CULTURE AND FOOD
PURANA' by Dr. Ved Kumari
Means of recreation
- music, dancing, drama and other means of recreation - are the true mirror in
which the unrestricted mind of Kashmiris is reflected. The Nilamata says that
the land of Kasmira was thronged with ever-sportive and joyful people enjoying
continuous festivities. Living amidst scenes of sylvan beauty they played,
danced and sang to express their joys, to mitigate their pains, to please their
gods and to appease their demons. One thing deserves to be noted at the outset
that there being hardly any distinguishing line between the secular and the
religious in India, the Nilamata describes all the forms of recreation in a
No myth about the divine origin of music is found in
the Nilamata, but the injunction for the worship of seven metres may be taken as
suggestive of its divine origin. The tune of Samas - the hymns with the musical
notes - is referred to and one verse suggests the association of music with the
On each and every festive occasion, whether it is
purely religious like the Sleep and Awakening of god Visnu or semi-religious as
the advent and the departure of Nikumbha, or seasonal like the New Snowfall day
or agricultural like the day of sowing the seeds, the chief item of the
celebrations is music - vocal as well as instrumental. The sound of the musical
instruments is regarded as extremely sweet and heart-captivating.
(i) Varieties of vocal music
We do not get reference to different varieties of the
vocal music but the use of the terms 'vacana' 'prakirtana' end 'ghosa' [vacana
is simple recitation, ~rakirtana is singing in chorus and ghosa is the
enchanting of vedic mantras or making some other loud sound.] in connection with
Purana, Stotra and l~rahma respectively, indicates that the mode of singing
varied with different types of texts.
(iii) Professional singers
The Nilamata refers to four classes of professional
singers viz. Suta, Magada, Vandi and Carana who, according to the Dharmasastras,
maintained themselves by lauding the deeds of others. Their mention in one and
the same line indicates that some difference, may be minute, was believed to be
existing in these different types of singers.
(iii) Musical instruments
The general terms in the Nilamata for the musical
instruments are vadya, vaditra and vadya-bhanda. As regards the different types,
out of 'ghana' (cymbal), 'vitata' (percussion), 'tata' (stringed instruments),
and 'susira' (wind instruments), made of brass, skin, strings and reed
respectively and mentioned in the Visnudharmottara Pu. and Jayamangala
commentary on the Kamasutra, only two namely, anaddha-vadya' (corresponding to 'vitata')
and 'tantri-vadya' (corresponding to 'tata') have been mentioned in the Nilamata.
Of the others we have venu and sankha belonging to 'susira' type and ghanta to 'ghana'
type, though the terms 'susira' end 'ghana' are not mentioned. Here follows a
historical account of all the musical instruments referred to in the Nilamata.
The Rgveda does not mention it. The Aitareya Aranyaka
describes it in detail with its parts - siras (head), udara (cavity), ambhana
(sounding board), tantra (string) and vadana (plectrum). The Epics, the Jatakas,
the Samyutta Nikaya and the Arthasastra testify to its high popularity. Sangita
Makaranda refers to its nineteen varieties. The Nilamata refers to it thrice
only but if the references to Tantri-vadya be taken as referring to vina, it
will yield that vina was resorted to most by the musicians of Kasmira. The
modern hundred-stringed santoor of Kasmira is probably satatantrivina or vana
referred to in the Taittiriya Samhita.
The Rgveda does not mention it. A.C. Das's view that
venu may be taken as a later corruption of vana is not sound, because vana is
not a wind instrument like venu. Roth takes venu of R.V. VIII. 55.3 as a flute
of reed but scholars do not agree on this point. The Jatakas and the Epics know
it. The Nilamata refers to it once only in connection with the celebrations of
the Awakening of god Visnu.
We find no mention of sankha in the Rgveda. The Epics
mention it many a time in connection with the music of war. The Nilamata
mentions it twice.
Pataha, a sort of drum, is mentioned neither in the
Vedas nor in the Jatakas. The Mahabharata also refers to it rarely. The Ramayana
mentions it many a time. The Nilamata refers to it twice in association with
lute. Probably the drum was played upon generally in accompaniment to the lute.
Muraja is also not mentioned in the Vedic literature.
Bharata groups it with percussion instruments and refers to its three varieties
'alingya', 'urdhva' and 'ankika'. Originally different from 'mrdanga', it became
later on identified with mrdanga.
