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An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri


Playwrighting in Kashmir

By Sh. M.L. Kemmu

  Moti Lal KemmuKashmir had a rich tradition of writing plays and performing them in Sanskrit from 2nd Century A.D to 12th Century A.D, side by side there were numerous Natya-Charyas professing in Natya and galaxy of scholars writing commentories on Bharata's Natya Shastra, most authentic being 'Abhinav Bharati' by Abhinava Gupta Acharya (10th Century A.D.), Vide Sholok No: 16 of second Tarang of Rajtarangini, Kalhan informs us that there lived Chandrak Kavi during 2nd Century A.D. who wrote plays of sorts for people of all castes and creeds. Kalhan considers him incarnation of Vyas Muni, writer of Mahabharata. In Abhinava Bharati, Abhinava Guptacharya writes that Chandrak wrote Rupakas in Sanskrit language of Rodra and Veer Rasas. One can assume that Chandrak must have remained most popular playwright of his times. Some of the Sholokas from his plays are quoted in Commentories and manuscripts of Khemendra and Srivara. It is really unfortunate that the plays written by Chandrak Kavi are not available to us. Yashoverman of Kashmir is also mentioned as Playwright. Shiva Swami was one of the important poets during the reign of Avantivarman. Besides Mahakavyas he had written Prakaran and Natikas. Shyamalik was another Kashmiri poet who had written a Bana type of play, 'Padtadik'. He lived during 5th century. Bana is always humorous and full of satire. It has only one character who narates, and acts through question-answer style. Any actor playing a Bana should be a verstile one in his art. He has to keep the audience fully involved in what he narrates, acts and describes. It is monologue as well as mono-acting. Till date we have only four Banas in Sanskrit language available to us known as Chaturbani, the Padtadik is the earliest one among them.

Kshemendra (990-1065 A.D.) who is considered people's poet, had written three plays, Lalit Ratan Mala, based on Udayan story of Brahat Katha, Kanak Janaki, based on Ramayana episode, Chitra Bharat, based on some story of Mahabharata. Unfortunately these plays have not reached us till date. He himself quotes certain sholokas from these plays in his extant work, Kavi Kanthabaran. It seems that these plays were Uparupakas (Natikas) of Shringar and Veer Rasa. Bilhana (1028-1090 A.D.) was a poet of eminence and is famous for his Historical Mahakavya Vikramankh-devcharitam. He has written a 4 act Natika known as Karn Sundari. The influence of Kalidasa's Malvika Agnimitram and Harshas Ratnavali is markedly seen on the Natika. Its main Rasa is Shringar. A Sanskrit play, 'Prabhavati Pradyuman Natakam' had come to light, which after getting printed in the Press, was never released by the Research and Publication Department, J&K Govt, Srinagar. Because after Late PN Pushp there was no Director of eminence to head the department and carry on research work particularly on Sanskrit and Sharada manuscripts.

While praising the women of Kashmir, Bilhana says that in Natya Prayog (Theatrical performances), they excel Apsaras of Heaven such as Rambha, Chitralekha and Urvashi. Even if it may be considered nostalgic exaggerated statement, yet it reveals that women were acting, and taking part in theatrical performances.

Vishnodharmotar Puran and Nilamat Puranas written before 7th Century are very important to know about socio-cultural life in Kashmir and its surroundings. V.D. Purana in one of its chapters describes importance of Fine Arts, ten kinds of Rupakas, Mudras of Dance, Music, Aesthetics etc. etc. It is encylopeadic work concerning all the branches of knowledge and is a source book of importance. So is Nilmatpuran for Kashmir studies. According to Nilmata Purana there is no festival of importance complete without theatrical performances, music or dance. This markedly shows that people were real patrons of arts and Natas (Actors) and Ranga Jeevina (People associated with theatre) were given their due share of produce, clothes and money as Prekhsha Danam. Therefore, some kind of plays were written and enacted on these occasions. Budh Purnima, Krishan Janamshtami, and festivals connected with Lord Shiva were celebrated and some sort of Theatrical activity was also associated with these festivals. Therefore, one can say that Jataka tales, Shiva Leelas and later on Leelas connected with Lord Krishna and Rama were also enacted on such occasions. Since all such occasions were celebrated by the people the play scripts written and performed were not preserved in the hope of writing a new one on the next occasion. This is true even nowadays, when some one writes play, or a rough sketch and the same is later on improvised by the actors on their own. Those of the plays which were written by known poets and writers were totally according to the rules of Natya Shastra or at times modified innovations, or total rejection for expressing some philosophical point of view like Agamadambaram of Jayant Bhat (850-902 A.D.)

