Architecture and Drama in Kashmir and North-West
by R. K. Braroo
(Shri Braroo, who has been writing and staging dramas for well about fifty years, retired from the Song and Drama Division, GOI, a few years back. His latest drama, 'Rishi Vaur', staged in New Delhi in February 1995, evoked a mixed reaction in the Baradari: Editor).
Nataraja is the manifest universe which reverberates with sound. His attire is the Sun and the Moon, and He is the symbol of Truth Absolute. The Tandava of Nataraja represents Creation, Preservation, Incarnation, Destruction and Deliverance. It is this Tandava, the fusion of joy and sorrow, which has been the source of inspiration for artists, musicians, dancers, poets, dramatists, and thinkers for a long time. It is the Tandava that inspired the great philosopher and scholar like Abhinava Gupta, to write the encyclopaedic commentry on Natya Shastra of Bharat Muni and also propound Kashmir Saivaism which transcends both good and evil. Optimism and pessimism, as destruction of matter gives birth to joy, the joy of matter eternally renewed. Lord Siva, the Trika, embodies Monism and is thus the unifying magnet of Indians in general and Kashmiris in particular besides being the warp and woof of the beginning and end of every visible and invisible object in the universe.
India broadly comprises four regions: the mountains, the plains, the deserts and the coastal areas. While the plains and coastal areas produce and provide enough foodgrains for the country's population, the deserts warm up the country to be cooled down by snow-clad mountain-peaks of the mighty Himalayas.
Indian culture is deeply associated with spirituality, Absolute Truth and non-violence. Spirituality seeks to attain the truth, a heavenly attribute, and is, therefore, primarily associated with higher reaches of the land. That is, perhaps, why places of worship and meditation are generally found on mountain-peaks. Sculptures and cave- paintings are also found in abundance in the mountain ranges of India. Since the concept of God and spirituality is thus more closely linked with the mountains, it is natural that the best of literature connected with spirituality and God has emanated from mountains whether in Kashmir, Ladakh, or Himachal Pradesh, etc.
The mountains of Ladakh reverberate with the philosophy of Boudha Dharma, which finds expression in Gumphas built on various heights of the region. Looking closely at the other side of the Himalayan ranges, known as Himachal, we find temples of Gods at its various heights; pilgrimage to Kullu during Dussehra festival is a national and international event. Similarly, Garhwal, which, in common parlance, is known as the land of Gods is considered by some scholars to tbe the birth-place of Kalidasa, the legendary dramatist. This highland echoes with the mirth of the Indian Spiritual Culture. The North-Western sector is a repository of ancient art, culture, dance, drama temples and sculpture in India. The sector, the seat of Art, Culture and Drama, had two main political seats of power, one at Ghandhara and the other in Kashmir. Sometimes Kashmir ruled Ghandhara and sometimes Ghandhara ruled Kashmir. It was, however, Ashoka and Kanishka to whom both the seats of power owed allegiance. During Vedic, Epic, Buddha and Hindu periods, kings and chieftains of smaller political units from Ghandhara or Kashmir sides used generally to marry into one another's family.
During marriage ceremounies the Natyamandpas inside palaces and temples as also open-air theatres used to echo with dance, drama and music, an integral part of the celebrations. Select professionals used to be on permanent pay-roll of the palace or the temple and used to perform in NATYAMANDAPAS or permanent theatres which formed an integral part of the temple or palace architecture.
Drama and dance seem to have flourished in the temples and palaces during Hindu and Buddist periods. Apart from classical dance and drama, which generally used to be performed in palaces or temples, there are ample references in the Rajatarangini to establish the presence of open-air theatres where strolling players, used to perform for the public at large. "Thereupon as the king was about to start, his troupes dispersed in all directions like a crowd of spectators in theater struck by showers of rain water" (Kalhana). The actors, actresses, and dancers would wear appropriate costumes, jewellery and style their hair in a particular fashion, befitting the characters they played and also carry the most befitting properties etc. The make-up was well known. For this yellow orpiment and other emollients and colours were used. The use of multi-coloured lights during performances was very much in vogue. Both in palace and Temple NATYAMANDAPAS the use of leather seats for spectators was in use.
The migrations that have been taking place over the centruries in different parts of the world were rather unkown to this mountainous region, except, of course, for the invaders. Even so, the spiritual culture growing and blooming in the North-Western sector of India remained bruised to a lesser extent. One of the important expressions of this spiritual culture has been the Drama. Archaeological and literary evidence about the existence of theatrical arts in North-Western region is established by Sir John Marshall. who found a fragment of Gandhara pottery which represents a scene from a drama at Peshawar. References to Drama are also available in the hymns of the Rigveda and the Samaveda. The Upanishads are pregnant with dramatic dialogues, so much so that ballads or lyrical narratives burst forth.
