The dying sounds of rhythm

Deepak Naik has an unusual routine. He walks three kilometers to collect clay. The collected clay is then used to make a traditional percussion instrument called the maandar, which is played during Holi and other festivals. As he speaks to us, he drops weight on the clay to harden it. Over the next few days, he skillfully taps the clay to give it the shape of the drum.

Deepak belongs to the Ghasi community that are traditional drum makers, who have lived in Tintanga, village situated in Chainpur Block of Gumla district in Jharkhand, since ages. His community has about 20- 25 families, who range from children to people in their 70s. Every year after the monsoon, they collect the clay and make the drums that are then sold between Rs. 2000 to 3000 based on the size of the drums. He says that he cannot work on the drums in the summer season, as it is too hot and the clay does not work well in the summer months to the requirements of the drum. “We try to extend the work till March, after which it’s not possible due to the heat. Sometimes we go hungry for months as we cannot make an earning from the drums and work as daily wage earners in nearby towns.” He says.

They make a living by playing in weddings and other small festivals. He says that they follow the traditional forms of making the instrument, and cannot compete with the drums available in the cities made of wood and plastic, which are cheaper. 

Suda Naik is busy tuning the drum while another member of the community is applying the colours to the edges of the leather. “This is our ancestral job,” says Suda Naik with pride. He goes on to explain that his community specializes in making various kinds of drums such as the ‘dholak’, ‘nagara’ and ‘dhank’ along with the maandar. The making of these drums is a skilled process and various resources such as wood found in the forests, clay and leather are used. The community worships the forests, as it is a vital form of sustenance for their livelihood. Once the wood is shaped, leather from goat, ox, buffalo or cow is acquired when the animal dies. He says that they pay a small sum of money for the leather. 

Tuning the drum is a skillful job, and he says, “The identification of specific sound is toned on the instruments by three particular activities – one, tidying up the leather with the structure, how much to tighten up, two rubbing or pulling the leather for exact sound and tone/tuning and three beating the shape of the structure for sound quality of the instrument.”

The dhank earns him around Rs 7000 – Rs 8000 while the nagara fetches him around Rs 6000 – Rs 7000. Unfortunately, this does not give them the window for profit as most customers haggle and they end up earning just enough to cover the material costs. They are usually sold during the marriages of the Oraon tribes. He also sells the drums to individual customers. “this is our identity and practice too. For sustainability we accept the invitation on marriages and similar functions as production and sale of these instruments is not sufficient.”

“We learned or acquired the desired skills as we also engaged with our ancestors while making these instruments. Continuous engagement made us acquire the desired skill to identify and bring out the specific tuning of these instruments,” he says when asked about how he learnt to tune the drums. According to Suda, the tempo and the tone of the drums vary along with the caste and creed of the communities that play the drums.

Despite the returns being low, he is positive that the younger generation will carry forward the same skills, by observing the elders, as Suda and his peers have learnt from their elders. They take pride that this is the ancestral profession and are confident that the youngsters will do justice to the identity. He hopes that the legacy of the music plays in the years to come.

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