How Ladakhi royal musicians got sucked into the vortex of caste system

The caste system found its way to Ladakh, alienating the musical community of Bedas who soon started leaving the profession | Photo - Gulzar Hussain

When wars between the kings of Ladakh and Baltistan (now in Pakistan-administered Gilgit Baltistan) from late 16th century till mid-17th century seemed to never end, leaving the two kingdoms with fast depleting resources, the the Balti Shia-Muslim king of Khaplu, Raja Ghazi Mir came up with a solution. He sent a marriage proposal of his daughter, princess Rgyal Khtun to the Buddhist king of Ladakh, Jamyang Namgyal.

Namgyal accepted the proposal even though Mir had a condition that the son born out of the wedlock should be brought up a Muslim. (It is another matter that the son Sengge Namgyal later adopted his father’s religion and rose to be one of the powerful kings of Ladakh.)

So, sometime in the 17th century, in a grand ceremony, princess Rgyal Khtun married king Jamyang Namgyal, and the relationship sealed the peace for generations in the region.

But when the princess moved to Ladakh, she brought with her an entourage, which as per the Balti customs, comprised religious preachers, the bride’s friends, agriculturists, artisans, horticulturists, masons, carpenters and musicians.

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