Baand Pather, a dying art of Kashmir

Television and militancy sound the death knell

Baand Pather,  a dying art  of Kashmir

Baand Pather artistes performing at the Tulip Garden in Srinagar. Their performances have become rare now.

Technological advancements and fast-changing life styles have been proving to be a death knell to traditional folk arts in the country. Baand Pather, a famous folk art form of Kashmir that drew good crowd, may very soon become extinct. 

“The invasion of electronic media and the decades of militancy have eclipsed the Baand Pather from public scene,” lamented 82-year-old Abdul Razak, living at Imam Sahib Village in south Kashmir. Razak, who is part of  Baand Pather  since childhood, feels that the Kashmiri folk theatre is almost invisible in Kashmir Valley now.

Till 1970s the folk theatre was ruling the minds and hearts of Kashmiris, particularly in rural areas. It was the main source of entertainment. The village people would eagerly wait for the Baands (the artists) to perform in their village.

The Baand Pather troupes usually performed after the sunset as rural people would be busy in the fields during the day time.  As Baand Pather enjoyed good patronage, a sizeable section of people had become part of the folk theatre. Most of them lived at Imam Sahib, Wathoora in Budgam and Akingam. As it was rewarding in terms of money and fame, many families had taken up it as a profession. The art form was passed on to the younger generation.

Razak, who started performing as a Baand at the age of 15, recalled "my father introduced me to the profession. At that time, stress was not on educating the children because of the financial problems. Instead of going to school, I joined Baand Pather,” he added.

Going down the memory lane, he said “The people's response for the show was excellent. The applause for our performances was a morale booster.”

Baand Pather in the past revolved round social problems and some historical events. The  Baand Pather on Habba Khatoon, the most popular Kashmiri poetess and queen, would draw huge crowds. Her husband Yousuf Shah Chak was summoned by King Akbar and was jailed outside Kashmir.

With no  technology  at their disposal, town criers would announce about Baand shows during the day. Then, the word of mouth also played an important role in getting the audience. Immediately after their dinner, the villagers, including women and children, would assemble at the venue of Baand Pather. The artists would perform in open ground. The format of Baand Pather comprised songs and dialogues interspersed with humour.

The performance would continue till the wee hours and some times the shows were repeated on demand from the villagers.

The Baands would visit houses next morning and collect  rice and maize from people. “As people would not have money on hand, they would show their appreciation for the artistes by generously contributing rice and maize,” pointed out Razak.

Razak, who has performed in the folk theatre for 40 years, initiated his son Mohammad Ayoub into the folk theatre. Initially, he was very enthusiastic. As the time passed, the art form also failed to attract crowds. The advent of television in Kashmir delivered a body blow to the art form. But militancy was a virtual death knell to the ‘Baand Pather’. “He finally bid adieu to the folk theatre and started his own small business,” the artiste said.

Doordarshan did make sincere efforts to promote the art form. But it did not click with audience. “Watching Baand Pather in the open space has its own charm. TV can not put that extra grace in the Kashmiri folk theatre,” said Mohammad Ibrahim, a shopkeeper.

Baand Pather was attracting crowds in areas that had no television coverage. As television reaches virtually every nook and corner of the state, the folk artists are struggling for their existence.

After the eruption of militancy in 1989, Baands were not allowed for security reason during night. The authorities feared that the performances during the night could be risky to the performers and audience.

Many actively involved in the folk theatre switched over to other professions. Some bought lands and became farmers. Many artists started their own businesses. Children were sent to schools, so that they could study and take up jobs.

Rayees Ahmad, a college student, does not know much about Baand Pather though his grandfather was a Baand. “I am not interested in the folk theatre. Hardly anybody in Kashmir is interested in Baand Pather now. Why should I ruin my future being part of folk theatre,” he asked.

This clearly sums up the feelings of the youngster for the art form.

A couple of years back, a group of youth tried to reintroduce Baand Pather, but did not succeed. “The response was lukewarm and that is why we could not make more efforts,” said Zaid Mohammad, a youth, associated with the group.

However, the academy for promotion of art and culture is trying to revive the Baand Pather. “During some cultural functions we try to put an item of Baand Pather also into it to kindle the public interest in the folk theatre,” said Shafiq Ahmad, an official of the academy.

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