They say there’s nothing as pure and magical as music. Its language is universal and has the ability to bind people. However, for this magic to happen, musical instruments play a pivotal role. There are numerous types of musical instruments – made of different materials, shapes, sizes and also place-specific.
In Goa, when we think of Goan music, the one image that will definitely come to anyone’s mind is that of a ghumat/ghumot. It is a baked earthen pitcher, covered at the wide end with monitor lizard skin, while the upper side open. While playing, it is slung from the shoulder and beaten with fingers of both hands.
It is integral to any major festival in Goa, right from Sao Joao to Ganesh Chaturthi or even musicals like the Mando. The earthy music played on this percussion instrument is commonly heard at Goa’s folk festivals. It is, in many ways, the face of Goa’s music and that’s why, in the year 2019, the state government declared it as a musical heritage instrument.
But, have you ever wondered how this instrument is made? The ghumat is one of those rare musical instruments which are made from mud. Making it is a laborious process that starts with selecting the best soil, processing it and then fashioning this instrument by hand in a very artistic way. To top it all, the pottery artist should have adequate knowledge of sound and rhythm in order to get this instrument right!
MAKING MUD INSTRUMENTS IN GOA
A couple of years ago, I was part of the three-day Inter-disciplinary Narrative Writing and Photography Residency in Goa, organised by Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim. As part of this project, I interviewed a pottery artist, Vinayak Shetkar, from Zabaulim who is one of the few potters who makes musical instruments from mud – mainly the ghumat and mhadalem/madale.
He informed me that in order to make these instruments, one needs to have basic information about sound and rhythm. Also, these instruments need to be crafted carefully as any change in them will affect the music, which it will produce eventually.
He, then, explained the process of making a ghumat, which is made in three parts and then joined together. He further demonstrated the process of tapping the body of the ghumat to remove any air bubbles. This is tapped using a wooden stick, known as petni, made from the bark of the fishtail palm, which is easily found in Goa. He also spoke about a type of soil, locally known as shel -- a whitish coloured mud, used to polish the instrument.
The integral part of the ghumat is covering one end of this pumpkin-shaped instrument with the skin of the monitor lizard. However, sourcing and using this animal skin is now illegal as this animal is protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and is an endangered species.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Marius Fernandes, curator of peoples’ festivals that showcases Goa’s music, art and culture, opines, “Over the years, owing to the ban on monitor lizard skin, there has been a decline in making ghumots. There is a huge opportunity to revive the making of our mud musical instruments by training future generations, which in turn, will save the instrument and generate income to the state and showcase it to the world.”
Fernandes also elaborated that making this ghumat is a long process that starts with the collection of a special type of mud between March and May. The mud is then processed and the actual making of the instrument starts in early August – the material used being refined mud, coir string and legal skins such as sheep, goat, buffalo and synthetic skins. Firing of the ghumot usually starts in August, and fitting the skin is done a few days prior to the sale.
Fernandes has worked hard all these years to revive and promote the ghumat in the best possible manner. He also advocates using legal skins in order to save the endangered species as well as this unique instrument. To make it more viable, he introduced five different sizes which include a memento, one for children, one for amateurs, one for women (to celebrate their spirit) and one for professionals. These are priced from Rs 450 to Rs 1,600.
But, this is not the case with the other instrument, which is also made of clay and animal skin, and is known as Mhadalem/madale. It is a cylindrical-shaped musical instrument, wherein both ends are covered with animal skin. But, as making this instrument is a tedious process and its alternative, the pakhavaj is easily available in the market, this Mhadalem is now rarely found.
“The mandale is in serious trouble with very few manufacturers around. The ghumat is a secular instrument, played by both Hindus and Catholics at weddings, religious festivals, zagors, mandos, etc, while the mandale is predominantly played by the Catholic community,” adds Fernandes.
Victor Huge Gomes, founder and curator of the Goa Chitra Museum, Benaulim, informs that along with these two instruments made from mud, there used to be another one which was mainly used by the Kunbi community of Goa. “My father told me that the old Kunbi performers used a half round shaped percussion instrument with skin on top, and mainly played by a woman. I never saw one, though, and it was known as thallor ghallor, something,” says Gomes.
This indicates that there may be many such musical instruments which have now become extinct since we, as a community, somehow failed to recognise them and revive them.
Gomes indicates that there are currently only a handful of potters left in Goa, who make mud musical instruments. They are usually found in the villages of Succour and Zambaulim. But, nowadays sourcing the mud has become a challenging and expensive affair and crafting this instrument is a cumbersome job with few returns.Thus, the younger generation is not too keen on taking this profession forward.
Fernandes states, “We should treasure this gift that has been passed down to us by our ancestors. The future will be bright for our mud instruments if civil society plays their part.”