Jayant Bhat's play is in four acts but cannot be termed Natak-Rupaka set forth by Shastras. It presents different schools of Philosophy as were prevalent during Shankar Verman's time in Kashmir. The scene of the play is Srinagar and the place Ranaswamin Temple in the IVth Act. Four schools of thought discussed in the play are Baudha, the Arhata and the Charvak; the mimansaks and the Nyaya (including Shaiva); and Agama (Panchratra). The hero of the play is neither any king, Devta or Heroic Person but a Snataka, who has completed his studies. There is no heroine and Vidushaka in the play. It defies the norms of Bharat Natya Shastra as well, and the Sutradhara of the play expresses doubt that experts of dramatery may find fault with the play but it has been brought to him by the pupil of Jayant Bhata for performance and they comprise the audience hence lets the students of Nyaya see the play.

During King Kalsha's reign, low music styles (Upang Geet) were introduced and patronized and Playwrighting received very little attention. Some Prabandh and Charit Kavyas were written and perhaps actors produced and presented on stage exhibiting their talent at singing.

During Zain-ul-Abdin Badshah's time a Charita in Kashmiri was written by Uttasom for performance. Srivera in his Rajtarangini writes, "that Yodhabhatta is a poet in the vernacular language-viz; Kashmiri, and composed drama, pure like a mirror called the Jain Prakasha in which he gave an account of the King." These are not extant. Kashmir has seen many a turbulent times after 12th century, attacks, forced conversions, floods, raids, fires and epidemics from time to time and this has resulted in the loss of Books, manuscripts and play-scripts. Yet the most powerful theatrical form of folk theatre, once known as Bhand Natyam has somehow survived. We call it Bhand Pathar. Even during the Muslim rule, Bhands were the popular entertainers. They were roaming ministrels, not only in the Valley of Kashmir, but also used to cross Pir Panchal range and perform in Jammu, Himachal, Punjab and other areas entertaining people through their humorous plays.

With the spread of modern education and establishment of Institutions in the early years of 20th century plays began to be staged by students in Colleges but it was once a couple of years affair. It was during the celebrations of coronation of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1924-25 that Elfred Company of Bombay was invited to present its plays in Jammu in the open at Purani Mandi for the public. After having seen the plays the then Maharaja Pratap Singh desired to have a local company of actors to produce and present the plays for the people of the state in Srinagar and Jammu.

Thereafter, The Amateur Dramatic Company was formed under the Patronage of Maharaja and plays of Agha Hashar Kashmiri, Betab and other writers in Urdu were presented year after year at Srinagar and Jammu. The plays written in Parsi style like, 'Bilwa Mangal' Surdas, Mahabharat, Bewafa Katil, Khoobsoorat Bala, Yahoodi Ki Larki, Veer Abhimanyu, Achut Kanya and Danveer Karan were produced and presented for about twelve years till 1937. The Amateur Dramatic Club was dominated by Government Officials and Tankhahdaar actors. Other Theatrical Companies were also formed by enthusiasts at Srinagar one after the other presenting the same Betab and Agha Hashir's plays but they performed at Baramulla, and Anantnag as well.

The first Kashmiri, play was written by Shri Nand Lal Koul 'Nana' in the same Parsi Style in 1929 and was produced the next year in the heart of the City of Srinagar. It was based on the famous Puranic tale of Satya Harishchander and was named 'Satach Kahvat' Nana wrote a few more plays, 'Dayi Lol', 'Ramun Raj', 'Prahlad Bhagat' and according to GMD Sufi, all these plays were published. Out of these it is Satich Kahvat which was staged by many a groups till 1955. Dina Nath 'Madrer' and Sudhama Ji Koul were later playwrights who wrote plays in this style but never published them. Shri JN Wali wrote a play about Habakhatoon entitled 'zoon' and this was published in 1950. Shri Tara Chand 'Bismil' was another Kashmiri poet playwright who wrote 'Satach Wath' Akanandun and Ram Avtar out of which 'Satich Wath' was published and staged a number of times by local amateur theatre groups. On the foot prints of Parsi style, Kashmiri plays based on Puranic tales, such as Prahlad, Satyavaan Savitri, Krishan Janam, Shankar Parvati, Tapasya, Shiv Lagan' were presented at Raghunath Mandir, Fateh Kadal, Chotta Bazar, Rainawari, Sheetal Nath, Baramulla, Anantnag, Mattan and Chattabal till 1955 at different interval of times.

