Goa’s secular percussion instrument, the ghumot, has received a huge boost after the government declared it the state heritage instrument. While religious and cultural traditions of both communities, Hindu and Catholic, have ensured its survival amidst threats of a fade out, several other folk instruments have either become extinct or face the threat of disappearing from the cultural landscape due to various reasons.
Indigenous heritage instruments that were an integral part of the cultural kaleidoscope are being seen less as social change keeps chipping negatively at community traditions. State patronage to the ghumot — an earthen pot mounted with animal skin — promises to halt the decline due to the erosion of social commitment towards protecting ancestral legacy.
In this background, a few unique and once popular musical instruments used by Goa’s folk communities face the prospect of becoming part of history. Researchers say the ‘mhadallem’, ‘korno’, ‘banko’, ‘surpavo’ and ‘nakxer’ are among once prestigious and indigenous instruments that are in various stages of disappearance from the state’s religious and cultural scene.
“All these instruments require effort and appropriate skill to be played. Nowadays, their use in cultural and religious functions is not a must. If there was some kind of compulsion, everybody would have practiced and their use would not have become optional,” says Pandurang Phaldesai, enthnomusicologist and former member secretary, Kala Academy, Panaji.
‘Maddhalem’, a percussion instrument, is one of the few being used increasingly infrequently in local traditions. An earthen pot like the ‘ghumot’, but cylindrical like the ‘pakhawaz’, both its open ends are covered with animal skin, earlier monitor lizard, now goat skin. The instrument was used by the Christian Gawda community during ‘zagor’ and other singing and dancing events. A package (bond) of cooked and burnt rice is fixed to the centre of the instrument’s playing side to raise the requisite pitch and enhance sound quality. Sadly, traditions are fading among Christian Gawdas, though a slight resurgence in recent years spells some hope.
‘Surpavo’ is a wind-blown instrument exclusively used by the dhangars. The community still uses it at gatherings and during festivals, but as change keeps knocking at traditions, uncertainty stares it in the face.
‘Nakxer’, the type of instrument used by snake charmers, is also used only by the dhangar community. Similarly, and luckily, it is still being used by the shepherds during their annual Dussehra, Shigmo and Gajandra performances.
As the name suggests, ‘korno’ is about a metre-long, funnel-shaped wooden or metallic trumpet. It is also called an aerophone, being a wind-blown instrument, and was used during religious processions, ‘palki’, ‘romot’, ‘mell’ and ‘roth’. The blaring of the ‘korno’ conveyed messages of joy and sadness or alerted people in the neighbourhood like a bell.
Another wind-blown instrument, the ‘banko’ is used as an accompaniment to the ‘ghumot’ and ‘xamell’. The slightly curved instrument produces a lower decibel sound than the ‘korno’.
The passing away of a generation of musicians, who had contributed greatly towards sustaining musical traditions and lack of interest among millennials to take up the baton are among major factors for the present malaise. Most of the instruments that face oblivion are wind-driven ones as their sophisticated electronic counterparts have changed the entire dynamics of sounds.
“It requires force to blow into these traditional instruments and the younger generation does not seem to have the deep chests to pump wind into them,” Phaldesai says.
Similar is the fate of some Western instruments — clarinet, trombone and saxophone. These were used by the local Catholic community, but the keyboard has rendered them superfluous.
“The local maestri at the church level would teach solfeggio to the boys and girls. Solfeggio helped them to play the violin and, in turn, they could pick up any other instrument as well. But now playing organ or such instruments is easier and we don’t see maestris teaching the rudiments to youngsters,” says Andrew Pereira, who is the Goa police band section in-charge.
Lovers of musical heritage say finding an activity to promote the use of these instruments can serve their conservation cause. During Phaldesai’s tenure, Kala Academy mooted a scheme to start ghumot aarti competitions, which was taken up at the Rajiv Gandhi Kala Mandir, Ponda, triggering a musical revolution. The number of aarti mandal groups has risen to 150, and young artistes to more than 1,200. Most of them can play the ghumot expertly.
“In this way, a model linked with an activity to promote use of the instrument can work wonders for its revival,” Phaldesai says.
Agreeing with him, Marius Fernandes, a cultural events organiser, says the instruments have to be brought into the mainstream by organising theme-based events. “We cannot wait for the government to do it, but people have to bring communities for events or
festivals,” he says.
A ghumot with a goat’s skin was introduced at a world ghumot festival at Siridao by Fernandes on February 26, 2017. “Voluntary organisations can provide a new direction to traditional folk forms and contribute to music traditions, if they hold such events,” a heritage lover says.