Kashmir: Bhand Pather Artists Subhan Bhagat and Mahjoor Bhagat II
Director: Pankaj Rishi Kumar
Duration: 00:28:54; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 36.395; Saturation: 0.098; Lightness: 0.466; Volume: 0.137; Cuts per Minute: 3.182; Words per Minute: 89.541
Summary: Pather is a folk theatre form of Kashmir. Bhand is the community of performers. This is an interview of Pather artist Mahjoor. He is son of legendary Pather artist and historian Mohd. Subhan Bhagat. For more about Subhan Bhagat please see the event - Kashmir: Folk Theatre of Bhand Pather I in this site. Mahjoor is trying to take forward the unfinished work of his father of documenting the history of Kashmiri folk theatre. Pather like all folk forms is pedestrian, agile and reflexive of its time. However, these forms were looked down upon in the 20th century, under the influence of post-colonial modernity, for their bawdy qualities. Many forms got extinct at that time. Though after independence a few visionaries tried to revive some of these forms by providing state patronage. Mohd. Subhan Bhagat, father of interviewee Mahjoor, was trusted to revitilise the Pather form.
In the present volatile situation of Kashmir, where the whole population is edgy under various forms of violence and betrayals, the secular folk theatre of Pather may provide the much needed discourse to peace. It is interesting that Mahjoor talked at length about the role of comedy in the society. Comedy has always been a pedestrian cultural form as against the epic tragedies of classical works. Folk theatre often creates / improvises subversive narrative under the disguise of robust and bawdy comedy. In academic terms they can be called social satire or subversive popular culture. These forms could dodge the wrath of authority at any given time due to its agility, both in terms of content and physicality (these troups were mostly nomadic).
The interview is conducted by Pankaj Rishi Kumar and interviewee Mahjoor Bhagat. The interview was conducted at the memorial structure of Shubhan Bhagat.
PRK: Did he (Mohd. Subhan Bhagat) enjoy comedy?
M: That is curious matter. When he appeared on stage as an actor, he would appear as a comedian. But if you ever met him in real life, he came across as a very reserved person and one wouldn't even conceive of the possibility that he could make people laugh.
PRK: And you?
M: My position is here for you to see.
PRK: Do you enjoy comedy?
M: I like comedy. Laugh and make others laugh. In my opinion the worlds' grinding will be on till the time people are born into this world and they depart from this world, our ancestors have come and left the world, we too have come into this world and will leave one day, our child too will go through the motion. There is one thing though that this child enters the world crying and leaves it in tears as well, so in this world if one can laugh and make other laugh as well then that is a big contribution. One should make people laugh because very often we notice these days that this art is such that even earlier when people would come back tired from the fields they would call the artists to perform - thinking lets call the folk artists and be entertained today and for sometime lets forget worldly sorrows and laugh for a while, this is life.
'By Plato comedy is defined as the generic name for all exhibitions which have a tendency to excite laughter. Though its development was mainly due to the political and social conditions of Athens, it finally held up the mirror to all that was characteristic of Athenian life', The drama: its history, literature and influence of civilization, volume 1 ed. Alfred Bates. Historical Publishing House, London, 1906.
Every civilization has its popular, pedestrian comedy theatre which falls into the category of popular entertainment and yet documents the contemporary. Many of these plays did not have a written script and thus never survived beyond oral literature. 'The fool' as the social commentator and representative of the downtrodden is common to many folk forms.
mohd. subhan bhagat
Cultural practices are the closest rivals of religious practices in terms of popular culture. The worried and harassed citizens may take refuge in the 'karma' theory and hope for a better day by performing religious rituals under the institutions. Or they can work it out through the metaphors of cultural forms. Both have the desired collective and cathartic elements into it. If only the progressive social leaders and the political ideologues understood this phenomena. Unfortunately only the right wing politicians in every country are well aware of this potential of culture. It is the instinctive sophistication of the folk artists with which Mahjoor equates his performance with prayer. This is also an extension of the belief that the creator and the created are one and overlapping. The artist is creator like Allah and yet a created phenomena like art itself. The god and the devotee; the art and the artists in a circular and jointless form the bhakti-sufi philosophy.
Almost in tune with Mahjoor's statement suddenly the audio track gets filled with bird chirruping and he' cackle.
