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Traditional instrument artisans in Nilphamari passing days in despair

  • Published at 12:42 pm October 23rd, 2020
Traditional musical instruments
An artisan making a dhol in his shop in Nilphamari, October 22, 2020 Dhaka Tribune

Other than puja season, the artisans of traditional dhak-dhol are neglected

No puja is complete without the dhak dhol (local drums). In Nilphamari, Durga Puja is being held on a small scale due to the coronavirus pandemic this time, but there is still no alternative to the dhak dhol.

However, the artisans who make these traditional musical instruments are having a tough time making ends meet. Although they make some income during the puja season, traditional instruments are being neglected for the rest of the year.

As the days pass, the harmonium, dhol and tabla are being reserved for special occasions while modern instruments take their place the rest of the time.

Now Durga puja is going on, it will continue from Friday to Monday. The Dhak’s rhythm brings alive the Aarti and Mantra (religious rituals) of the Puja.

Mahesh Chandra Roy, a Brahmin from Haroa Durga Mandap in Nilphamari district town, said: “The worship of the diety becomes joyful with the music of Dhak. Devi Durga comes to the world once a year bearing peace. So, there is no alternative to playing dhak dhol at the puja.”

These traditional drums are made of mango, blackberry, raintree, karai and mahogany, while cow hide is used for the batter head. Buffalo hide binds everything together. 

Although the price of leather is at a tolerable level this time, the artisans of this industry are in trouble due to the increased price of wood, earthenware and high transportation costs. Unable to bear the expenses, many are leaving the profession.

Also Read - Female artisans of Bangladesh

Subash Rishi, 56, an artisan from Bahalipara village in Ramnagar union of sadar upazila, said musical instruments such as dhak, dhol, dotara, dhugi, tabla, khanjani and ektara, were once exported to neighboring India, Bhutan and Nepal. Now, modern alternatives are being preferred.

Sagar Chandra Das, 45, of Gachbari area in the district town, said: "This is the profession of my ancestors and I have been working in this profession for 35 years. Previously, a drum was sold for Tk6,000-7,000. Now, these drums are being sold for Tk4,000-Tk5,000, while the market for modern musical instruments is soaring.” 

He added: “It has become difficult to maintain a family with this profession. It has become difficult even to earn enough money to buy clothes and sweets for children during puja festivals.

“Many have lost interest in this work. I'm just working to keep up the tradition of my forefather's profession. The rest of the 10 months [excluding puja] I run the family by performing songs and music,” he furtner said.

Manik Chandra Das, 40, owner of Bhuban Musical Instrument Store in the same area, said: "Now, there is no appreciation of native musical instruments. At present, various modern musical instruments, such as keypads and drums, have come out.

“To pay family expenses, I move from temple to temple with a group called Harinam Sankirtan for 8-10 months of the year and earn by playing music,” he added.

Farug Bhuiyan, a regular vocalist of Bangladesh Television (BTV), said Matia Gaan, Palagan, Jatragan and Kavigan are not staged in villages nowadays. 

“Before, there would be no music festival without dhol, tabla, dotara, harmonium and flute. But now, modern instruments have taken that place with drums, keypad, guitar and other advanced musical instruments,” he added.

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