Ladishah, the art of embedded satire in songs pleasing the kashmiri ear since eighteenth century now faces extinction. The peculiar rhythm coupled with situational sarcastic lyrics can still be remembered by many.
Dressed in a pheran, white trousers and a white turban, Ladishah would arrive with his musical instrument and play the melodious musical notes and sing satire. Ladishah, the author himself communicates a particular message about the cultural, social and political vandalism. There are no metaphors in Ladishah, it is in the simple local language.
Ladishah is a type of folk literary genre. It is written and narrated by the same person unlike other folk genres which are collective works of various people. Ladishah sang against the atrocities of the rulers to show his resentment. Ladishah was the classical character of Kashmiri literature and a believer of constructive criticism.
Some historians believe Ladishah is not an independent genre but Dr Farooq Fayaz, an associate professor in History department, University of Kashmir and the author of a book ‘Kashmir Folklore’, treats it is an independent genre and says that Ladishah got the name from its creator who was from a village Lari of district Pulwama, South Kashmir. The creator was from this village and from shah dynasty so he was recognized as shah of Lari village so finally this genre got the name of Ladishah.
He says, “It is slightly similar to Shahr Ashoob of Urdu poetic form which is folk ballad caustically comic-cum-satire in text and historically speaking a popular representative to voice people’s genuine grievances which has proved to be a source of mental consolation for the enslaved folk”. He adds, “the originality/ charm of this folk gets lost when it is written so its originality lies in oral form only.”
But Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a noted Kashmiri poet says, “The word ‘Ladishah’ 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. In spite of being uneducated Ladishahs were the best history describers.”
Satire has always been an important part of the social ethos of Kashmir and had emerged as an important genus of folk literature in early and mid-twentieth century. Zareef says, “Although, Ladishah was an important part of Kashmiri culture with hundreds of years of history. Ladishahs were an institution in themselves as they were the real communicators with the mastery of conveying serious messages blended with satire and humor”.
Dr Farooq Fayaz says, “There is no reference of Ladishah in Rajtarangi so it is believed that Ladishah came into existence in late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century. And most probably in late eighteenth century when natural calamities like floods, drought and famines were on rise, which ultimately remained focus for Ladishah rhythms for a long time”.
Dr Farooq believes in Kashmiri culture there were two classes, elites who were religious, political and agricultural elites knowing the religious scriptures and controlling literature and another class of common masses who were sufferers, having perceptions based on their beliefs. From 1585 to 1947, Kashmir was governed by non-local rulers which were a Feudal government, who had no connection with their subjects. Apparatus of power by authority was harshly applied to seek legitimacy, to seek people’s approval for illegitimate political mechanism. So the rulers and natural calamities jointly worsened the condition of Kashmiri people.
Ladishah would sing their poems on various themes like pish- nam’e, buniyl- nam’e (earthquake), sehlab- nam’e (flood), Angrez Qanoon and on special occasions like Eid, religious festivals and marriages.
Haji Ghulam Qadir, 70, a local resident says, “During the month of Ramadhan, they would praise those who had observed fast and criticize those who had not. It used to be sermon mixed with sarcasm and satire”. In addition to them there are also baby songs, cradle songs, mourning songs, shepherds songs, peasant songs, wheel songs and working songs.
The singers were usually people having no land who moved from village to village mainly to perform during the harvesting period and get edibles in return.
Hakeem Habibullah, Munawar Shah of Kulsoo and Lal Lakshman were said to be the recognized masters of this folk form. And most of the poems of Ladishah were documented by Ghulam Mohammad Noor Mohammad Tajrani Kutub, the only booksellers in Kashmir to collect various themes of satire.
The narrator of this kind of song has been defined as a folk historian for his deep commitment to human welfare and social cause. He has a focus on different issues of state and society and collectively repeats the folk history.
Dr. Farooq says, “A careful analysis of these songs of Ladishah is sure to help in understanding the otherwise hidden aspects of Kashmiri social life as we can find names of places, local names, flora and fauna mentioned in different Ladishah which helps in building up local history.” He adds, “History doesn’t revolve only around literate class now, we have the local history in different folklores.”