So I reckon that you should laugh and make others laugh. This is an immense contribution, its ibadat (prayer). Because you'll notice thousands of faces and in the furrow of each brow there must reside some complaint. In his heart he carries several worries, someone has one worry and the second person another -because the world has to function, the mortals must fulfill certain responsibilities and if during this time one can laugh and make another laugh then this would be great form of ibadat (prayer). So its said that who ever passes through this life with laughter he also enjoys a long life. The one who truly laughs, is less pre-occupied with worldly affairs, who is gregarious and friendly - such a person lives a long life.
PRK: So, in the 21st century, you'd like to see a society that laughs? Here in Kashmir? In India?
M: I'd like to see it throughout the world, so that the whole world laughs. I'm not referring to the act of laughing at someone or pulling a prank. I mean when people laugh from within their hearts, without hesitation by being an ace/top person - A1. I want this whether the person is from the East or the West.
Both Kashmiriyat (Kashmiriness) and the Bhand Pather form are part of an evolved secular philosophy. Most of the Kasmiri citizens are Muslims. But the Islam of Kashmir was very distinct in its cultural manifestation. Till mid-80s when the political development in the state brought in the shrill polemics of religious practices in the public domain, Kashmiri cultures maintained equidistance from the dominant Hindu and Islamic cultures. Bhand Pather is one symbol of Kashmiri secularism. The Bhand community who perform the Pather are Muslims. But they follow many multi-religious practices. Following is one such example: 'Once a year, in honour of this goddess, the Bhands who are Muslims, perform a special ritualistic dance known as the chhok done with great devotion and faith. During this time the temple is enveloped in an atmosphere charged with a sense of timelessness, a cosmic reality. An extremely superstitious people, the Bhands perform this particular chhok (a special musical text) at this temple and nowhere else. However, other shows are presented elsewhere, at Muslim shrines as well as at Sufi centres.' M. K. Raina, theatre director.
PRK: So, where does this laughter come from?
M: This laughter comes from within a peaceful heart. When your heart is tranquil. So when someone's at peace, both internally as well as externally then he laughs naturally. If you see a small plant, it's quiet but when time comes it flowers, blossoms. So you see every flower laughs, it has a laugh. Then it bears fruits. So I want, through this folk art, (hum to lok kala ke hi malik hain) be it street or in theatre, be it the dust of the villages or some palace in the city, so we will always strive to laugh ourselves and make others laugh. So that is all that I can do. I want the whole creation, birds, animals all of God's creatures - resound with laughter and merge with each other, empathize with one another's sorrows. I'd like to see such a world, where would be no prison of language, no one is confined by colour or blood because Allah has brought us into the world. One does not really know where one is born, everyone receives the faith that they have been born into. So, religion everywhere is fine. I respect everything and everyone that Allah has sent to the earth. I mean I endeavor to, I'm too insignificant to be actually able to respect. So I'm a fistful of soil... less than that, I'm an ordinary human being, born in a shanty (zhopdi) in a village. But, what you would like to hear from me, it's my wish that people laugh, sing, not for money. I don't want there to be lies or violence. I want for people to share, to converge and share. And laugh, laugh with an open heart. Whosoever has come into this world has not come of their own accord, God has brought them here, and Allah has brought them here so respect both God as well as human beings.
m k raina
Mahjoor's eloquence reminds us of one poems by Rumi:
You may have heard, it is the custom for kings /
to let warriors stand on the left, the side of the heart /
and courage. On the right they put the chancellor, /
and various secretaries, because the practice /
of bookkeeping and writing usually belongs /
to the right hand, In the centre /
the sufis, /
because in meditation they become mirrors. /
The king can look at their faces /
And see his original state.
Give the beautiful ones mirrors /
and let them fall in love with themselves...
PRK: This peace of mind, how do you attain it?
M: (laughs a little) Peace of mind? In the old days, Rishis (saints) would withdraw to the caves. Although I think about a 1000 years ago everything must've been peaceful. They didn't have car horns or blasts like we do today. But even then they would go to caves... if you read about Rishis, monks, they would go to caves and worship God. So this isn't like... since now there is silence, it's a happy state. There isn't any anxiety, no difficulty, no fear. It does not work like that. When one is happy, wholesome, one automatically attains peace of mind. If he's preoccupied with these things, then even if he were to recede to caves, he won't feel at peace because there is a very strong link between one's physical and mental well-being. When bodies are clean, our mind will also be clear and our body ails, our mind too will suffer. This is also the knowledge one encounters in ayurvedic, allopathic - clean body, clear mind.
