Poetry and music have a special place in the lives of Kashmiris. It is seen that they are mostly silent and would hardly share their feelings directly. However, in the form of poetry, their feelings have reached and touched several hearts. Whether it is the pain or dark side of their everyday life or describing the beauty of the snow-capped mountains, poetry acts a strong medium in transmitting emotions.
One of the popular forms of expression is “Ladi shah” (street performance) which is an ancient form of Kashmiri music and is now facing extinction. It is a form of poetry comprises The word ‘Ladi shah’ originated from ‘Ladi’ which means a row or line and ‘Shah’ has been added with the passage of time with the coming of Muslim rulers.
A man performing Ladi shah
The invasion of certain rulers to India took the advantage of exchanging cultures and trade as well. The origin of Ladishahs shares the same story. Back 14th century when Mongol warlord, Dulucha invaded Kashmir he brought Muslim traditions along. It was then that the satirical style of singing and addressing social and political issues came into existence. They became popular as they used to move from door to door performing especially during the harvesting season, on special occasions like Eid, religious festivals, and marriages. During the month of Ramzaan, they would hail those who had observed fast and criticize those who had not observed the fast.
The Nomadic life: The performers of Ladishahs led a nomadic life. They used to perform in the streets and also educate people about the current situation of that particular society. They used to walk home from home, street after street across cities and villages in lieu of eatables like rice, vegetables, and cash. They follow a nomadic or a gypsy life.
The Style: The Ladishahs followed a unique style, cladded themselves in a pheran, white trousers and a white turban; they used to carry a hanging bag on their shoulder with a musical instrument in their hand. The musical instrument is an iron tong with small rings attached to it.
The Music: Ladishahs had a rhythm of their own, their lyrics loaded with sarcasm and provide humorous entertainment. They were the best storytellers which can be helpful in learning history too. Ladishahs were composed on the spot according to the situation. The compositions can be on the problems faced by the villagers, cultural, social or political. The songs were influenced by the contemporary issues which included lots of musical improvisation with a total package of humor and fun.
Ladishah played an important part in Kashmiri culture with hundreds of years of history but today it is only confined to radio and television. Ladishah were the real communicators for conveying messages blended with humor and satire.
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