During Ashoka's period, the north-western area was a seat of learning of Buddhist philosophy and the high-land was dotted with Buddhist Vihars where the old traditional worship to God by dancing girls continued, though in a different strain; but drama during the Buddhist period, was at- its height in this region. Lord Buddha himself is said to have directed a play. The Jatakas record the enactment of dramatic performances. At the top of all this, Ashoka's liking for dramatic performances is testified by the first rock edict, and the discovery of three palm-leaf manuscripts in Central Asia which show that the drama had reached its highest pinnacle-during the Buddhist period.
Of course, Bharata's Natya-Shastra written between A.D. 100-300 is the earliest encyclopaedic work on aesthetics-drama, dance, music and poetics- but the best known commentry on the Natya-Shastra has been that of the great scholar Abhinava Gupta (A.D. 950-1025) of Kashmir who discusses the theories of drama, dance and music. Abhinava Gupta of the Shaiva philosophy fame was a prolific writer who authored forty-one books. Eleventh century Kashmir also produced Kashemendra, the Titan of drama and also a geographer, historian, novelist, short-story writer, satirist, wit, all sewn in one skill. Jayanta Bhatta's Aagarna Aadamabar is the most relevant even in today's world.
It will be seen that almost all the dramatists in India in general and from north-western region of India have been inspired by Hindu scriptures. That is why there is a close connection between religion, art, drama and architecture.
The impact of classical drama is visible from the folk-theatre of the north-western region. The Bhanda-Pather of Kashmir or Kariyala of Himachal Pradesh are two living examples. Both these folk- forms are so much influenced by Sanskrit drama as to motivate one to call these the distorted formats of classical drama as enunciated by Bharata Muni.
The advent of Islam however destroyed both temple and court Rangmandapas - the source of inspiration and sustenace of folk theatre, and thus started the distortions in folk art. Magun, the pivot of Bhanda-Pather is, in fact, the deformed name of Mahaguni, the Sutradhara of classical drama. The presence of the jester in both folk formats owe its existence to Vidushaka of Sanskrit drama. The benediction to the Gods, the opening scence of these folk formats, is again direct derivation from Sanskrit drama. Obeisance to properties, musical instruments, places of performance and surroundings also exhibit the impact of Sanskrit drama on folk drama. Bhands or Karyalchis (performers) who enact Bhanda- Pather or Kariyala are actors, dancers, acrobats, and singers who are gifted with imagination and a poetic tongue and that is what helps them improvise a situation on the spot. The Bhands and also the Karyalchis are essentially communicators, and they communicate messages while entertaining audiences.
In the Karyala style, a gosain is projected as a heavenly being and his utterances are compared to those of the Gods, and this sublimates emotions of the spectators. On the contrary, in Bhanda Pather, a gosain is more lampooned than praised. In Bhand Pather a gosain is shown as attracting the village girl who ultimately accompanies him.
Bhands after the advent of Islam, unlike Karyalchies, projected social and political subjects only. They did not wrap their productions by Hindu religious thought, wherein Gods and saints are the vehicles of communication. Yet they couldn't refrain from use of the essence of Hindu thought. As such one witnesses the concept of nature's retribution and natural justice even in today's Pather.
It may perhaps be necessary to clear the relationship of folk and classical theatre in Kashmir during Hindu period upto A.D. 1339. Nature has blessed human beings with qualities of weeping, laughing, fearing, fainting, lampooning, fighting, defending, attacking, frightening, dancing, etc., the elements that go to the making of a folk dance, drama and music. As such it is evident that folk play should have preceded the classical one. Learned and balanced scholars gifted with artistic vision, observation and imagination soaked in Hindu religious thought must have worked upon folk dance, drama and music and come-up with its improvised versions evoking Rasa among audiences, and labelled such plays as classical. The attempts must have further matured till Bharat Muni's Natya Shastra (A.D 300).
The establishment of Rangmandapas in temples used to serve as bridges between folk and classical artists. Both learnt from each other. While classical artists were masters of Sanskrit, the court language, the folk artists were proficient in their local language. Since Dance and Drama is a visual art languages were no barrier to understand each other's art.
The classical artists, however, were the first casuality of the new rule, since A.D. 1339 onwards. Folk artists however paused and suppressed their artistic expression between 1339 to the reign of Zain-ul-Abidin 'Badshah' (A.D. 1420-1470). But the atrocious rulers who followed fleeced and plundered the tillers and took 'Begar' from them'. This injustice eventually frustrated the conscious peasants. They used Bhand Pather as a vehicle of communication to fore-warn people of the envisaged atrocities planned by corrupt Sultans and Kings against peasants, and measures to hoodwink them.
For such communication Bhands introduced a different code, intelligible to Bhands and the villagers only. This code language came to be known as 'Phir Kath', for instance 'Mut Chi Soth', 'the woman is beautiful'. So in the presence of a court officer they would communicate with people in 'Phir' Language fore-warning them about action to be taken. The Court officer even though within listening range and conversant with local language failed to understand anything yet couldn't doubt the credibility of the performer. This speaks for the mastery of histrionic talent that bhands possess.
