Musings from Tawi Festival

Col J P Singh
In a welcome addition to the cultural calendar of Jammu, 2nd Tawi Festival was held in Amar Mahal Jammu from 1ST to 3rd March 2024 under the aegis of Dr. Jyotsana Singh of the Dogra Dynasty that ruled the State for over a century. It presented a mosaic of cultural history of the region with projection of promoters of the heritage. Events included music, dance, paintings, debates, panel discussions, documentary films and seminars. Understandably the focus was on the Suryaputri – the Tawi – but the festival also focused on the personalities, artists and institutions who are associated with it and this added to the elan of the festival.
Festival was inaugurated by Dr. Karan Singh on 1st March. On the first day of the festival, he gave a spellbound overview of the event and its historic connect with Amar Mahal and Suryaputri showing the august audience the things we don’t see and telling the things we don’t hear. Emphasizing the need to know our immediate environment and history, he lamented, “in the present age people rarely know history of their home town but they have all the details of America”. To the audience, Dr. Karan Singh was at his best in expressions, oratory and charm. Reference was also made to the possession of over 20,000 rare books in the Library and priceless ‘Nala-Damayanti and Pahadi Paintings’ in Darbar Hall. One of significant revelation related to the paintings was that they were presented to him in a Potli (bundle) by the Temple Priest when he visited Basohli as Sadar-e-Riyasat. The generous Pujari told him that the contents belong to the Palace and not the temple! Respecting his wish Dr Karan Singh had them appropriately displayed in darbar hall of the Amar Mahal Museum and Library. As such the hall suitably qualifies as an attractive ambiance for the cultural and musical events.
Other noteworthy musings of the festival were documentaries on the Rivers, Avian and Agrarian content of our heritage and the dangers emanating from pollution/solid waste. Mention was made that only one species of migratory Cranes ie ‘Black Neck Cranes’ visit the Pangong Tso and none else. Since this author had a brush with a big Black Crane of white neck at Finger 4 in July 1971, I refuted the claim. Luckily I was vindicated the next day by Pankaj Chandan who has been working on the Cranes for last 25 years. As the day moved ahead a serious concern was put forth by Sh. Kirpal Singh revealing that neglect of heritage weakens our identity and sense of belonging, hence it must be held firmly. Qualifying the glory of Chenab, Kirpal Singh sang, ‘Balen Balen bag han Chena de pania, aj kar chhoti auna sade dil jania …………’. Exhibition on Pahari paintings of master painter Sohan Singh Billawaria’s students and legendary Suman Gupta drew public admiration. The first day concluded with the audience mesmerised by the enthralling Gazals by Jatinder Singh.
Next day began with talk on ‘Tawi Now and Then’ by Prof Suman Jamwal and her students from the History Department of JU. Thereafter, INTACH Jammu Chapter took the initiative of popularising the traditional Mata Vaishno Devi route by Arvind Wazir, Director INTACH. It was amazing to see the remarkable work done in preserving the ancient route and the Temples, Baolis (water sources) and Sarais on the way for facilitating the spiritual journey to the Cave. My generations has trod and stumbled upon this hazardous route and enjoyed every step of the pilgrimage. Fortunately, increasing footfall of pilgrims is reviving it again.
The post lunch session began with Harbans Singh Sambyal, author of a three volume History of Modern Jammu and Kashmir, holding an absorbing conversation with Dr Karan Singh, and bringing the various facets of Doctor Sahib as an author. It came as a surprise to know that his writing passion had blossomed no sooner had he stepped out of his teens! In a freewheeling conversation, Dr. Karan Singh spoke in considerable detail about his political and spiritual journey. His exposition of Lord Shiva was indeed illuminating and enlightening.
The audience remained spellbound, and many became nostalgic as Dr Singh recounted the events of his life from birth to entry into public life at the tender age of 18. When India was transforming itself on its path of independence, he was born in Paris. As he turned six, he was detached from parents, allowed to meet mother only thrice a week for one hour each day. At the age of 11 he was sent to Doon School which was a public school, not a princely school like Mayo. Following Pakistan invasion of the state, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’ making JandK part of independent India. As a result of contestation with Sheikh Abdullah and hoping success in plebiscite, Maharaja Hari Singh was exiled to Bombay in 1949 by virtue of which Yuvraj was catapulted into political turmoil of the state as Regent/Sadar-e-Riyasat, to be the youngest head of the state after independence. That makes him the only person from the Nehruvian era to have worked closely with all the prime ministers of India including Mr Modi. His political ascent didn’t come in his way of evolving intellectually. His keen interest in political philosophy enabled him taking critical decisions of state policy at the young age most confidently. Having been Sadar-e-Riyasat and Governor of his own state and subsequently Union Minister and Ambassador in USA besides having travelled to every nook and corner of the world, in many ways he was considered as the best President India never had. 75 years on, he is a living history of Indian culture. Now as icon of great Indian civilisation and refinement, Jammu is privileged to have his academic and spiritual discourses from time to time.
An equally absorbing talk followed when Mrs. Rashna Gandhy gave an insightful interpretation of the myths and dreams in general but of Dr. Karan Singh in particular. It appears that Dr Karan Singh is one of those blessed souls who remembers his dreams even after waking up. Of particular interest to the audience was the dream in which Goddess Kali appears but intriguingly the prasad is offered by Dr Karan Singh to the Devi instead of the other way.
This was followed by an important discussion initiated by Lalit Gupta on the prospects of Dogri and Gojri languages with Prof Lalit Magotra and Javed Rahi. It was encouraging to see that both mother tongues are getting their due in academia. Despite the lashing by a hailstorm, day two concluded on a high note with a musical performance by the renowned singer Seema Sehgal and a Dance and Song mosaic by Natrang Group.
Day three commenced with clear skies and a heritage walk to Mubarak Mandi. A Mela was organized on the sprawling lawns of Amar Mahal where local songs/dances greeted visitors. Various stalls were established enabling public to familiarize with local talent, entrepreneurship and cuisine. The stalls by Mahila Umang Society of Ranikhet was a surprise entry. Stalls by Samba Sakhis, Sumedha and Priya and one by INTACH were visited largely. Jyoti Gupta’s stall attracted many like me to have a firsthand crush with pottery. Delicious cuisine of Rice-Rajmah, Babro-Mandra, Puri-Sabji, Gajjar Halwa, Gulab Jamun, Chae Coffee of rural ladies kitchen was amazing.
Dr. Karan Singh was there in the festival enjoying every moment and happily obliging people with photographs/selfies. To keep the memories alive for posterity, Dr Jyotsna has made a documentary on the life of Dr. Karan Singh. It was screened in the Darbar hall to mark the end of Tawi Mela in Amar Mahal, thanks to Dr. Jyotsana Singh, the presenter of Tawi Festival. She needs no introduction in her own home place.