Bringing the local beat back

Anwesha Singbal/The Goan October 05, 2013

It’s a sound that evokes memories and transports one back into older days, when percussion instruments were rustic and traditional creations, when the ghumott reigned supreme in Goa. The humble drum is losing credence in a world dominated by African and other traditional (and now commercial) instruments, but there are still those that believe in the percussive power of the ghumott

Sixteen-year-old Anand Bhingi sat on the ground cross-legged. In front of him was a paat (low wooden stool on which a small charcoal circle was drawn) that he repeatedly thumped according to a hypnotic beat. This was 45 years ago. “My elders would not let me even touch the ghumott until I learnt the beat on the paat,” says the 61 year old ghumott artist from Talaulim, Ponda whose family, among the many others, has been instrumental in preserving the ghumott culture in the state.

The ghumott is a local percussion instrument that finds prominence across the Hindu and Catholic families in the state and is made by mounting the skin of the monitor lizard across one open end of a uniquely designed clay pot, and then striking the membrane to produce sound.

“The ghumott is part of Goa’s identity and finds prominence in all major folk forms like shigmo and mando. It is, however, never played alone and is always accompanied with the samel and the kasale, two other traditional instruments,” says Pandurang Phaldesai, a folklore expert from Canacona, and Agush Gonsalves, who has been playing the ghumott for the last 25 years or so agrees, “The instruments traditionally used in mando are the violin and the ghumott. The melody is played on the violin, but it’s the ghumott which provides basic rhythm and beat.”

Besides this, the ghumott plays a vital role in the music played in Goa during Ganesh. Called the ghumott aarti and sung in every household as part of the pooja, it is growing in popularity and seeing a huge youth following due to the various competitions held across the state. “I remember participating in the first ever ghumott aarti competition started by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Curchorem in 1982,” recalls Anand Bhingi, whose Bhageshwar Aarti Mandal took home the first prize for several years before they decided to start a competition of their own in Ponda. “In 1982, there were hardly 10 teams that participated. Today Rajiv Gandhi Kala Mandir of Ponda organises the biggest ever ghumott aarti competition where more than 150 groups participate,” he informs.

At Vyankatrei Naik’s Navdurga Creation in Canacona, children from the ages of 7 to 16 are seen learning the ghumott from 75 year old Papan Bhende. “It is the children and parents who take interest and join the group, I am just a motivator,” says Naik.

While the popularity of the ghumott fails to wane, sourcing raw materials for making the same have become a major concern. “It is a known fact that monitor lizards, once hunted frequently across the state's forested hillsides for meat and skin, are now protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act and cannot be killed,” explains wildlife environmentalist Nirmal Kulkarni, adding that alternatives such as goat or cow skin and even synthetic leather can be used instead. But what about authenticity of sound? Would a ghumott made with goat skin have the same magical quality as its traditional counterpart? “Not really,” quips Bhingi, while accepting that the lizard must be protected and that law must be followed, while continuing to popularise the ghumott all the time.

In the meantime, the sound of the ghumott resonates across Goa, not fading away but not as strong and deep as it used to be. In a Goa that is slowly taken over by newer instruments and electronic music, the ghumott is a symbol of a glorious past, one that must be kept alive.

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The wider mouth of a ghumot is reportedly covered with tough treated skin of the monitor lizard and secured with a string. It must be said that the use of the skin of the monitor lizard to make the ghumot is now banned as the monitor lizard is declared as an endangered species. However some synthetic material is probably used now to cover the wider mouth of the ghumot.