in Kashmir are water born and the flooding that happens every year does not help at all. We at Cashmir strongly believe that by teaching the people of Kashmir basic skills we can help to safe guard future out breaks of disease by implementing appropriate disease fighting control measures. This is why we use the syllabus of REHIS as it is the best in Scotland and the best for Kashmir. Cashmir aims to help the poor understand contamination and the best way to store foods when there is no fridge or freezer for temperature control. These are very serious issues that need to be addressed and the only way to help is to teach people so they can too gain knowledge of how to keep healthy for generations to come.