Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tamasha comes to Kashmir

In this extract from 'Vignettes of Kashmir' by E. G. Hull (1903), one can read about how Kashmir was introduced to Magic Lantern, one of the first image projectors invented, named Tamasha or spectacle by locals, and we can see how this magic of images was used in missionary work. On set of magic beliefs trying to replace another set of magic beliefs.


A village in the Valley

'THERE are men and women feeling after God in Kashmir, as in every land, and it is worth more than a day's journey to light on one of these.
The lady doctor with her medicine chest, and I with a magic lantern, had started for a tour in the villages one bright spring day.
After pitching our tents and taking a hurried meal, my companion spread her medicines on a little table, and was soon surrounded by a modern Pool of Bethesda crowd, whom the news of the arrival of a lady doctor had brought together, while I set out to visit in the neighbouring town. 
The first house I went to was that of the Chowdry, a state official. I was shown into the sitting-room, where he sat upon a kind of dais, with another man, whom I afterwards found to be the family priest. Both men sat facing a recess in the wall, the interior of which I could not then see, but which I afterwards discovered contained the hideous household god. 
The Chowdry received me kindly, and a rug was spread for me on a low table, disconnected with the dais, on which of course, as a Christian, I could not be allowed to sit. I was soon joined by the two women of the household, the Chowdry's mother and wife.
Finding, from my conversation, that I was a Christian teacher, the Chowdry expressed great pleasure at my coming. He seemed an earnest man, with but little belief in his own religion, yet not content, like so many Indians, with being without any religion at all ; and he said eagerly : " God has shown you English people the way ; come and show me the way, for I can nowhere find it." I was amazed at his frankness, especi- ally before his priest, but perhaps the priest himself, like others I have mentioned, was seeking "the way." My heart yearns over the priests, for I have a strong idea that many would gladly relinquish their idol worship, were it not that " by this craft " they get their living. 
I spent some time in endeavouring to set forth " the Way, the Truth and the Life " to this little household, all, including the priest, giving me an attentive hearing. It was but one of many conversations I had  with the Chowdry, who made a slight deafness in one of his ears the excuse for a daily visit to our tent. 
Having brought with us our magic lantern, we were afterwards able to exhibit to a large audience in his house, including more than one Hindu priest, a fairly complete representation of the principal events of our Lord's life. It seemed like a revelation to them. The women especially, sitting in front, gazed long, with folded hands and heads bowed in reverence, at a beautiful picture of the Babe of Bethlehem, saying afterwards to me with much emotion : " Truly it seemed as though God had Himself descended into our house to-day ! " 

The Tamasha

 The Tamasha, or spectacle, as people called our  lantern, gained for us an audience everywhere, besides that of the sick and suffering women, who gathered round the lady doctor for treatment.
In one village, the chowkidar, or policeman, was very helpful in many ways, and of his own accord he sounded a gong for the women to leave their various avocations to come and see. 
A large upper room, used in winter for storing provisions, but so far empty, with no aperture through which the light could come but the door and a window with a wooden shutter, enabled us to show our lantern in the daytime, and so secure a much better audience than we should in the evening, as Kashmiris do not like going out at night ; they have a strong belief that not only the pestilence, but other mysterious things too, "walk in darkness." The long, low room was densely packed from end to end, and as there was no possible means of ventilation without letting in the light, it was well we had no time to think of the atmosphere ! 
The audience was entirely composed of Muhammadans, and the darkness gave some of them courage to ask very intelligent questions. It was a solemn moment, and an awed silence fell on all as a picture of the Crucifixion was thrown on the sheet. It was the one known as " The Marble Cross," in which the dying Saviour is alone represented. We did not break the silence by any explanations, but allowed them for a moment to sit still in the presence of the Crucified One. But awe grew into something like enthusiasm as we passed from Death to Resurrection and Ascension. One could hardly have believed it to be a Muhammadan audience. " There will be one more picture," I said, " but we cannot show it as yet." I was referring to the Coming in Glory, but, ere I could explain my meaning, I was interrupted by a young man, who from the first manifested very great interest. He now sprang to his feet, exclaiming: " We must see it now, we must see all." When he allowed me to resume what I was saying, I told them that we could not show them that picture, but that God would, because it was written: " Behold, He Cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him." Yet even this promise scarcely satisfied them that we had not the picture of that awful Advent somewhere concealed. Our lantern has told its story to many a strange audience. We have shown it to the sister of the Amir of Kabul and her household, to a Dogra official of high standing and his household, and to the family and servants of one of the Kashmiri rais or nobility, as well as to the poor sick ones in the dispensary, so that eye as well as ear may drink in the message of salvation. 