Dancing, going hand in hand with music, is mentioned
frequently in the Nilamata. There must have existed various types of dances in
ancient Kasmira but as the Nilamata does not mention particular steps or
movements characterizing different types, we may classify them on the basis of
the occasions on which they were performed. Thus, the Nilamata speaks of dances
performed on religious occasions, dances performed in social gatherings held in
honour of seasons, and dances performed on agricultural festivals.
Dances are prescribed at the time of ripening of
grapes, so horticulture, too, seems to have had some dances to its credit.
(III) Popularity of music and dancing in Kasmira
The earliest definite corroboration regarding the
popularity of music and dancing in Kasmira is provided by archaeology. A tile
from Harwan, with Kharosthi letters which cannot be later than 4th century A.D.,
shows three musicians. "The one to left plays a flute; the centre one,
cymbals; the third, a pair of drums." Another tile represents a female
musician playing on a drum. One more shows a female dancer. The statue of a
female dancer was also obtained from the courtyard of Kotisar temple. As regards
the literacy evidence, Kalhana's Rajatarangini is full of references to 'gitanrtta'.
Music, we are informed, had become popular even with the Buddhist monks.
Reference is made to two female musicians songs which expanded in one melodious
tone in harmony. Further, Kalhana informs about the existence of the custom of
dancing girls associated with temples. King Jalauka dedicated hundred ladies of
his seraglio to the temple of Jyestharudra. The two dancing girls whom
Lalitaditya met in a forest informed him that dancing at that particular place
was an ancient custom of their family. Kalasa's liking for the dancing girls is
well described by Kalhana. Harsa had gone so far as to instruct personally the
dancing girls to act. Ksemendra sarcastically refers to a singer who sings the
songs of departure at the time of invoking a god. Bilhana testifies to the high
skill of ladies of Kasmira in dancing. Even the philosophical sutras of
Vasugupta take similes from this art, comparing Atma with a dancer, Antaratma
with theatre and Indriyas with spectators.
(IV) Nature of music and dancing
As regards the nature of music and dancing referred to
in the Nilamata, the major part of the former belonged probably to the category
of spontaneously flowing folk-music. Of dances, those which were performed on
religious occasions depicted probably the life histories of the gods. Such
dances have been quite popular with various nations of the world. Robertson has
described how the dances in the neighbourhood of Kasmira, among the Kafirs of
Hindukush, are accompanied by chants in praise of the heroes in whose honour
they are performed. The dim memories of such religious dances are still
preserved by the Hindu ladies of Kasmira, who, at the time of
Sivaratri-visarjana ceremony at the bank of some river, go round seven times
with their hands lifted above their heads.
Coming to the agricultural dances, we find that these
are confined to no race or country. Frazer describes such dances prevalent in
various countries of Europe and Asia and regards them as "intended both to
stimulate the growth of vegetation in spring and to expel demoniac or other evil
influences". The dances performed at the great festival of the Bopfau or
Barley Seed-sowing, in Hunza in the neighbourhood of Kasmira, have been regarded
by Mrs. Lorimer as imitating the actual agricultural process. Similar dances
might have been performed at the Seed-sowing ceremony referred to in the
Nilamata. Of course, it is a mere speculation, though not an improbable one.
(V) Theatrical performances
The words 'Preksa' and 'Preksanaka' - mentioned in the
Nilamata refer to theatrical performances. The terms have been used in this
sense in the Sanskrit literature. The Nilamata mentions also a peculiar phrase
"Preksadana". Literally meaning 'the gift of a dramatic performance',
it seems to have denoted 'a gift made for the arrangement of a dramatic show.'
there may have existed some dramatic clubs which gave such shows on demand and
the injunction of 'Yathavidhi Preksadana' i.e. the gift for the arrangement of a
dramatic show made in the proper procedure, may have been made with reference to
them. These gifts of various types are not, however, defined separately. The
Kasmiri poet Bilhana extols the ladies of his native land for the excellent
dramatic performances which excelled the acting of heavenly damsels Rambha,
Citralekha and Urvasi. The simultaneous use of the terms 'nartaka' and 'nata' in
the Nilamata indicates the difference between the two: the former was used for a
dancer, the latter for an actor. These people received honours from the public
on various occasions and were not regarded as degraded.
The presence of theatre-halls in ancient Kasmira has
been suggested on the basis of Damodaragupta's reference to a theatre-hall
provided with cushioned couches, but we should not forget that the place
referred to by him is Varanasi. Kalhana, on the other hand, compares the fleeing
armies with people caught by a downpour while watching a theatrical performance.
