The dying art of folk music in Ladakh

By Rinchen Angmo Chumikchan LEH, Mar 04, 2017

Ladakh is a land of diverse cultural heritage, and what makes this diversity all the more unique is the rich tradition of folk music in the region. While each region has its own variety of folk music, the forms seem to unite in their essence of being a rustic reflection of a larger society.

Folk music is an integral part of our culture. It is mostly used to celebrate the day-to- day activities and celebrations. Be it births, deaths, weddings, harvests and the like, there is a suitable music for every occasion. Musical instruments are played to express deep-rooted emotions. Festivals in villages are never complete without folk music.

The rich traditional heritage of art and culture in Ladakh has continued to prove their creative magnificence.

We have different songs for different occasions. If somebody lives near the Indus, they will have something related to the lovely river; and those living in the mountains will have their song inspired by the mountains and their surroundings. The people in villages have their own different customs of dancing in a particular style for different occasions.

However, it is of grave concern that this traditional form stands on the brink of extinction. Partially due to the lack of facilities and also owing to the dwindling number of audience for folk music, the instruments of this form are on the verge of disappearance.

We need to throw light on the plight of folk music, silenced by the loud pitch of modern instruments. Due to the lack of support and the pressure of modernity in the region, this invaluable heritage seems to be dying.

Ladakhis have been creating, enjoying, learning and exploring music for ages. Presently the influence of westernisation has sidelined the folk music of Ladakh in terms of instruments, techniques and other aesthetics.

With the passage of time and advent of globalisation, no wonder the art and culture of our region is suffering from erosion. Musical instruments and folk songs are disappearing across the region, revealing a Ladakh unseen by some and never to be experienced by many. With its rich musical repertoire, Ladakh has some of the most indigenous musical instruments in the world but they are now sadly left to suffer the ignominy of extinction and disregard. One such popular instrument, now dying, is ' Piwang' used by the Changthang community to lead their dance called Jab-bro.   ‘Piwang’ is hard to find these days. The instrument is almost not produced anymore and finding a player is also quite a task.

Similarly, instruments like Dimjang, Linyu (flute), Damnyan (string instrument) Pivang, Khakong, (sitar) Daph (Dafli) are also facing the threat of extinction.

The heirloom musical skills of our forefathers like Daman and Surna and other well-known instruments are still passed on, but there are a few instruments which are knowingly or unknowingly losing their existence in the people’s heart.

The dwindling number of music players is also a reason for worry. This could be due to the stigma attached to it. Many do not want to learn this art because they think it belongs to a particular section of the society.

Traditionally, 360 variants of dances existed in the early times, but today only a few are preserved. There has never been an institute for folk music. It has always been something passed on from father to son and sustained by people's interest.

We need to create a perfect fusion of folk and modern instruments readily acceptable to the new generation. This way, folk songs, and instruments will regain their lost glory. 

People, in general, have been ignoring their own culture due to the fascination for globalisation, and hence gradually leading to a constant depletion of diversity.

The unfortunate apathy on the part of our society has been harming folk music and its artistes for a long time. And yet, all is not lost. We still have time to revive the folk music and instruments by including them in the school curriculum. Awareness programme and workshop are the need of the hour. Besides, debates on how and why our folk music is losing its ground should be organised. We need to find a solution sooner than later.