Musing on the Music of Gilgit-Baltistan

Aziz Ali Dad

Despite sharing common geographical and natural environ, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan has produced amazing cultural diversity in terms of folklore, music, languages, dialects, rituals and festivals. Behind heterogeneity in various spheres of life, the impetus behind the poetics of culture remains same. Like other domains of society, the music of Gilgit-Baltistan is intimately linked with its culture, history and geography.

Since the history and folklore of the region is totally oral, its cultural expression and creative media are also intertwined with the dynamics typical of an oral culture. Traditionally, the music in different valleys of the region was associated with a special event that subsequently became primordial foundation for the establishment of rituals/festivals and creation of musical tunes respectively.  For instance, every musical tune in Gilgit-Baltistan is associated with a heroic deed of a forefather or a crucial event in the collective life of society.

In the days of yore, when a person perform feat of daring in a war, he used to receive heroic reception in the village with special songs sung by the bard. Latter the verses of poem were converted into musical tunes, which in their turn became identity of a particular tribe or family. On special days, such as marriage, royal court, festival and public gathering, the members of his tribe would exclusively dance to the tune of music that sings about the exploits of their ancestors. In this way the festival and music become a medium and occasion to keep the primordial spirit of the tribe alive and assert their authenticity. Therefore, the music of Gilgit-Baltistan can be seen as a cultural product that was organically linked with the life world of the society.

However, it is wrong to assume that the sources remained static. Although, the climatic conditions and geography were inhospitable and harsh, the region remains an important conduit to cross cultural interaction. This is evident from the rock carvings scattered in different places of Gilgit-Baltistan. The musical instrument of Rubab, Daf and Jigini were introduced into the region from Central Asia. With the advent of the British Empire, the local people joined army and got opportunity to travel other parts of the world. They also brought in some tunes from the regions they travelled. As a result, the repository and repertoire of indigenous music expanded over the time.

The indigenous music is a product of long interface of people with the geography, history, folklore, festivals and rituals. The most prominent local musical instruments are musical instruments includedSuranai, Tarui, Dadang, Gabi and Damal. There is a hierarchy in the poetics of poetry, music and dance as poetry was triggered by an important event. The poetry was translated into music, which has determined the contours of the dance of a particular tribe.

Other than serving the social set up, the music of Gilgit-Baltisan is also integral to other fields of life. For instance, the festival of Thumushacling celebrates death of the Cannibal King of Gilgit – Shri Badat. According to oral accounts Shri Badat’s life secret was in his heart, which of made of butter. He was killed by putting him in a trap with fire. Now people reenact this event by making bonfire and playing special music.

The famous types of musical tunes in Gilgit-Baltistan are Dhani, Bazmi, Tajwar, Alghani, Saus, Lolo, Tambal, Bulla, Razm, Yudaani and Danyal/Bitan. Each of these tunes is associated with a special occasion. On the other hand, they also provide cue to eras when shamanism and magic was widely believed and practiced in the region. During the initiation ceremony or in ecstatic state, the shaman is said to interact with fairies and sings a melodious ballad. The music played at that time is produced extempore by following rhythm in shamanic songs. Similarly, Yudaani is the music of battle field, but it is played in reverse order to cast magical spell on the enemy and invigorate fellow soldiers with frenzy typical of wild animal.

Polo is the most prominent representation of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is famous all over the world for its free style. In the past polo was played between kings of different princely states in Gilgit-Baltistan. It was a special occasion for all and sundry to congregate in one place regardless of class, creed, region and language. The music played in polo match is called Bulla (polo), which is a mixture of different musical tunes. Bulla music encompasses not only players but also horses. The horses are trained on special tunes for months before the start of polo festival. Through different musical tunes the horses are trained to adjust according to the situation of match.

Seen in this way the festivals and music of Gilgit-Baltistan provide deep insights into the social milieu and cultural ethos of the region. Until the abolishment of princely states of Gilgit-Baltistan in 1974, the music enjoyed support of local rulers. With the exposure of region to exogenous market forces and modernity, the structure of society and lifestyle has undergone drastic changes. With changed times, music did not find any patronage. However, youth of the region are experimenting with local music to keep pace with the changing patterns of culture and lifestyle of the society.

Mohammed Rahim Khan, an ethno-musicologist of Gilgit, has compiled notes of the musical tunes of Gilgit-Baltistan. He thinks ‘experimenting with local music is indispensible to keep the indigenous music alive, for it allows us to expand the horizons of music on the one hand, and help us to cater to the demands of changed times.” Only by keeping the music in harmony with emerging demands, needs and techniques, the music of Gilgit-Baltistan can keep its identity in the world where tide of globalization is casting myriad cultures into monolithic mould.

The writer is a social scientist hailing from Gilgit. azizalidad@hotmail.com

Source: Weekly Pulse March 18-24, 201


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One Response to Musing on the Music of Gilgit-Baltistan

  1. Pingback: Musing on the Music of Gilgit-Baltistan | Tea Break

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