Most of the functions referred to in the Nilamata were performed either in the
vicinity of bonfire outside the houses or in open fields. So it appears that the
functions of the general public, in ancient Kasmira, were mostly held under the
(VI) Other sports
The Nilamata gives us an idea of other games and sports
also resorted to by the people of Kasmira.
Garden-sports have been popular in India since early
times. The Ramayana refers to girls going to the gardens in the evening for
play. Panini - an inhabitant of Gandhara in the neighbourhood of Kasmira - was
familiar with such sports. The land of Kasmira being full of gardens and parks,
her people, naturally, accepted Nature's invitation to sing, dance and play in
her company. The Nilamata points out their intimacy with Nature expressed in
joyful dances performed at the arrival of Spring. Kasmiri women enriched their
natural beauty on such occasions with garlands of Ira flowers. The Nilamata
probably described a few garden-sports in connection with Asokikastami, but
unfortunately the verses are lost now. The Harwan tiles showing ladies carrying
flower-vases indicate Kasmiris love for flowers. The pose of the queen-mother in
the scene of Siddhartha's birth, with her right hand holding a branch of the
Asoka tree and the left placed on the shoulder of her sister Prajapati, is just
a replica of a lady plucking flowers from a tree or just swinging with the help
of a branch of a tree.
Special meals, taken in the gardens in the company of
friends and the members of the family, were a part of such garden-sports. We
have reference to such feasts in the Bhagavata Purana also.
The Nilamata prescribes water-sports for the maidens on
Sravani festival. An idea of such sports can be had from the Kamasutra and
Wrestlers are mentioned in the Nilamata as being
honoured by the people and it is reasonable to suppose that the Kasmiris did
enjoy the shows put forth by them.
Chance plays a great part in human life and no wonder
if man tried to gain some knowledge of future events through games of chance and
also adopted them as means of recreation. Giving instances from many ancient and
modern races, E. S. Hartland has rightly pointed out: "Gambling is a
passion confined to no race or country, to no rank of society, to no plane of
civilisation". Beginning from the famous hymn of the R. V., Indian
literature provides innumerable instances of gambling. The Nilamata prescribes
gambling on Dipavali, to know the goodness or otherwise of the coming year for
the players. The belief still exists in various provinces of India but has gone
away from Kasmira. The neighbouring land of Tibet has it in the form of annual
gambling ceremony wherein the Grand Lama at Lhasa plays dice with the demon and
by defeating him announces good luck for the coming year.
The Nilamata describes the land as filled with the
sound of bow. On some Harwan tiles also we find huntsmen with bows and we may
state on this basis that hunting was also an amusement for the Kasmiris.
(vi) Playing with toys
Playing with toys must have been a form of
entertainment for children. Toy has been mentioned once in the Nilamata in
connection with the worship of Skanda - the presiding deity of the children.
Playing with birds tied to strings was another amusement for children.
II Arts and Crafts
The Nilamata contains some information about the
different branches of art, namely, architecture, sculpture and painting, and
refers to some handicrafts also.
The terms - bhavana, grha, nivesana, alaya, vesma,
ayantana, attalaka etc. have been used in the Nilamata for buildings but it is
not possible to distinguish between the significance of one term and the other.
The place of Buddhist worship is mentioned as Caitya and the dwelling place of
the Buddhist monks as Sakyavasa. As archaeology has revealed, the former
consisted of a chamber surrounded by a circumambulatory passage and containing
the object of worship, while the latter usually had cells surrounding an open
courtyard. No example of the period of the Nilamata has been preserved. Of
Brahmanical temples the Nilamata gives hundreds of names but architectural
details of none are given therein. It may be inferred, however, from the ruins
of the apsidal temple of Harwan that the temple of early Kasmira consisted of an
antechamber (mandapa) with a cell (garbhagrha) behind,
The Nilamata says nothing about the building-materials.
All that is known about the houses mentioned in the Nilamata is that those had
doors and ventilators and were whitewashed. The decoration of houses with
fruits, leaves and garlands of rice-plants is also referred to. About
town-planning the Nilamata gives no information. There is reference to roads
which were even and to catuspathas (squares where four roads meet). The Vitasta
Mahatmya contained in the Nilamata refers to bridges over the Vitasta but does
not elucidate their formation.
