Art, Culture and Food
by Dr. Ved Kumari
- 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 religious setting.
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 Gandharvas.
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.
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, Prakirtana
is singing in chorus and ghosa is the enchanting of vedic mantras or making
some other loud sound.] in connection with Purana, Stotra and Brahma respectively,
indicates that the mode of singing varied with different types of texts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
prescribed at the time of ripening of grapes, so horticulture, too, seems
to have had some dances to its credit.
of music and dancing in Kasmira
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.
of music and dancing
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.
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.
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 open
gives us an idea of other games and sports also resorted to by the people
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.
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.
prescribes water-sports for the maidens on Sravani festival. An idea of
such sports can be had from the Kamasutra and Harivamsa.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 Pancaratras.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ornaments, we have reference to earrings, bracelets, diadem and jewels.
and other requisites of 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
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
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
both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
'NILAMATA PURANA' by Dr. Ved Kumari