Cultural and craft extravaganza at Ramban

Lalit Gupta
Gone are days the when natives of Ramban celebrated construction during of the first pulley-ropeway connecting twin town of Maitra across the river Chenab by penning down an evocative folk song “Ramban Pul Baneyaa, Baneyaa bich Garaari………….”.
Today, Ramban, headquarter of the newly formed district and its ribbon like picturesque valley transected by mighty Chenab constantly abuzz with tangibles of the new monumental: The edifices, bridges, cluster of government offices, new college and school buildings along with umpteen number of ‘projects’.
The vast reservoir of Baglihar Dam and associated growing urban sprawl at Chandrakot—the markers of new human geography present a total contrast of scales to the humble dwellings that stud the surrounding mountainscape of Ramban.
The mega projects of tunnels, re-alignment and broadening of the national highway NH-44, with attendant specter of recurring slides and their ‘inevitable’ consolidation of the denuded stretches of mountains, petrochemical-smoke-spewing from never-ending serpentine lines of small, heavy and very heavy vehicles ferrying excited tourists, harried technical/skilled labor, and heavy duty machinery; earthmovers, bulldozers, excavator and JCBs to myriad locations in Banihal, Kashmir and Ladakh—the life of locals is in throes of an irreversible phase of modernization!
The ‘new normal’ for citizens of fast-paced Ramban and the rather sedate Maitra is to stand as stoic witnesses to everyday hustle bustle. The pot bellied/healthy officials, smug-looking bureaucrats, swanky police officers, different types of engineers, many-level building works contractors, lean and lanky newly elected BDC, DDC and PRI members; many with upturned moustaches, in starched white apparels, happy faced school children, youthful college students and traditionally dressed rural/tribal folks—all descend at Ramban for one reason or another from nearby hamlets and far off areas such as Banihal, Ramsoo, Khari, Rajgarh, Batote, Gool and Ukhral (Pogal Paristan).
In this continuing staccato of the ziggurat of ‘development and progress ’ the two-day Traditional Cultural and Craft Festival held on May 11-12, 2022, at Ramban came out as a kind of ‘new monumental’ for the locals.
The panoramic location of the impromptu venue—river-side stretch of space reclaimed by flattening the mount of debris dredged from Chenab near ‘Kau Bagh’—The Olive Garden, emerged as a major attraction for the onlookers.
The huge 100 by 60 feet pre-fabricated hanger, 40 by 30 feet stage glittering with shimmering lights, huge speakers and sound system, offered the houseful spectators an unmatched experience of a mega event. Which hitherto they only saw in much watched musical shows of satellite TV Channels.
Representing district Ramban’s multi-cultural heritage along with that of other districts of the UT, the traditional cultural festival showcased the folk arts performances by artists’ groups from Ramban, Ukhral, Paddar, Kishtwar, Bhadrawah, Doda, Sopore, Srinagar, Reasi, Udhampur, Jammu, Kathua, Poonch and Rajouri.
The entertainment bonanza was staged in the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments and orchestra of octopod, synthesizer, guitar and flute. The bouquet of performances included Siraji, Pogali, Padari, Kishtawari, Bhaderwahi, Dogri, Kashmiri, Pahari, and Gojari folk songs and dances. Special attractions were ‘Khah’ folk song from Chambalwas, ‘Khadazath’, Buddhist folk dance, and ‘Ghuri’ dance—all from Paddar, and also Jammu’s Chajja Dance and the Bhaderwahi Kud.
Groups from Kashmir presented folk theatre of Bhand Pather, Dhamali dance, Rouf and folk songs. The audience also enjoyed modern Punjabi songs and the Sufiana qawwalis performed by a group from Sopore. The on-request performances of talented local young boys and girls on the big stage created an immediate connection and set the ‘hanger’ reverberating with lusty cheers of the audiences.
Going by the enthusiastic response of more than 5000 spectators and 5400 YouTube subscribers of the Ramban Festival’s Live Stream, the mega event, which for the first time brought myriad local traditional cultures on one stage, is definitely going to be talked about for a long time.
Organized by the nodal agency; Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages with on-site supervision of Additional Secretary, Sanjeev Rana JKAS, and with active administrative support of Ramban district administration headed by Mussarat Islam, Deputy Commissioner, a gentleman litterateur and culture afficionado—the festival, barring somewhat deficient representation of local craft and cuisine components, will go down as a great and memorable event for locals.
Most important take away was that the mega traditional culture festival succeeded in achieving its mandate of rousing in local stakeholders, especially the youth, a renewed awareness about celebrating and preserving one’s own cultural heritage especially in the marginalized hinterlands of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir such as Ramban.