The Nilamata refers to images made of stone, earth,
gold, silver, copper, brass, wood, sand, straw and ghee. Instructions for making
Sayanamurti images of Visnu with his feet placed in the lap of Laksmi are given
in vv. 409-10. Reference is also made to Caturmurti Visnu with four faces, four
arms and Ayudhapurusas. The Visnudharmottara Pu. describes this form in detail
and J. N. Banerjea rightly takes it as an illustration of the Vyuha doctrine of
The Nilamata testifies to the existence of the art of
painting in ancient Kashmira. In connection with the celebrations of Buddha's
birthday festival, the people are directed to decorate the Caityas with
beautiful paintings. References are made to paintings painted on the cloth, the
wall and the ground. Bhumisobha or decoration of the ground with paintings seems
to have been a necessary item of most of the religious and secular functions.
Viug - a circular pattern drawn on the ground on which a Kasmiri bridegroom has
to stand before entering, for his marriage, the house of the bride - is a direct
descendant of 'bhumisobha' mentioned in the Nilamata. Damodaragupta refers to
courtesans practicing the art of painting for advertising their trade. Somadeva
refers to portrait painters carrying out confidential missions of their masters.
Craftsmen and their tools are referred to in the
Nilamata which enjoins upon the inhabitants of Kasmira the worship of Visvakarma
- the originator of all crafts. The industries in which these craftsmen were
engaged, have to be inferred only from the stray references to finished
products. Thus, the articles of dress point to the art of spinning, weaving,
dyeing and washing. The ornaments, the pitchers made of gold and silver and the
silver-stools presuppose jewellery. Weapons of war, probably, made of iron or
some other hard metal, indicate smithery. Similarly pottery, wood work and
leather-work are pointed to by earthen-pitchers, wooden pitchers, wooden seats
and leather shoes. Probably, wood was used also for structural purposes and for
making kutagaras, umbrellas and walking sticks.
III Dress and Ornaments
The terms used in the Nilamata for clothing in general
are vastra, ambara, vasas, vasana and samvita. Cinamsuka is used for silk
imported from China. Kambala is woollen blanket and pravarana - referred to in
connection with the festival of the New Snow-fall - seems to be the same as
pravara mentioned in the Mahabharata as a cloth offering protection against cold
Panini also knows it. Kautilya mentions it as pravaraka and says that it is made
of the wool of wild animals.
References to a pair of clothes worn by Visnu, a pair
of clothes (one shining like the lightning and the other China-silk resembling
the rays of the moon) worn by Nila, a pair of clothes to be offered to a
Brahmani and a pair of clothes to be given in charity on Atyantamahati indicates
that the male as well as the female dress in Kasmira comprised of two garments,
the upper one and the lower one. Mention is made of white as well as coloured
clothes. The term 'ahata' is used for new clothes. The word 'civara', which
occurs often in Buddhist literature for a monk's robe, is used in this sense in
the Nilamata. Bed-sheet is also referred to once.
As regards ornaments, we have reference to earrings,
bracelets, diadem and jewels.
IV Cosmetics and other requisites of personal
Personal decoration is recommended often in the
Nilamata. The garlands and perfumes which seem to have been necessary materials
for the worship of the deities are no less essential for the worshippers who,
too, are enjoined upon to be well-anointed and well-decorated at the time of
worship. Reference is made to various sorts of scents, perfumes, unguents,
flowers and garlands. Some processes of decoration like rubbing the body with
emollient unguents (udvartana), anointing it with unguents (utsadana) and
applying sandal-paste etc. after bath (anulepana) are referred to. Other
requisites of personal decoration are collyrium, comb, staff and shoe-wear.
V Food and drinks
Most of the references to the articles of diet occur in
the Nilamata in connection with the offerings made to the gods but it is not
difficult to infer from them the food and drink of the common people because
"what a man eats his gods eat."
The term 'anna' from ad 'to eat' used for food in
the Nilamata, includes all sorts of eatables. 'Sasya' represents all cereals and
pulses and 'saka' all green vegetables. References are made to cooked, dry and
lasting food which in their turn suggest uncooked, watery and perishable food.
Spices, sweetmeats, fruits, roots and medicinal herbs are also mentioned.
Meat also seems to have been a popular item of diet,
otherwise there would have been no necessity of prohibiting strongly the eating
of meat for five days dedicated to the worship of Visnu. Even Visnu's image at
one place is stated to be worshipped with animal sacrifices. The offerings
enjoined to be made to the Pisacas, Chandodeva and the goddess Bhadrakali
include non-vegetarian dishes.
Pana includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.