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 I am using the above given extract as a postscript to a story shared by my Uncle Roshan Lal Das. On the surface it tells of the comic coming of Lantern to Kashmir. The story could have been a skit performed by Bhands of Kashmir. It could be the remnant of the above given story.


LALTEN SAHAB

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Long ago, a news spread in our ancestral village Harmain that one Lalten Sahib had arrived in Kashmir. Lalten Sahib was described as a beast with a fiery belly burning with hell fire. The affects of this news would be felt all over the valley. The news were spreading fast. The people in Harmain heard that Lalten Sahib had reached Srinagar and was now moving towards Shopian. They heard that he would soon their village too and bring the the fires of hell upon them.

So one dark evening all the villagers assembled under a walnut tree. The village's head 'Moulvi' started addressing them, encouraging and consoling them alternatively. He said "My dear village brothers, we know, Lalten, the scourge of God has reached shopian and any time he can descend in Harmian.' 

Silencing a flutter of exclamation sighs from a listless and restless crowd, in a pitch higher he added, 'However we should have faith in Allah, who will help us destroy Lalten. He will help us overcomie this hour of museebat. However, we should prepare ourselves for a fight.  Everyone should arm. Carry an axe,shovel, spade or even a sickle.'

Dusk turned to night and the Moulvi carried on his sermons. When it seemed he would carry on well into the morning, suddenly he stopped in the middle of a sentence about how men had brought on this curse upon themselves by their violations against God's word, he became tongue tied, he face froze in fear, it seemed like the meaning of his own words had dawned upon him, like he was contemplating on his life of misdemeanors, like he was about to tells the truth now, but when he finally spoke, the only words that came out just before he passed off, were: 'Run for your life, Lalten is here'. The peasants scrammed here and there and finally nestled inside the mosque whose doors were now tightly bolted. One of the faithfuls had carried the Moulvi on his shoulders and into the mosque. The shivering peasants sat praying loudly, their backs swaying back and forth. Some of them wailed and occasionally asked Allah aloud as to why they were being punished for no fault of theirs. The moulvi regained consciousness. All of them asked him in one voice, 'Moulvi Sahib, Moulvi Sahib,What did you see Moulvi Sahib?'

Having regained his senses, his fear of hell fire partly dowsed by a tumbler of water that was splashed on his face, the survivor replied:

'Don't' ask my beloved brothers and sisters. Don't ask. I can still see its fire. It was the devil himself. One of the darkest figures I have ever seen. Just behind you, it was moving in from the bushes. A fire of hellish hue was emanating from its belly. Only a miracle can now save us from Lalten. Pray my dear brothers. Pray. It may well be our Judgement day.' With this everyone around him began crying.
Hours ago, the news of a potentially dangerous gathering in Harmain had reached the local Naib-Tehsildar stationed in a nearby village. Armed with his the newly acquired official Lalten, the Lantern, or Hurricane lamp or Angrez log, he had rushed with his assistants towards Harmian. Arriving in the village from a clearing in the fields, they were greeted by commotions and pandemonium bought on  something that they failed to fathom. 

When they finally convinced the villagers to unbolt the door of the mosque and to let them in, the officer and his men were flabbergasted to see the wailing peasants. Something terrible must have happened, they thought. But when they were bombarded with queries about Lalten Sahib, the visiting party had a hearty laugh. In the darkness, the Moulvi had mistaken the lantern in Tehsildar's hand for the fire emanating from devil's belly. The proud owners of the Lalten Sahib went on to show a practical demonstration of how to control the fire in the devil's belly. The peasants finally understood the working of Laten Sahib and laughed sheepishly over their own stupidity.

The valley of Kashmir was not electrified till 1930s. Until then People used torches (mashaal).The wooden staff with cloth was laced with natural volatile oils. The city folks used earthen lamps. Kerosene lamps were used by richer families and foreign tourists.

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