Most probably Mahjoor mentioned 1404 by the Islamic calendar, as the year of the publication. This calendar follows lunar cycle and is called Hijra as on the first year by this calendar the Hijra - Prophet Mohammed's emigration from Mecca to Madina -happened. 2008 is 1429 Hijra. That means the book was written in 1983. The book, Bhand Jashn (celebrating Bhand) is written by Mahjoor father, the legendary Mohd. Subhan Bhagat. This could be the first reliable written history of Bhand Pather, published by Jammu & Kashmir academy of culture. The other book on Bhand Pather is Bhand Natyam by M L Kemu.
This book has been written in 1404 Hijri . (Kashmiri to be translated). The previous research that I have undertaken regarding Bhand Pather... so one of the topics there is on the new developments on the subject. (Reads in Kashmiri) Some notable Kashmiri Bhand plays and some thespians of the past. There is information on the instruments used in 'Pather', diagrams... then the history of our community... information about our ancestry - names of plays - Pathers. (reads them from the content page.) There is even script of Pather in English.
PRK: What has he written in his foreword, can you tell us?
M: No, actually he hasn't written the foreword here. P. P N. Pushp, who was a professor here, he has written about Bhagatji.
PRK: And what follows that?
M: There are a lot of scripts here.
PRK: What have you included in your book?
M: That is the unusual thing, that I'm associated with a Bhand community. But my father didn't think much of being associated with the Bhand community. So at that time J & K Academy had conducted a playwrights' workshop - how to write drama. It didn't have any restriction regarding genre, between folk and modern. That group consisted of several big scholars and included my father as an instructor. There was one M. L. Kemu, Musafir, Pushkar Bhanji was there too, Somnath Sadhu, Mohd. Ali Lone, director J&K Academy, was there too, and there was this well known... erm he has studied at NSD, I can't remember his name. I've mentioned various other names here...
j & k cultural academy
m l kemu
Kashmir locationally stands at a vantage position. It has got influenced of rich Arabic and Persian cultures, as well as the Vedic culture. The beautiful land, fertile soil, multiple cultural, spiritual and linguistic influences made the Kashmiri civilization very evolved. It is interesting to note how Mahjoor describes the cultivated skills and tastes of human civilization as a natural evaluation. It is also relevant to remember at this point that before the Pather form got evolved, the Bhands used to collect grains and clothes by performing song and dance during the harvest. That past gets a passing reference in Mahjoor's writing. The secular and political credential that Mahjoor is ascribing to Bhand Pather has been hailed by all quarters. Though practiced by a community of poor and illiterate Muslims, the plays never followed any popular religious sentiments. The subjects are mostly contemporary social problems. This could have been a legacy of sufi culture which has been dominant in Kashmir till recently.
PRK: Have you written an introduction to this book?
M: I have written my own introduction,
PRK: Can you read us something from your introduction?
M: Yes. (reads in Kashmiri from the book and translates) Allah has created the human mind in such a manner that we have a greater capacity than any other living beings to feel and imitate. (Reads in Kashmiri.) Since the time that humans have been around they have worked towards earning their livelihood but along with that humans have also done a great many things to bring serenity to their mind. Since the beginning human beings got engaged with fun, satire, sound, music and artistry. With this humans achieved serenity within their souls and excitement for their minds. The olden days are evidence that within this creation, humans have always sought new ways of amusement and entertainment. Be it an auspicious occasion or a festival, be it the time to sow or reap the harvest, for these occasions humans have always sung, danced and amused themselves. Time has not flown always in the pace. With the changes in the passage of time, man has also brought about changes in his songs and performances. A very significant evidence of this is in the traditional movements (performance form) of the West Asia. Our society is divided in various communities. Here I'm talking about the Aryan society - be it the iron-smith, or other professions or us - actors (Bhagats), farmers, these are organized such a way since the Aryan civilization. (I will read from a few passages here and there) "Our society is the basis of our Bhand Pather. The shifts developments in the society have always informed the Kashmiri folk arts. So every pather (play) has tried to represent the society or government of its time" Even the costumes that the 2 dancers (shizaye) wear in Pather is the same as that traditionally worn by unmarried girls in Uzbekistan. So even this special performance, that I called *chuok* (ritualistic dance), that we perform in the temple once a year... that same *chuok* is performed in some part of Russia, they join hands and dance in a circle. All the ritualistic Pathers that are performed in Kashmir till about 1960 - they were transmitted through oral tradition from one actor to another. But that same year, Mohd. Subhan Bhagat, who is also my father, collated and transcribed them and published it as a book.
