A Devout of Kud Dance

Khem Raj

Rashtrapati Award winner Khem Raj was born in a small mountain village at Panjar (Bhomag), tehsil Moungri; district Udhampur on 10th February, 1952. He got his early education at a local government primary school. But due to severe poverty and domestic problems, he couldn’t continue his education further and left after the primary stage. He got busy in household chores with his family. During his early age, the culture of folk dances and songs was very famous in Bhomag. After getting free from farming, pasturing and other household activities people used to spend their time in folk songs and dances as a source of recreation. For such activities, they conducted Melas (fairs), Jatras (celebrations with songs and Kud dance by the community during the night). In dance, Kud was a very famous dance and in singing, Pakhan (Dogri folk songs). Those who were very renowned and popular in these two were invited by the particular community or group of people to celebrate special occasions. His father Mir Chand was also one of the great admirers of traditional Dogra art and culture. He was also a great Kud dancer who used to participate in big occasions and celebrations which took place in different parts of the Bhomag and in various parts of district Udhampur. Khem Raj also started performing on a local level when he was in his teenage and by the age of twenty he had learned all the steps that one needed to become the proficient Kud Dancer. In his late forties, he made his own Kud Dancing team which later became popular by the name “Khem Raj Kud Party”. It was the time of the late nineties when this Kud Dance was losing its popularity with the advent of new technologies, the internet, and other entertainment sources. The interests of people were changing and shifting towards modern entertainment sources. It was the period of transition in everything i.e. traditionalism to modernism. But Khem Raj didn’t lose the nerve and kept working tirelessly to make the traditional dance more popular on a national level.
In the year 1999, it was the first time that he performed on a big stage with his team in Mansar Mela, which was one of the most popular Melas (fairs) of Jammu and Kashmir. Here, he was appreciated by the people and he got motivation from here to work on much bigger platforms and stages. In the year 2001, he was called to perform in Jammu on the event “Depicting the Culture of the Jammu Region.” And then he started performing in all cultural programs every year organized by Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy, and gradually he became popular. And slowly but surely he was able to make this Kud dance popular at a national level. He became one of the most popular personalities of the time who were working and giving their contribution to promoting Jammu and Kashmir culture and art. In 2009, he participated on the occasion of Republic Day in New Delhi. In 2012 he was called by the Cultural Academy of Uttrakhand at Pithodgarh to represent the traditional culture of India. In that cultural program, he represented Indian Culture, where he shared the stage with the artists of America, Germany, Belarus, and many other countries. In the same year, he was invited by Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur to give his performance. In 2013 he was invited by the IIT Kharagpur to perform his dance on the occasion of “Sanskruti Performance Spring Fest” (Spring Fest IIT Kharagpur). In 2013 he represented the Dogra culture and performed Kud dance in Maharashtra on Silver Jubilee Closing Ceremony at Nagpur. In 2014, he was awarded by the National School of Drama New Delhi for his outstanding contribution to the traditional folk dance of Jammu and Kashmir. In 2015 he was also invited to participate in the Regional Saras Fair, Bathinda which was organized by the District Rural Development Punjab. He also participated in “Akhil Bhartiya Lok Kala Mahotsav” organized by the Ministry of Culture Government of India on 15- 30 March 2019. Besides, he has been invited on various occasions by various government and private cultural academies of India in various states for teaching and training the young children including CCRT New Delhi and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Chandigarh in Kud Dance.
He is the one who brought laurels for the Dogra culture of Jammu and Kashmir. For his long years of service and promoting the Kud dance on a national level by performing in many parts of the country, he was honoured with Rashtrapati Award in 2015. The award is given by the Government of India for the achievements in various fields like literature, sports, cinema, art, culture, etc.
It is a great misfortune for the Dogra culture that this beautiful traditional Kud Dance is gradually fading away. Now, it is not performed on every occasion and only in some areas it is preformed during nights. It has been limited to very rare occasions. It is only preformed in some cultural programs organized in villages like Mela or Jatra in villages during day times. The more alarming thing is that the young generation doesn’t show much interest in this attention-grabbing traditional folk dance.