The dhodro banam: Article on a bowed instrument played by the Santal and its distant relatives in Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Central Asia

By Bengt Fosshag

The tribal art of India is widely neglected in Europe and America. Its meaning is largely unknown and it is generally overshadowed by Classical Indian art. European artists at the beginning of the century made us aware of the arts of Africa and Oceania, and perhaps now we should learn to appreciate the formal language of Indian tribal art as well. […]

The dhodro banam belongs to the sarinda family, a type of lute with a partially open body that is covered with skin on the lower part. This instrument is played with a bow in the manner of a violin, but in a vertical position, and is found in Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, India and Central Asia. […]

The creators of the songs of the Santal remain anonymous. As soon as a new song appeared, it became common property. There was no distinction made between the performers and the composer. Whether the dhodro banam was considered a work of art closely connected with the name of its maker or if the maker remained anonymous is not clear. However, the surviving material leads us to believe that the creators of the instruments designed their own models and developed their own styles.

Dhodro banam makers seem to have created basic models that are to be distinguished from one another only by differences in the richness of ornamentation and minor variations in iconography. The same decorative motif, such as a father with mother and child, was clearly produced by several workshops, as can be deduced from variations in stylistic details and in the forms of the body of the instruments. A dark, hard wood was used in the manufacture of the instruments, possibly that of the guloic tree referenced in the myth of origin. When research on the tribal cultures of India was begun, their civilization was already declining. So far, little attention has been paid to works of art of this kind, and today few important works of art can be found, since the materials used by these tribal peoples were generally perishable. Among the few remaining objects that evidence their culture, we can appreciate the dhodro banam.

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Date Visited: Mon Jul 21 2014 21:24:53 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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Ganesh [G.N.] Devy in What unites Indians is a love for songs ( >>

Our historical memory privileges singers – such as Kabir, Mira, Nanak, and Akka Mahadevi – over other cultural icons

When I was three or four years old, my father brought home a radio set. This was six decades ago. It was among the few radiograms that the village had by then, a proud possession for us and quite a public spectacle for the neighbours. […]

Later, much later, when I was in my thirties, I started working with adivasis in western India. Whenever our discussion revolved round their identity, they invariably alluded to the traditions of songs they had. By then, I had read plenty of Marx, Gandhi, Ambedkar and Lohia, and I liked to imagine that adivasis would want to speak in agony about the injustice that the ‘system’ had caused them. To my surprise, they were not as much articulate about things political as they were about things cultural. Through my years of work with them, I have met individuals who can go on singing the entire Mahabharata. The Bhils living on the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat have several epics of their own: the singers took immense pride in rendering the entire opus, without missing out a single syllable. I also came across members of the Bharthari community from central Indian forest states who could render, just for the asking, an entire saga of a legendary king. A friend of mine from the Banjara community once told me that the Banjaras have a poetic genre called ‘lehngi’. […]

The tribes and castes in India are communities apart. Those who belong to castes belong to no tribes, and those who belong to tribes are outside the caste pyramid. What brings them together is probably their love for songs. […]

Source: “What unites Indians is a love for songs” by Ganesh [G.N.] Devy (The Telegraph, 1 November 2019)
Date Visited: 9 December 2021

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