Both my plays, and I would also like to say, those who had attended these workshops Farooq Nazki, Modi Lal Khemu , Akhtar Mouinuddin.
So at the end of every workshop everyone had to write a final script that would be its output. So, if we wanted to know what it is that we had taught them in 2 months worth of workshops and I wrote a drama in the folk form. It became so popular that on radio it was aired twice, and again twice on television, even my father's group performed it at the stadium, Finally television requested the script and they brought actors from Srinagar. As you know Bhand Pather does not have any female actors, but they included female actors for television and it was so popular that it would have monthly re-runs on Doordarshan Srinagar, because it was a novelty for people. A new drama within the mould of Bhand Pather, with real girls. This was something new and it was very popular. Later the academy, through Bhagat theatre, managed to stage shows across J&K.
Female impersonation was a common phenomena in many folk theatres in the Indian subcontinent. With the expansion of cinema a certain kind of realism entered in the realm of popular imagination and the folk forms were forced to change its custom. In the case of Bhand Pather it happened much later during the expansion of television.
j & k academy of culture
In '80s there has been a movement in India to revive the regional folk theatre forms and either produce old classics with contemporary interpretations or write new plays using the folk elements. Yakshgana of Karnataka, terekuttu of Tamilnadu, nautanki of UP, jatra of Bengal, tamasha of Maharashtra, Bhavai of Gujarat etc. were brought into the mainstream theatre. Pedagogical workshops were held and eminent directors worked with folk performers, in search of contemporary Indian theatre. This movement was a precursor of subaltern study and popular culture study. The work around Bhand Pather that Mahjoor is talking about must have been part of that movement. Only the isolation of Kashmir, due to political upheavals, made this case a special one.
So one of the plays here (in this book) is that play. The second is a contemporary play in folk form - Sahab Madam. You know what Sahab means and Madam is an English word anyway. But I used the Bhand form to say something about contemporary times. That's the reason why Prof. Haji has said that Bhagatji has introduced us to such a play that any amateur club in Kashmir can stage it and it can translated into any language, so we can stage it anywhere. And the theatre movement here, we can proudly claim that we indeed have folk art in new shades and forms.
In many Indian folk theatre there is a narrator. The generic name for the narrator is Sutradhar, which comes from the classical Sanskrit theatre. But there are other regional names such as Bhagwat in Yakshagana, Bibek (conscience) in Jatra, Ranglo in Bhavai, Magun in Bhand Pather etc. The narrator / sutradhar is the chorus leader, stage manager, stock character, commentator and also the first audience. He resides in the cusp of the performers and the audience.
In Mahjoor play the narrator / sutradhar is trying to bring the message of peace in the context of the volatile situation in Kashmir in late '80s. This play by
Mahjoor's received modest amount of state support. Obviously it was not in the state list of inflammatory material. Though the Indian state in those days had vandalized many cultural productions and institutions, including libraries and cinema halls, in the name of curving terrorism. On the other hand the anti Indian state militants too persecuted the artists whom they suspected to be close to the state. Independent artists had to walk a tight rope in order to survive that era.
Badshah - Sultal Zain-ul-Abideen (1420-70).
Rahmatullah Mian Muhammad Baksh. Also called Rumi of Kashmir. 19th century poet written in Potohari dialect of Punjabi with words from Persian and Arabic.
Zain-ul-din Wali - Sufi saint. His tomb is situated in Aishmuqam.
Lal Ded - the 14th century bhakti-sufi poet, also known as Lalleshwari or Lalla. The anti-establishment Bhakti movement had seen many women pioneers and Lal Ded is one of them. Though a devotee of Shiva, she was revered by both Hindus and Muslims, all over North India. She invented the mystic poetry form in Kashmiri called Vatsun or vakhs. The story of her abandoning clothes in renunciation had found echoes in many regions and cultures.
Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Rishi - The 15th century saint is revered as the patron saint of Kashmir. He started the Rishi order, the most predominant sufi sect in Kashmir. His tomb is situated in Charag-e-Sharief. He is also known as Alamdar-e-Kashmir (flag bearer of Kashmir) and Nund rishi. He preached through shruks - short poem in simple language.
