Issues and Challenges

A Few Glimpses into the Rich Cultural Heritage of Kashmir

Saen rawayat chi saen pehchan. Yeh chu saitha zaroori ke, sein riwayat ta saqafat ruziw barqarar. 
Our tradition lies in our identity. We have to revive our culture and tradition.

Kashmiriyat is rooted in its tradition. The key elements of Kashmiriyat are Kashir (love for homeland) and Koshur (common speech). Kashmiri culture is multidimensional, metalinguistic and full of unique customs and traditions. The ‘Heaven on Earth’ is not only unique in allure but also in tradition. Wazwan, Koshur Sufiana, dance, music, cuisine, Kashmiri handicrafts, carpets, Namdas, chain stitch, crewel furnishings, Shikaras (traditional boats and houseboats) and Papier-mâché crafts are all significant part of Kashmiri identity. Despite the boundaries, on both parts of the divide, Kashmiriyat and Koshur ingresses among all natives.

Kashmir is a land of many fascinating languages and varying dialects. The native language Koshur is gradually diminishing due to the barbarity in Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIJOK), as India is targeting young adults, professors, teachers and other segments of the society who could play any role in transferring Kashmiriyat and Koshur to the next generation. The threat to Koshur is a threat to Kashmiriyat and Kashir. In Azad Kashmir, Koshur is confined to some families due to divided borders. Other languages spoken include Pahari and Gojari. 
Rouf, pronounced as ‘row’ in villages, is a very interesting and emotive type of folk singing and dance form popular in Kashmiri tradition, celebrated mainly in the spring. Kashmir is distinctive in celebrating events. There are special songs sung by women on someone’s death and there is not a single event that is performed without music. The diverse traditional Kashmiri music includes vanvun, rouf, chakri, naind gyavun, ladishah and bacchi nagma. Vanvun are prayers in form of folk music generally sung on weddings. Chakri is traditional form of Kashmiri music that includes Rabab, Garaha and Sarangi. Naind Gyavun is a form of agricultural or farmers’ folk songs sung to motivate them and make work light for them. Ladishah is popular in rural areas where a singer known as Ladishah moves during the harvesting season. The lyrics of Ladishah touch cultural, social or political issues. Only one person performs Bacchi Naghma whereas majority of folk songs are performed in groups. 
Kashmiri Wazwan is a star attraction of Kashmiri cuisine having nearly thirty-six unique dishes. The Kashmiri hospitality is reflected in Wazwan. It is a multicourse meal and its preparation is considered to be an art. It includes rista (curry), which comprises meatballs made from lamb’s leg, Lahabi Kebab also known as Moachi Kebab made of minced lamb, Doudha Ras is lamb curry cooked in sweet milk, Safed Kokur, Ruangan Chaman (paneer), Muji chetin, Rogan Josh (Rogan means oil and Josh means intense heat), Waza Palak, Yakhni, Tabakhmaaz (barbecued lamb ribs prepared in ghee), Metthi Maas and Gushtaba.
Kashmiris prefer to eat with hands and one would hardly see any Kashmiri using a fork or a knife. Kashmiri tradition gives others a sense of unity, which is reflected by the Kashmiri families living in joint family system. The meal is served on a dastarkhawan (tablecloth) spread on the floor and bounds everyone to eat together in a group of four to six from a single platter known as traem (big steel dish). Tasht-e-naer — a jug and basin — is passed among the guests for washing hands. The utensils used to be mainly made of copper or terramah  but sadly this is gradually waning. 
Guests in Kashmir are welcomed with Kulcha’s, hot Kashmiri salted pink tea or Kehwa served in samovar (Kashmiri copper kettles). Boiled rice served with red beans is another Kashmiri specialty. 
The distinctness in dresses of Kashmiri people further delivers rareness of their tradition. Pheran and Kashmiri pashmina shawls are Kashmiris’ traditional dress, that are not only limited to women but men can also be seen wearing them, particularly in winters. The quality and fabric of handmade Kashmiri Pashmina shawl is famous around the world. Pashmina shawls are a symbol of royalty and the design and embroidery in shawls further add magnificence. Women cover their heads with Kasawa (skullcap) and adorn themselves with necklaces, bangles, earrings, nose rings, and Matha Patti (head jewelry). Men wear Kurta Pajama and traditional headgear.
The unique and wonderful Kashmir handicrafts include handmade carpets, woollen rugs, wood furniture and frames made of walnut, and silverware. Kangiri, also known as kanger, a small portable, earthenware fire pot covered by wicker burns Harmal that gives out a soothing fragrance in addition to the heat. Kashmiris still tend to use it instead of modern heating system. Kangiris used to be kept inside the quilts during winters. 
Besides handicrafts and panoramic views, Jammu and Kashmir’s rich cultural heritage is depicted in celebrations such as Tulip festival, Hemis festival, Shikara festival, Gurez festival, Sindhu Darshan Festival, Dosmoche, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha, Lohri and Vaishakhi. Bahu Mela, Jhiri Mela and Craft Mela are also celebrated by the Kashmiri natives with their customs and traditions. 
Kashmiris celebrate weddings in a distinct way. Arranged marriages are common in Kashmir. The bride’s family calls the relatives two weeks before the wedding day for sorting rice and women grind spices with mortar and pestle. They make these ingredients for Waza to cook Wazwan. The mayun of the bride is performed two days before the wedding. One of the most distinct traditions is giving of jahaiz (dowry); the family gifts gold jewelry and copper crockery to the bride. On the wedding day, application of henna on the bride’s hands and feet by her friends is a common ritual. The bride is expected to wear Pheran (Kashmiri dress) embellished in silver and gold Tila embroidery. Some perform Nikkah on the day of the mehndi and some on the wedding day. The in-laws of the bride distribute dry fruits among the guests in special copper plates. The friends of the bride sing songs and perform Rouf on the day of the Mehndi. In traditional Kashmiri customs, the bride and groom are not allowed to sit together on the wedding day, and even after the rukhsakti they sit separately. An Aya (maid) goes with the bride and stays with her for two or three days. The bride gifts gold earrings or a necklace to her mother-in-law and in return she also receives many gifts on her entrance to the new home. After three to seven days the bride visits her maika (parents’ home) with her uncle, brother or any other male family member and a special Wazwan is served to the bride and her in-laws.
Just like incredible natural beauty of Kashmir, Kashmiri culture is also beautiful, vibrant and mesmerizing. But the most unfortunate part is that both are being crushed in the tight clutches of Indian oppression. For Kashmir to exist and thrive in its natural element, this oppression must end. The world must also play its role to preserve the beauty of its land and people. HH

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