Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Culture is undernurished in Kashmir

Our own culture:
— and it must have a flavour of its own


Ours is a cultural blend unique in itself. We live in a multiplicity of tastes and desires. This makes us relish the blessings of nature more than anyone else. The state is not only different in cultural forms and heritage, but also different in geographical, demographical, ethical and social entities from other parts of India. In other words, we are living in a state, which is precisely a spectrum of variance and variation.

Even as the distinct parts of the state - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, yield diverse religion, language and culture, they constantly interfuse with each other resulting in sparkling specimens of unity in diversity. The various cultural forms like art and architecture, fairs and festivals, rites and rituals, languages and landscapes, mounted on the ageless era of history, reflects uniformity and diversity with matchless cultural symmetry and service.

Kashmir has a long and cherished history of 5000 years and is rightly called by some authors – the mother of all civilizations. It has been the highest learning point of Sanskrit and Persian where early Indo-Aryanic civilization has originated and flourished. Ladakh on the other side, has been the highest living centre of Tantrayan Buddhism. Similarly Jammu, has been the axis of Rajas and Maharajas, who have enriched the cultural, historical and social bonds of all these diverse ethnic and linguistic sections of the state. The ancient archeological monuments and remnants of the past are the true reflections of the rich cultural traditions of our state. We should not forget that Kashmir has a rich heritage of poets, writers, philosophers, intellectuals and craftsmen, who have earned a name at the international level.

In light of the rich cultural heritage of the state, the government developed an institution by the name of Academy of Art, culture and languages to promote and protect the richness of this invaluable asset. A look at the functioning of the Academy reflects that in the past this institution has made significant contribution so far as perseverance of our cultural heritage is concerned. The poetry of our renowned poets was not only collected but also given the shape of books, and most of these books earned reputation at the international level. In fact the Kashmiri encyclopedia was a significant feat achieved by this institution. It also did a magnificent job by organizing music classes including Santoor classes and calligraphy.

But the last two decades have marred the functioning of this institution and the conditions which prevailed here during these times discouraged artists to carry on their mission of preserving and promoting their art and culture through their performances. One thing is significant that the then state government did injustice with this academy by installing a person as head of the institution who was remotely connected to literature. In fact he was a man from the theatre and all his attention focused on the theatretical activities with the result the rich literature and music was forced to take a backseat. By this, the focus also shifted from Kashmir to Jammu.

The apathy continues since then. Though on the literature front, a little aid to the poets and writers has continued and many books have been printed on Kashmiri literature, the music, art and drama continues to be ignored. Sufiyana music is our classical music and right now we have only two prominent gharanas of Saznawaz and Qaleenbaf left to carry forward the rich Kashmir music. Precisely, nothing is being done to preserve and promote this magnificent form of Sufiyana music which is breathing its last.

It is an apathy that cultural groups and Sufiyana music groups from Egypt and other countries are being promoted by paying huge amounts to them and our own musicians of this form are being ignored. Though at their own level one of the left out gharanas is having its own center where some boys and girls are being trained in Sufiyana music, the activity which otherwise could have been well organized by the cultural academy. This shows the urge of this gharana to keep this traditional music alive.

his is also heartening that this gharana is representing Kashmiri Sufiyana music in Muzaffar Ali’s cultural bonanza where world famous sufi music artists perform. This is considered as one of the biggest platforms for performing sufiayana music in the world. Even as the Government of India organizes this show, the state is being represented privately by the concerned artists without any support from the state government and not to talk of the Cultural Academy.

Take the case of musical instruments. It is incredible! But true. The world famous Santoor player Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma’s magical touch of Santoor strings takes you to the entirely different world and the instrument he plays on is manufactured in Kashmir by Zaz family. The family has been the greatest makers of our musical instruments. This craft of manufacturing our world famous musical instruments is also on the verge of extinction, as the craftsmen lack proper support.

Kashmir has a very rich legacy of folk theatre. Nothing is being done to preserve our traditional folk media like Band-e- Pather. With the result the artists associated with this form of art are drifting away from it. In fact Rajtarangini also makes a mention of Band –e- Pather and its impact on the people has been tremendous to mobolise their opinion. Many of our historical aspects have been depicted through this folk form in a satirical way. But the people associated with this traditional folk media have been ignored. Similarly Dhambail – our very rich sufi dance, has also remained a thing of a past. One wonders how we can patronize the sufi dance of Iran, Egypt and other countries and ignore our own rich cultural heritage.

Over the past few years we have seen one name making lot of rounds Pt. Bhajan sopori. He is often seen in the official functions and a special guest of cultural academy. You find his music compositions on many local channels courtesy cultural academy. One wonders, if there is only one music composer left in the whole J&K when we have very renowned music composers.

Basically, the point is that the Academy of Art, culture and Languages has a capacity to preserve and promote the culture of our state. It has to function as an independent institution. Let this Academy be purely for the people and by the people of the state and dying aspects of our precious culture are saved from extinction. In short, it must modernize its operations, obviously with all local flavour.

January 27, 2008
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