Dying beat of Uttarakhand 'dhol'
ANJANISEN: Dusk has descended on the Garhwal hills and the music of the local drum and bagpipe keeps a small crowd, riveted to its haunt, on a beaten track. This, however, may be one of the last few times they get to hear it. Music from the Uttarakhand "dhol," or drum, once enveloped these entire hills. Today, these beats sound the knell of not just one of the finest instruments but also of a people.
"There are only 10 people left on these hills who know the complete art of playing the dhol. It is just not a viable option for us drummers any more," says Sohan Lal, 32, one of the very few who still plays the dhol. "Once the dhol dictated our entire lives; we played it when a child was born, at weddings, at deaths and at any other ceremony. Today, we don't get to hear it even on special occasions."
A socially marginalized group of people called "Das" usually plays the dhol. The instrument is integrally bound to the social and religious lives of the hill people.
"Every village used to have four or five Das families and only one is called to play the dhol at a village function," says Lal.Once little bands of musicians wound their way to different villages on the hill slopes.
Hindu epics and stories were recited and set to the beat of the dhol. These festivities could go on for as long as 1,000 hours. "Pavade", or traditional songs in praise of god, were sung for three days and three nights to the accompaniment of the dhol."There is not enough money in it. The brass bands are called at all the functions and they get the lion's share of the money," complains Lal. "There is no respect for us.
Villagers get drunk, abuse us and create a scene. How can we continue to play like this?" Lal has written a book on the dhol with a view to preserving the dying art. "There has not been any documentation of the dhol music before this," he says. Many drummers have moved to the plains in search of jobs. Besides there are no musicians left to teach the younger generation an art form that was once also used to communicate messages over vast distances.
Even historically, arts and crafts of Uttaranchal have had it tough. While arts flourished under royal patronage in other parts, it was different in this region. Royal patronage was only salutary, since the local princedoms were too poor to afford the luxury of court musicians and dancers.
The economy of performing arts in the region has therefore always been fragile. Today the dhol is dying a natural death. These drummers are desperately looking for new ways to keep the home fires burning. Small efforts are under way to help this community to revive the music of their dhols.
The Shri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) here is trying to identify the problems of the drummers and arrange for artistes to teach it to the younger generation.
There are those who can play the dhol but very few who can teach it," says Gajendra Nautiyal of the Indian People's Theatre who coordinates with SBMA in an effort to preserve the art form.
"We plan to organize live performances of the dhol. We will also plan to find master trainers and have a residential training course here for eight children at a time," says Nautiyal.
"We are living with the last generation of dhol players, we have to save this music before it dies out" says Lal, for whom the beat of the dhol is still more than a way of life.