At a time when lyrics are drowned into the thumping beats of the guitar, bass, piano, drums and amplifiers, the raw sweetness of Indian folk instruments is calling for attention. Every time Major Singh, who is at the helm of a musical collective called Sardars of Sangrur, step on stage with doru, tumbi, daria, ransingha and others such, they gather curiosity because of their absence from most mainstream musical events. Taking cognizance of that, people like Singh are keeping the heritage intact.
He established the collective in 1976 with the intention of offering a close-hand experience of the instruments from Punjab’s rich musical topography.
Sardars of Sangrur hail from Sangrur, a small town in Punjab. The place speaks of a musical tradition soaked in the colours of Malwa. “The region made sure to keep the culture alive by conducting competitions and events to keep the young abreast of their roots,” says Singh.
After having performed in 72 countries and having organised several folk camps in universities and youth festivals, they came to the Amphitheatre at India Habitat Centre on February 10. They sang and played 21 folk instruments handpicked by Singh. The men belonged to all castes, creed and religion.
Some of the rare instruments that the men showcased from Punjab’s folk repository included the dhad, a small percussive hourglass shaped wooden instrument of the damru style. It’s been used by the Dhadies, who sing traditional ballads of brave warriors and heroes drawn from history. Then there was the algoza or jori (pair) which is are a set of wooden fipple flutes used by folk singers of Punjab, specially for the genres of Jugni, Jind Mahi and Mirza.
Bagdu is a single-note string instrument with a bowl made from a whole gourd or wood covered with skin. The wooden instrument called supp is a type of clapper comprising many X shaped parts. It’s used in dances such as Bhangra and Malwai Giddha mostly commonly.
The dhol is a barrel shaped wooden drum with mounted skin on both sides. It is played with two different types of wooden sticks. “The dhol is a drum that dates back to the 15th century. It was probably introduced to the Indian subcontinent via the Persian drum type dohol (duhul). Evidence for this is found in Ain-i-Akbari, which describes the use of duhul in the orchestra of the Mughal emperor Akbar. The Indo-Aryan word ‘dhol’ appears in print around 1800 in the treatise Sangitasara,” says Kirandeep Kaur, the co-organiser of Mela Phulkari 5, a festival celebrating all things Punjabi through its textiles, artefacts, artworks and more. You will also get to hear ransingha, a type of primitive trumpet made of metal curves, joined together in an S shape.
Khanjira is another instrument belonging to the tambourine family and comes with a circular frame made of the wood from the jackfruit tree.
Another one is the khartal, the oldest percussion instrument. “Kara means hand and tala means clapping. The khartal requires great nimbleness to perform,” says Singh.
A special section of goods made by the women of Sangrur, along with those from Mela Philkari exhibition are being shown at 1469 stores. These are up for sale too.