Bakkal A living museum of traditional

Balwant Thakur

Situated in the back hills of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, this village Bakkal of District Reasi (J&K) offers immense variety of living traditional performing arts of region. Nowhere in the entire Duggar region one can find this kind of passion people have got to preserve, conserve and promote their valuable cultural belongings.
Credit goes to Late Hari Saran Thakur- Nambardar of the village who realizing the value and importance of these amazing traditional arts patronised the groups of traditional performances for over Fifty years by offering them food, shelter, regular training opportunity and appropriate honorarium from his personal resources. In those days it uses to take a day long tough on foot journey climbing three hills from Reasi town to reach Bakkal. In the year 1969 Nambardar Hari Saran Thakur  surprised the entire community of artists and performers of the state by representing the J&K in the National Folk Dance Festival held in New Delhi in connection with the Republic Day Celebrations-1969 and received standing ovation of then President of India Zakir Hussain and Prime Minister of India Mrs Indra Gandhi and brought top honours. Till date, the legacy is still carried by his son Krishan Singh Nambardar without any official patronage. He through his selfless efforts runs classes for younger generations who are learning these great traditions and keeping those ultimate cultural symbols intact for posterity. Amazingly the village folk still practice and perform mind-blowing traditional performing art traditions like ‘Kud’, ‘Masaade’, ‘Bhakhan’, ‘Shinjan’, ‘Soian’, ‘Geetru’, ‘Goria’, ‘Jagarna’, ‘Chann’, ‘Chand’, ‘Dafle’, and many more. Some of the amazingly out of the world performing traditions which this village Bakkal has kept alive are:-
Primarily performed by men-folk this ritualistic Dogri dance is performed in Bakkal village to please the local deities particularly famous local deity ‘Dhol Devta’. People have a belief that during village celebrations ‘Yataar’ and other rituals which are organized in the honor of local deities, whole men-folk perform ‘Kud’ and missing the same may annoy the local deity which no one can afford to do. For centuries this wonderful tradition of dance survived in the same fashion and later it begin to be performed  in other festivities like marriages, child birth, crop cutting and community celebrations etc.
‘Masade’ is one of the most ethnic and rarest narrative singing style of village Bakkal and only few traditional families known as ‘Bhagats’ practice this great art. Presented by two to three singers with the accompaniment of yet two unique instruments like ‘Sarang’ (String) and ‘Tuppa’ (Rhythm), this singing tradition is not found anywhere in the world. Usually these narrative singers sing the mythological themes and have a rich repository of oral history of folk deities
This out of the world singing style has many rare and unique features. Sung without the accompaniment of any musical instrument in a chorus style by a group of ten to fifteen singers. The most noteworthy feature of the form is that all the singers use different musical notes in there singing. To avoid following each other they shut their ears by putting their fingers inside them. For musicologists, researchers, and scholars, this unique singing tradition which is found only in Bakkal and entire Trikuta Hills is a matter of great research, articulation and further findings/exploration. Primarily a narrative, the most of the texts sung by them glorify the natural beauty of the hills, family histories of prominent people and the cultural lifestyle of its inhabitants. Without any instrument and any other technical backup they create an out of the world musical harmony and have all the potential to be a global attraction.
Performed by women folk in the Trikuta Hills, Jagarna has a wonderful traditional background which used to be performed exclusively by and for women only. In these hills during the marriage celebrations when all the male members of the village used to join the groom in ‘Barat’, the village used to be left alone with women-folk only. Scared for being alone all the women-folk used to gather at groom’s place and had to be awake for the whole night. Such a situation gave birth to a very powerful performing tradition which has the rich elements of music, dance and theatre a well. This performance which continues for the whole night is known as ‘Jagarna’. There has been a belief that any lady missing and avoiding to perform in the Jagarna used to be taken as annoyed with the groom. By and large the whole women-folk use to participate and perform in Jagarna.
‘Geetru’ is a song-dance form in which the lead singer also performs some dance steps and at times also uses the theatrical tactics as well. Performed by a group of six to seven artists in which lead performer is followed by the others as chorus with the accompaniment of a ‘Dholk’, ‘Channa’ and a ‘Chimta’. In usual practice this is performed for hours together and effectively holds the interest of the audience. This is one of the most effective narrative tradition of the village as the combined spectacular elements of music, dance and drama are used to communicate with the audiences.
This narrative singing tradition is over one thousand years old and there has been an era when the practioners of this great narrative tradition used to be custodians of the entire political history, cultural repository and wisdom of the times.
Village Bakkal’s amazing practioners of great performing traditions despite having lived through sadistic approach of official patronage and encouragement still have mustered the courage to preserve the age-old legacy of our living traditions which are the testimony of our glorious cultural legacy. These custodians of our culture have preserved our entire folklore in the form of varied art practices and cultural expressions. My salute to this village which is indeed a living museum of performing art traditions.