Musical pots and pans

Tools of a kind

Musical pots and pans

The barren landscape of Kutch is enlivened by tunes from ingenious musical instruments, which are at times just kitchen utensils, writes Ashis Dutta, after a trip to the musically-rich but inhospitable terrain

“How do you play two flutes at the same time?” I asked Musa Ghulam Jat. He had just finished playing a folk tune on his twin-flutes, the refrain of which was still reverberating in the arid nothingness of the Great Rann of Kutch.

“This is called jodiya pawa,” he said, holding up his flutes. I nudged him again on how he manages to do the seemingly impossible feat. He only smiled, shyly. I should have known better. For, this simple-looking musician, who has enthralled audiences not just across India but in Germany, France and England as well, has shun the glare of public adulation and has chosen to live in a remote pastoral village in the north-western part of Kutch. I was plain lucky to catch him performing near my tent in Dhordo, a village at the edge of Rann.

To get into the skin of the rich musical ethos of Kutch, vibes of which flutter in the air to counter-balance the harsh barren salt flats, Musa Jat’s reclusiveness was my first lesson. The dancing notes of his twin-flutes have that solidity, that rectitude amid simplicity, which reflect the life and character of the people of that inhospitable terrain.

Wide variety

I turned my attention to the instrument lazing on Musa Jat’s lap. The two flutes of jodiya pawa are made of rosewood of same length, ornately coloured and in parts wound around in copper wire, which adds both to its beauty and protectiveness. Musa Jat suddenly took up his flutes and showed how in one, the nar — the male aspect, he keeps scale like a drone, and in the other, the madi or mali — the female, he weaves the tune.

Interestingly, I found this male-female confluence in another wind instrument of Kutch — murli. Is this a musical expression underlining the tradition of a deeper acceptance of social complementarity?

Murli looks much like what we associate with snake-charming. It has the traditional hollow shell of gourd and two reed pipes, each a per, meaning foot, one representing the male aspect, another the female, one for melody and the other to improvise a supporting tune.

Musicians like Surat Nath have broken the confines of snake-charming and have taken Kutchi murli to the musical durbars of Europe and South East Asia as a versatile folk instrument. The Vagdi community of Kutch still gathers around a fire and plays its murlis together, a tradition that has helped the community remain stitched against the centrifugal strains of modernity.

Among the other wind instruments in the folk culture of Kutch, narr, nagfani and borrindo are still popular, though each is fighting its own battle against extinction.

To strum

Among string instruments, surando has been around in the wilderness of Kutch for as long as anyone can remember. Much like sarangi or violin, it is played with a bow called gaz or gazi in the local dialect. But unlike violin, it stands erect, vertical to the ground with stem and tuning pegs on the upper part while being played. The frame, made of Lahirro wood, is painted with bright shining colours prepared from mercury or zinc. In the hand of the masters, surando exudes a yearning that hits straight in the heart.

Dakul, or dak as it is also called, is similar to damru that we see in Lord Shiva’s hand. The Bhuva community still uses it for occasions as varied as juggling, tantric rights or even while eliminating ghosts.

Duff and nal are two types of percussions played with folk dances. Other instruments like khanjari, manjira and morchang are still being played. Morchang resembles the Jewish harp with a melancholic twang. Kutch is home to a spectrum of amazing musical instruments that seem to have evolved, like magic, from its thirsty air and parched soil. But what amazed me most was when I met Dana Bharmal.

Everyone knows Bharmal, and everyone loves him in the vast expanse of Kutch. He takes common utensils used by the women of Kutch and makes music out of them. He has taken gadu, earthen pot and tagaaru, a shallow iron bucket, out of the Kutchi kitchen setting and onto international musical arenas. I was skeptical till I heard him play. He would accompany vocalists and instrumentalists and would occasionally sing himself while playing his gadu-tagaaru combine.

Serenity

That evening, Dana Bharmal chose to sing a Sufi composition of Bulleh Shah in the tradition of Sindhi kafi. His voice soared effortlessly to tar-saptak, the high octave, as the stroke of his hands brought rhythmic music out of his gadu-tagaaru. I sat motionless along with others. Mesmerised.

But, was Bharmal playing to us? Or, was he performing to the sun that had just set beyond the horizon, painting the Great Rann of Kutch in its departing colours?
 

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