During the forties of last century, some amateur groups were formed and few Kashmiri plays based on social themes were produced one after the other. Shri Triloki Nath Vaishnavi Rafeeq wrote two plays in Kashmiri but the titles were in Hindi such as 'Chitar', 'Samaj Ki Bhool'. 'Vidhya' was another play which was produced prior to independence. It was directed by Shri Mohan Lal Aima, who himself acted the main role against Vidhwa and composed its music. Shri Sarwanand Bhan was a Sports and Cultural Enthusiast. He used to encourage young poets-writers and make them to evolve a play on any burning social topic till an improvised version of the play would emerge. 'Aulad' and other plays were written and presented under his guidance. Those days both play-wrighting and production were result of collective efforts of writers, poets, actors, musicians and theatre enthusiasts. The dialogues were written in simple prose and delivered in realistic style instead of 'Blood and Thunder' style as was in vogue in Parsi Urdu style. The songs were composed on popular filmi tunes. The role of Manzimyore (Middleman arranging marriages) was acted by late TN Tapiloo, late SN Sumbli and Pushkar Bhan, in different productions.

Soon after Kabali raid in 1947 some of the prominent poets, writers, artists and theatrists united themselves under Cultural Front which focussed local issues through their plays and songs. Working scripts for stage performances were written and improvised by the performers. The Cultural Front, later turned into Cultural Conference, emphasised progressive trends and brought young writers and theatre artists into its fold and an awakening to create peoples theatre to present local issues on stage through short musicals and open air performances. Most of the artists and performers associated with the Conference got appointed in Radio Kashmir, Srinagar and writing for stage received a jolt but for very short time.

Shri Dina Nath 'Nadim wrote his first Kashmiri Opera 'Bombur Yambarzal' in 1953, which was produced the same year and presented at the Nedous Hotel and SP College Hall. He wrote 'Heemal Nagirai' with Noor Mohammad 'Roshan' in 1956 which was presented at Hazooribagh Open Air Theatre constructed for the purpose by Jashan-e-Kashmir Committee. Both these operas were directed by Shri Mohan Lal Aima. He also composed music and some songs proved so popular that these are sung even now, with vigour, interest and involvement.

Three Kashmiri plays written by late Ali Mohd Lone, Shri Amin Kamil and Noor Mohammad Roshan were published by the State Information department during these very years. The plays related to the floods--their effects and devastation, and measures to control it with peoples involvement. Out of these only one 'Wiz Chi Saney' by late Ali Mohammad Lone was presented through State Cultural Conference in different villages. Shows were government sponsored.

Till 1960 there were only a couple of writers writing for the stage but the scenario completely changed from 1962 with the construction of Tagore Hall in Srinagar. Now a proscinium theatre with modern lighting system was available for state performances. Simulatenoulsy with the establishment of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in 1958 the theatre activity remained dull till 1964 when Drama Competitions/Festivals became annual feature both in Srinagar and Jammu. Academy also conducted Theatre Workshops from 1970 and Playwrighting workshop thereafter. More than a dozen playwrights emerged and their plays were enacted in the festivals and Tagore Hall became a centre of activity.

Ali Mohammad Lone and Pushkar Bhan were regularly writing Radio Plays, Shri Lone adapted a few Russian plays in Urdu and later on began to write in Kashmiri, first for radio and thereafter for stage. After Wiz Chi Saney, he wrote Suya as Radio Play in Urdu and later on re-adopted it for stage in Kashmiri in an elaborate way. His Taqdeersaaz exposes the socio political beahaviour of Free Thinkers of Society for personal gains and ambitions, simple hypocrisy. Suya is a historical play in which Sutradhar is an associate character from begining to end. Durlabh Pandit is his third play in Kashmiri, a character play.

Pushkar Bhan wrote a serial of plays entitled Machamma-on unemployed youth, having fantastic dreams to serve his parents but fails at every attempt to attain his ambitions. It was only "Hero Machamma" which was staged a couple of times and Abhinav Bharati's production ran for 25 nights. Bhan wrote several plays in collaboration with late Shri Som Nath Sadhu, such as Chapath, Grand Rehearsal. Besides being humorous, these are social and reformist in content.

