A Revival of Sorts For ‘Thaejkaad’ in Kashmir

Thaejkaad is a typical Kashmiri word for paddy transplantation. To some, it may be a normal agricultural practice but it has cultural relevance in Kashmir.

Kashmir celebrate thaejkaad like it celebrates other religious and cultural festivals. It’s widely believed that this season brings blessings and prosperity. According to Kashmiri dictionary by cultural academy, thaejkaad comprises of two words ‘thaej’ – its base word is ‘thal‘, means saplings – and “kaad”, which means a group of people doing the plantation process.

Hence, thaejkaad means a group of people transplanting rice saplings.

For a long time, Kashmir had the culture of working together and neighbours would pitch in. The concept of kaad comes from that. People had little or no money, and the work was done amicably to help one another out.  

The rice fields. Photo: Muneeb Ul Islam

When I was studying in a local school, a friend invited me every year for the thaejkaad. We had no agricultural land and I was not aware of thaejkaad at all. From there on out, I learnt a lot more.

For my friend and I, thaejkaad largely meant “thaejkaad batte” – a term for lunch during thaejkaad. At the same time, while doing thaejkaad, we used to take a short break for “doud kehwa” (milk tea) in the wee hours of our work.

For us, thaejkaad meant splashing muddy water all over each other. The only work we did was fetch the knotted saplings from the ‘thaejwaan’ – a small bit of land used for growing planting rice seeds until they become saplings.

With the scorching sun burning the skin, the workers would take short breaks for water or lemon juice. In the meantime, wicker baskets would arrive from home with lunch – wazwan, with all the important dishes included.

A group of women planting the rice saplings while singing folk songs. Photo: Muneeb Ul Islam

Who can forget such special memories? Even so, I had no idea that I would be writing about them some day.

I still remember when Aunty, my friend’s mother, used to transplant the first sapling saying, “Bismillah.” The women with her would respond and loudly say, “Bismillah.”

Then, the process of thall (planting rice saplings) would start. After some time, folks songs would break out. We were kids then and for us, it was a festival. We celebrated every moment of it.

The practice to sow rice seeds is a three-fold process. After the sowing is done, the remaining seeds are used to prepare “bael tomul”, or roasted rice seeds. This would be distributed to neighbours, friends and relatives.

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The primary process is preparing the “thaejwaan” (nursery), a small patch of the field where the saplings grow. This begins in the last week of April. For days, the paddy is soaked in water till shoots sprout out. Until the shoot develops, the seeds are kept outside the water. Only then, the seeds are sown in a nearby field which is dedicated for making a nursery “thaejwaan”.

A nursery usually takes 30-40 days to develop saplings of up to 7-8 inches. The nursery does have a scarecrow to protect the seeds from sparrows, birds and pigeons. These days, people even cover the nursery with magnetic tape reels along with a tall scarecrow.

Photo: Muneeb Ul Islam

Once the seeds turn into saplings, the process of thaejkaad enters the second stage. Decomposed farmyard manure and cattle dung is spread over the field for days. After that come the process of ploughing the field. Before the invention of the tractor, ox or buffalo laden ploughs were used for the task, Now, tillers and tractors do the job. Once that stage is completed, the land is filled with water at a uniform level. Here, “kart bread” wooden equipment is used to level the land for transplantation.

The saplings, knotted in bundles, are later taken out for plantation – thaejkaad – and later, the plants grow and the process for harvesting begins once the rice is ready. The process to get rice involves chombun (threshing), tapas-travun (drying), munun (husking) and tsatun (winnowing).

A local man preparing the rice sapling bundles. Photo: Muneeb Ul Islam

But over the last decade, the scenario has changed a fair bit. For our elders, thaejkaad was a festival. But as more and more workers from other states began to filter into the Valley, some of the work was outsourced to labourers of Bihar and Punjab.

Since then, the rice fields have worn a deserted look. There are no songs, nothing like thaejkaad happens on the field. No “thaejkaad batte” to the neighbours, no help taken from each other. I still miss the taste of “beal tomul”, which is on the verge of extinction.

The new generation has little or no information about it.

This year, with the outbreak of COVID-19 causing an unprecedented global halt, and with the migrant exodus where many workers rushed home, there has been a shortage of workers in Kashmir. Even travelling between districts is no easy task.

As a result, we’ve been provided with an opportunity to revive the culture of thaejkaad, which has been forgotten in many places for years. It can also help employ many of the youth who are unable to find jobs while playing the double role of passing on the cultural significance of the practice to future generations.

Since I have no farm land, I decided to help some of my friends. It’s an amazing experience to witness the season in full swing, filling the fields with charm. One can only hope that thaejkaad is not left forgotten with the passing of time once the world picks up speed again.

Yasif Altaf Zargar co-founded Shafara Creatives (@shafaracreative) and is a blogger. He can be reached @islambaduk.

Featured image credit: Muneeb Ul Islam