On the drum beat

Musical

On the drum beat

During my visit to Sri Lanka, one thing that struck me bold and bright, like the sun and sand in the place, was the native love for music.

It didn’t take me long to realise that music plays a very important role in the lives of Sri Lankans, so much so that no gathering or occasion is complete without music. The traditional music of Sri Lanka is quite unique, mirroring the diverse influences it has had over the centuries. It is a fine blend of Buddhist, Portuguese and African influences.
 A drive down the rural parts of Sri Lanka introduced me to the folk music of the island nation.

It was an enjoyable experience to listen to farmers humming melodious folk songs while on work. According to locals, the farming community in Sri Lanka is close knit and gets together in the evenings for a session of music and dance to the beats of drums. Talking of drums, no other musical instrument in Sri Lanka enjoys the pride of place in any musical session as the drums.

And, there is a variety of them. Though they are broadly classified as one-faced, two-faced and flat-faced, there are six basic types of drums, each made with different kinds of wood, each covered with different kinds of skin, and each played on different occasions.

While Geta Beraya, most popularly known as the wedding drum, is an indispensable part of the typical Sinhala dance known as the kandyan dance, Yak Bereya is known as the demon drum as it is used during devil dancing, a highly developed form of dance performed in the countryside.

This is not all. While Dawula, Thammattama and Udekki were equally interesting, it was Rabana that caught my fancy. This flat-faced circular drum comes in several sizes, I was told. The one I got to see at a wedding was really huge, and placed on the floor, on which several women sitting around kept beating with both hands.

That’s the Bench Rabana, I was told. The beat was catchy. According to my Sinhala friend, the beating of Rabana drums is a must on all joyous occasions, including festivals and weddings. The smaller version of Rabana, knows as the Hand Rabana, is a form of mobile drum singers carry to produce background beats to accompany their songs.

According to natives, drums in Sri Lanka have a 2,500-year-old history and numbered over 30, as against the six basic types available today. While the use of drums was always associated with music, the fact that certain types of drums were used for communication too cannot be ignored, especially the Dawula, Thammattama and Rabana types of drums.

The other drums that served specific purposes were Ana Bera, that informed the people about orders from the king; Vada Bera, played when a criminal was taken for beheading, Mala Bera, beaten during funeral processions; and Rana Bera, used by the army when going out to meet the enemy.

It indeed was a fascinating journey down Sri Lankan drum roll.

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