Sajood Sailani has been constantly writing for both Radio and Stage. His Shihul Naar, Rata Kreel, Gata Reni, Ropyi Rood, Kajey Raat Gashi Taruk and Utra Buniyul remained successful on stage for their being mixture of fantasy, humour and pungent.

Avtar Krishen Rahbar, virtually a short story writer began to write plays first for Radio and then adapting them for stage. His plays were mostly on current topics concerning society such as Bu Chus Choor, Aulad, Talash, Vola-Harish, etc. He could not bring out any collection till date and these plays remained dramatic exercises. He wrote a play on "Budshah" as well.

Prof Hari Krishen Koul has written "Dastar", a humorous character play, "Yeli Wattan Khur Chu Yivan", a social play about present day family crisis and "Natuk Kariv Band", an experimental play.

Mohammad Subhan Bhagat, a Bhand artist, wrote Taqdeer, Yeti Chu Banawavun, Poz Apuz, three rural plays and Kani Shechey, Mantini Legi Panzoo and other plays in Kashmiri folk style. Now Ghulam Rasool Bhagatyar has brought out his collection of folk plays, "Civil Kina Sarkari' in 1996.

Moti Lal Kemu started writing plays at an advanced age first in Hindi and later on in Kashmiri. He has so far brought out 8 collections of plays, out of which Trunove, Tshai, Lal Bo Drayas Lol Re, Natak Truche and Tota Te Aina have won him awards. His Dakh Yeli Tsalan after being translated into Hindi was produced by the National School of Drama Repertory Company entitled 'Bhand Duhayee' and its 34 shows have been presented till date at Delhi, Bhopal, Calcutta and other cities.

Ghulam Rasool Santosh (late), a poet and playwright was also first writing for the Radio and thereafter adapted his plays for Stage. His Akanandun, But Ta Buldozer were staged.

Shri Radha Krishen Braroo has written two Kashmiri plays in Folk Style, Yahoo and Reshivar--

Shri Ashok Kak has recently brought out his collection of plays Sath Sodur and he is some times seen to get them enacted.

During the last century there were vividly four trends, in Kashmiri play-wrighting musical operas like Bombur Yamberzal and Vitasta, Folk style plays like Manzil Niku, Haram Khanuk Aina, Mangai, Mantini Legi Panzoo etc, experimental like But Ta Buldozer, Lal Bo Drayas Lol Re, Natuk Kariva Band, Chare-Pathar, Comic-humorous with social content like Chapath, Grand Rehearsal, Kane Shaicha Ropyee Rood etc.

The militancy in 1989 gave a final blow to all this activity. Tagore Hall was damaged with grenades and bombs. Best of the playwrights, actors, theatrists were part of the exodus of 1990 and got scattered in the country.

During its journey of 70 years Kashmiri playwrighting attained its high and low standard and some of the plays were translated into Hindi as well. So far about 25 books of Kashmiri plays, (3 one act collections included) are published in Kashmiri. Unfortunately, during the last century all the stageable plays were not published and preserved with loyalty perhaps because neither there is book purchasing public around nor regular theatre activity. so in view, after all a play is to be enacted on stage for people. A playwright has to tred a long distance to attract and inspire the actors to choose his play for production so that the audiences share aesthetic experience.

Kashmiri is a spoken language since 8/9th century and has its literary masterpieces too. Even after 54 years of independence Kashmiri language is neither a medium of instruction in Kashmir nor taught as a subject in schools though it has been recognised by the Constitution of India and is placed sixth in the 8th schedule. All the dailies in Kashmir are published in Urdu and English and none in Kashmiri. The State Academy runs two Institutes of Music and Fine Arts, one each at Jammu and Srinagar but has no plans to teach Dramatics.

Kashmir is facing a proxy war and attempts are being made to destroy the very Kashmiri ethos. When there are no actors, no theatre groups and readers, for whom should a playwright write' When government is not interested in running a Theatre Arts Institute and preserve and promote the traditional Bhand Pathar, how much time it will take to get extinct' When the Media programmes are attacking the very roots of rural and traditional cutlure, can our folk culture and theatre survive' Yes mediocre writing for TV and Radio will attract the writers as long as money is readily available for writing. But writing for theatre will be a talk of the past.

Reproduced from:
Kashmir Sentinel,
Panun Kashmir


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