The Bhand Pathers were compiled into a book by the late Subhan Bhagat, and published perhaps in hot haste by the J&K Academy deserves praise. At the same time one expects J&K Academy to fill in the essential dimension of Bhand Pather i.e. 'Phir-Kath' in the second edition of the book. 'Phir-Kath', one of the most important elements of Bhand Pather is missing in the present book, compiled so laboriously.
In any Pather, say Angreze Pather or Darze Pather, the jester would address the Angreze or Dardking, and, while communicating very vital information to the audience, would squarely look into the eyes of Angreze, etc. and act as if he is divulging very important message to him; thereby arresting him with his eyes while infusing a sense of fear in him by his gesticulations, thus making a perfect fool of him. This art of saying something and demonstrating something entirely different is commendable. Modern directors may label it as bad acting but Bertolt Brecht would certainly borrow such elements, which explains the weightage required to be given to the 'Phir Kath' in a Pather. I had personal contracts with Bhands of Wahthore during 1965-68, with whom I worked for four years and produced the lengendry Pather, YAHOO).
The Bhands who fought back atrocities of Sultans, Chaks, Muguls, Afghans, Sikhs and even Dogras wanted independence to give them a fresh lease of life but that proved a nightmare. This crude shock broke the inner-man in them. Exhausted and exasperated through ages, Bhands gave in and started finding new ways of livelihood.
Bhands were no exceptionto the conversion, - but they continued to follow Hindu customs, traditions beliefs, and costumes which testifies to the fact that the conversion was more by force than by conviction.
In this connection the following story may interest readers. Bhands of Akin-gam still put a Bhand Jashin at the Temple at Akingam. I remember having seen Mohd. Subhan Bhagat and his team of Bhands 1957 at his residence at Akingam and started wondering if Mr. Bhagat and his colleagues were Muslims. Their dress, their pronunciation, their living pattern, their style of turbans and their celebration of annual Jashin at the temple all put together made me believe that they were more Hindus than Muslims.
Architecture and Sculpture
The sculptures found in the entire North Western region whether of bronze, stone, terra-cota or wood testify to its Hindu-Buddhist thought since the hoary past. The function of each form of Hindu art is to generate 'Rasa'. Drama, architecture, arid sculpture therefore flourished in Kashmir and North West side by side. 'Rasa' being the prime factor in Indian art, one can safely say that Indian drama has grown independently of Greek influence, which due to the element of conflict agitates and ruffles emotions.
Being the frontier post, Kashmir had access to draw from artistic heritage of Guptas, Kushanas, Turks, Romans, Chincse, Chauhans and others till it reached its zenith during the period of Lalitaditiya (A.D. 800). This mightly king built hundreds of temples in Kashmir and North West and decorated these with thousands of sculptures of various metals besides stone including terracota and wood. The world-wonder Sun Temple that he built at Martand (A.D. 800) is a unique example of architecture. Ruins of this temple testify even today to its majesticity, vibrant verticularity, masculinity of pillars and artistic grandios.
The improvization and ornamentation of Rangmandpas also developed alongwith temple architecture mainly because both the architects and 'Mahagunies' (Writer-Directors) of reportoirs, attached with palaces and temples and on pay rolls of the state could freely exchange thoughts with each other.
In A.D. 900 King Avantiverman built another world-wonder, the 100' high Avantiswami temple at Bijbehara. This temple, like the Sun Temple, is also in ruins now, but the ruins speak of its sophistication, elegance, and matured artistic vision.
The period between A.D. 9 to 12 century also contributed to art, culture and architecture both in Kashmir & North-West under the able rule of Queen Suganda (A.D.902-906), Queen Dida (A.D. 950-1103), Loharo Kings (A.D. 1003-1028), Harsha (A.D. 1028-1155). But degeneration which had entered into the body-politic of Kashmir, ultimately resulted in civil war causing the verticle fall of King Harsha (A.D. 1155). This further plagued the political authority of Kashmir, paving a way for Muslim rule. The opportunity was grapped by Shah Mir who usurped the throne (A.D. 1339) while Kota Rani, the last Hindu ruler committed suicide. With the advent of Muslim rule, Drama, Dance, Music, Architecture, Sculpture, the expression of Hindu religious thought came to a grinding halt.
Repository of fine arts
It is in this way that the North-Western region of India has been more than a repository of the ancient art, culture, literature, dance, drama and music of India. Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts discovered in a single lot at Gilgit bears testimony to this fact.
Students from various parts of India in general and those from China in particular used to come to this region, particularly to Kashmir, to study Sansksit. Pantajali's Mahabhasya on Sanskrit Grammar is an unparalelled work. Pantanjali lived on the banks of the Dal Lake where now stands the Nishat Garden in Kashmir.
Lord Shiva, the Universe Manifest, wears saffron garlands in India and inhales perfumes of heavenly flowers, holds the Bhramputa in the left and the Sindhu in His right hands and gracefully allows the Indian Ocean to wash His feet eternally. Since Kashmir forms His head, it is :no wonder that great art, architecture, dance and drama should have emerged from this 'Paradise on Earth'.