PRK: Can you read us a passage from one of your plays that is linked to the situation today?
M: If you'll notice, this play was staged in `98 so the problems that surfaced in `81, `82 and `88 have been mentioned here. I will read some dialogues for you here. I have added some comments here. The narrator 'sutradhar' has also been mentioned. Let's see how things were then, Sutradhar (narrator): Haha, heheh. He laughs. Listen everyone! Protect yourselves! Lend me your ears, in amusement! O people, you only laugh at me! But you've never really paid heed to the real matter. And you've never really introspected to know why you laugh at me. It's not that the things I do are grievous to you; that's not it. Because I am yours, and you are mine. Don't misconstrue things, we're like brothers to each other. Whether it is a Hindu brother, a Muslim brother or a Sardar or be it a Dogra brother. We are all one. We are like a torch that Badshah and Noor-ud-Din Wali Rahmatullah has given us; Lal Ded and Zain-ul-din wali have passed on to us. Then he laughs. All I want to say is that the world has changed. Our customs and traditions have altered. Our social norms have changed. Our manner of speaking and thinking are no longer the same. It is said that there was just the King back then. These days Kings are not in the scene. Look there, we call him Waangan sahib. (Explaining to Pankaj) So there's another vegetable that we use to make salad, he too is a sahib. In the old days, there used to be a Kanungoi, the one who knew the law. These days, there isn't any value for such people. These days only moustache and grass and leaves have value. And the vote that we give, without seals, that has a price. How much can I say? Lawyers and witnesses too have changed. If you didn't identify me as insane, I would even say that our God, the one whom we worshipped, has altered. Earlier, we would play hymns and devotional songs. (To Pankaj - Then he dances to a contemporary rhythm and says): we've forgotten those too. This narrator has a long piece. It ought to have been translated much earlier.
mian muhammad baksh
sheikh noor-ud-din rishi
In Kashmir there are multiple languages exist simultaneously - Kashmiri, Urdu, Punjabi, Persian and Dogri. Though Kashmiri is most spoken language, the Urdu and Persian are more evolved and formalized languages. Dogri and Punjabi are languages of the minority. Subtle and not so subtle tensions between the languages and language groups are also one of Kashmir's practical problems.
PRK: Can you read to us from Sahib and Madam?
PRK: Which language has this been written in?
M: In Kashmiri.
PRK: Can people read it?
M: Yes, yes.
PRK: How many people can read it?
M: Everyone. All our actors, they can all read Kashmiri.
PRK: And ordinary Kashmiris?
M: They also understand.
PRK: But can they read?
M: Yes, some of them.
PRK: It's the Urdu script though, right? The script that it has been published in?
PRK: It's Kashmiri script?
PRK: If you'd like, you could even read us a poem.
M: There's a really nice poem, but I can't seem to find it. I'll definitely read that.
M: Rehti is one of principal characters (in this play). Actually I've presented an aspect of Kashmiri beauty. (Recites in Kashmiri). There is another poem here somewhere that I'd like to read, then I'll give you an explanation. (Reads in Kashmiri again) All those big people, the dadas, the powerful ruffians, always assume that we are witless. (Explaining) They pull us into various games everyday. The prices keep rising within the political bazaar, and when the powerful feel their pockets are lighter they begin to spread rumours. Then the innocent are clueless about what they are made to do. The powerful have pulled us into a game. Those among the community, who are traitors, are only motivated by money. They have destroyed the fabric of the community. Their primary occupation is spreading malicious rumours and these are the ones who have shattered the innocent people here. They are lounging in their 'halls'. They have girls and entertainments for themselves. We say these things brazenly in Bhand Pather. The rich in their palatial houses and the poor are locked and rot in jails. O, what are these men of power making us do here!!
Since the folk plays were mostly oral literature there was an emphasis on verse. Verse plays were easy to remember and pass on as legacy. But verse plays also worked better for stylisation, metaphor and satire. Mahjoor reads excerpts from his contemporary prose play depicting the agony of ordinary people. An ordinary people everywhere are bogged down by the price rise, abuse of power and exploitation. But in his play he also talks about rumours at length. Obviously he is referring to the political campaigns which spread identity conflicts among the different communities. The contemporary Kashmir is plagued by this problem. Mahjoor makes a generic and broad reference to that. In the present situation if he gets clearer than this he would end up upsetting either the state or the militants or maybe both. And that could mean the worst.