Mr. Haridas did not tell us the story of Maya killing Mahishasur to while away time, or to have us understand Hindu Mythology better, he told us the story essentially because there exists a nexus between this story and the instrument he plays. The instrument Mr. Haridas plays is called Sambhal (similar to a two headed drum), and it is a highly spiritual instrument. Prior to the class, I have seen the drum only once before, in Pune during the ‘Palkhi’ season.
The instrument of Sambhal is a percussion instrument that is played using the palm and a little stick. It is required for one to remove his/her footwear, and say a short prayer (usually addressing Ganesha) seeking his blessings to begin. The person playing the drum, and the ones listening to it must follow the ritual as a mark of respect to the instrument, and the people who have been playing it for millennia.
The two drums are said to contain the heads of the slain ‘Mahishasur’ and ‘Betasur’. The instrument is known for the energizing sounds it can produce and was used during war-time and peacetime alike in Ancient India. The Sambhal, however, has lost prominence during the advent of the modern era and few people display willingness and dedication to play the instrument.
Mr. Haridas laments the loss of young talent to instruments that belong in the western mainstream and asks us to listen quietly to the sounds of millennia of Gondhali tradition and culture that resonate loudly even today. He displays pride and unparalleled confidence and the fact that his Hindi is not as perfect as his Marathi did not perturb him at all.
I believe it takes a lot of dedication, love for the arts, and most of all, a strong spiritual inclination to play this instrument. It has vibrant undertones of theism and requires a brilliant body and mind to play it. It is, in my opinion, one of those areas where religion and the performing arts intersect so well that it would be impossible to talk of one without the other.
The Gondhal tradition has three important instruments; the Surti, the Manjiri and the Sambhal. While the tun tune and the surti find themselves being played during temple celebrations and mostly religious and spiritual activities, the Gondhal is played even during war and is a matter of pride among the Gondhalis.
Read the rest of the story in the next part – The Music of Religion.
Author – Anitha Krishnamurthy
Come. Drum. Be One