Saturday, July 20, 2013


      ( A sketch of Habba Khatoon by Artist Mohan Raina)                                         

             ( Film Maker Muzaffar Ali . )


It was a dream project conceived by Muzaffar Ali   and supported by Dr Farooq Abdullah the then chief minister of J&K  state .A project based on the life and love of Zooni or Habba Khatoon,  kashmir’s first  Vatsun /Lyric poetess  who attracted the attention of  Yusuf Shah Chak ,the then Chak ruler of Kashmir .
 Muzaffar Ali signed top notch artists for this project for which shooting was actually started in 1989 . Dimple Kapadia and Vinod Khanna were signed  to play lead roles . Mary Mcfadden , the noted dress designer from Hollywood was engaged for designing the dresses . Music director Khayyam ably assisted by Mohan lal Aima were to score the music . Shaharyaar was brought in  to write lyrics . Some reels were shot at various locations in Kashmir but the onset of armed  militancy made Muzaffar Ali pack up from kashmir . Other factors also took a sharp and unfavorable turn  and  Dr Farooq Abdullah’s government was no more  around to come to his rescue   . Zooni was shelved and forgotten . Heartbroken  Muzaffar Ali left Kashmir in a hurry abandoning the project  .

Muzaffar Ali is still hopeful of restarting the project after 30 years . Can he do it ? The artists associated with the project  have grown old  .The  present cost of the project may not enthuse his confidence .Further he has yet to settle the mounting liabilities that are still outstanding against him with  some  banks  on account of  the venture aborted in 1989.Nobody in the establishment is sympathetic to the man or to his  project.


There is no authentic ,dependable and reliable information available anywhere on the life of Habba Khatoon ( Reliably 1553-1605 AD ). Whatsoever has come to us is based on legends or interpreted from her poetic work. This is also a fact that that her name was first mentioned by Abdul Wahab Shayak. Later in 19th centaury Pandit Birbal Kachroo and Mohd Din Fauq presented some details about her life but how they arrived at these details after more than 300 years is not known. No serious research has been done on her background and life till date .According to Kachroo and Fauq , her name was Zooni ( Moon ) and later she came to be known as Habba Khatoon when she came in close  contact of king  Yusuf shah Chak of Kashmir . Chaks belonged to Shia faith and were Darads. Darads are various groups of mountain tribesmen who inhabit a region between Badakhshan, northern Pakistan and Kashmir .  In  J&K state, Darads live in and around Gurez and Kargil areas .Their language is Shina . Historically, Gurez was part of ancient Dardistan, stretching from Sharada Peeth in the west, Minimarg in the north, Drass in  east, and Baghtor in the south.

Fauq is also of the opinion that Habba Khatoon  was in touch with some Sufi saints of her time and according to him a Sufi saint Khwaja Masood named her as Habba Khatoon. This appears to be somewhat reliable in case below mentioned lines attributed to her by people were actually composed by her :-

"Maalienn Myaani Arbaab Aasee
Tawaai Draam Habba Khaatoon Naav."

Whatever be the fact,  some write ups present her as a young maid from Chandrahaar village near Pampore who is fond of music and singing and who is fed up with a sad life that her husband Aziz lone (an illiterate peasant ) and his parents force her to lead. The legend presents them as cruel in laws . This is a period when she wrote her songs of pain and despair ( Vaarivein saaet Vaar Chhum No Tchaar karoo Myon Maalienya ho ). The second stage of her life is her contact with Yusuf shah Chak and she composed and sang happy love songs , songs of flowers ( Ba Chhuss karaan Kosamun Kraav ) and her ever popular song “ Me Haa karrie  Tchei  kyiet  poshe daswanaai, Chhaav Myaan Danai posh “meaning “I  have done up myself with flowers for you, relish the beauty of the flowers oh my love" .This is followed by her separation from Yusuf Shah Chak when she shifted to songs of yearning and desire to meet her love once again. This is the period when she composed song of separation from her love ( Valo Myaani Poshe Madano or Shoga laagithh  Bool-namaai Rogi Rogi Goam Gummaai ) .
The arrival of Mughals in  Kashmir ( 1582 AD ) brought the fall of the Chak rule and Yusuf Shah was exiled to Bihar where he finally breathed his last. Was she married to Yusuf Shah Chak ? .I have my doubts about her marriage to Yusuf Shah Chak after her reported divorce from Aziz lone . No authentic or reliable information is available anywhere . Birbal Kachroo is also silent on this aspect .Some later writers inform us that she was a lawfully wedded wife of the Chak ruler but their source is the legend alone . But for sure the Chak ruler was attracted and enamored by her beauty and singing. It is also a fact that she was in close touch with the ruler . She was also in love with the Chak ruler . .

 As far as I have read and understood , Habba Khatoon was a master of RAST- KASHMIR ( Sufiana Music ). I believe that Yusuf shah chak was impressed with her talent as a singer and  her fame must have already spread far and wide before the Chak ruler came in her contact. .It also appears that Habba Khatoon had a profound knowledge of *Maqam i Iraqi or Maqam i Iraq as some  of her songs or Vatsun are  cast in this Maqam only.
Two women heralded the age of lyricism in Kashmiri poetry. We can call it as Vatsun era .Habba khatoon being the leader followed by Arinmal.I quote a sample which exhibits marked departure from the poetry prior to Habba Khatoon....Thhovanum Ruma rumaai Chhu Me Baalie Tamanaa( Smitten with love in every part of my body, I am consumed by a passionate longing ).Prior to Habba Khatoon we had the poetic wealth of great mystics like Shiti Kanth ( from Pampore and author of Mahamanya Prakash , the first Book on kashmiri poetry ) Laleshwari or Lal Ded  or Lal Mouj and Sheikh ul Aalam or Nund Reosh . All these three great souls heralded the age of great mysticism in kashmiri poetry . We also had an age of Sufism and Bhakti in kashmiri poetry followed by modernism.   I believe that is how we can look at kashmiri poetry's segmentation also during its developmental journey.

Her Vastun style was followed by many prominent and lesser known poets.I would like to quote that Arnimal ( Arni rang gom shraavan hiye, kar iye darshun diye or Me kar tuss kitch poshan maala ta ) and even Mehjoor( Tsolhamaa roshi roshe vwalo myaane poshe madano ) straightway adopted her style in some of their  popular lyrics . Mehmood Gaami and Rasul Mir raised Vatsun style to newer heights .

It is believed that Habba Khatoon spent the last years of her life somewhere near Athawaajan village on the outskirts of Srinagar city where she is believed to have been buried .
Have we been unfair to her ? Unfair to the extent of not having done some serious and authentic research on her life and presented her as the nightingale of Vastun  Style of kashmiri poetry.

(Avtar Mota)


*Maqam e Iraqi or Maqam al Iraqi is a genre of  Iranian /Arab music considered most perfect in harmony of notes. The instruments for this ensemble are Santoor, Dhunbak ( Tabla ) and Riqq ( Tambourine ) apart from the singer. Interaction between the Hindustani Raga-Ragini and 12-Maqam systems (of Iran or Arab world) in India has produced very fruitful result and achieved a distinctive synthesis in the Sufiyana music in Kashmir. Rast is considered as basic musical mode or Maqam in the Iranian or Arabic music. When it traveled to Kashmir , it came to be known as Rast Kashmir with some variations in the scale..

( Avtar Mota  )

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