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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Long live the Gumat

Once a favourite instrument t weddings, churches and at social gatherings, the Gumat is now on its way to becoming a museum piece.

Prior to Western influences and the invasion of technology, the entire Karavali Coast, from Ratnagiri in Maharashtra to Cochin in Kerala, reverberated with the melodious, soul stirring beats of the Gumat.

The Marathi Kudumis and the Mumbai East Indian Koles beat the Gumat and dance to its rhythm. The Gowdis, Karvis and the Siddhis love this instrument and played it to express their joy. The Kudubis wore flowery head-gears and not only played it to mark festivals but also worshiped it as a sacred object. The Mangalorean Catholics sat on mats and played it every evening as a stress buster. The Halakkis wore festive garments with head-gears of artificial flowers and played the mridanga shaped Gumtam. To put it simply, the Gumat was the most popular musical instrument of the Konkani speaking communities living along the Karavali coast.

This does not mean that the modern, technological world has negated the Gumat. Far from it! Gumat art has merely taken a backseat in the field of modern Konkani music perhaps because of its antique nature, western influence, modern civilisation and the difficulties involved in procuring one. Despite all of this, the ancient Gumat has proved that it can blend with the new with absolute ease.

Change is evident

However, the Gumat has undergone several changes. Modern musical groups have experimented with it and blended it with guitars, keyboards and violins with astounding results. Though not widely used, the Gumat still occupies an important place in the world of Konkani music and there is every chance that the Gumat would regain its popularity, provided the Konkanis play an active role in preserving their rich cultural heritage.

Gumat art is a male domain. It either hangs around the neck of Konkani men as they sing and dance or nestles on their laps as they sit and sing. Gumat art is difficult and requires a lot of energy because a single artiste has to sing, play the instrument and dance as well. There was a time when men from the Mangalorean Catholic community played the Gumat and accompanied their playing with song and dance. The Gumat was, at one time, considered scared and used during church services. They also forbid the dance aspect of Gumat art. For a long time, until modern musical bands took over, the Gumat was indispensable at Catholic weddings. Unfortunately, due to expulsion from the church, the Gumat lost its sanctity and became a cheap instrument that could be played in a drunken state or broken in a fit of rage.

This led the new generation to regard Gumat art as uncouth and uncivilised.

An exponent of Mangalorean Catholic Gumat art is Mr Joachim Pereira.

Having learnt this delightful art from his father, he guides a troupe of Gumat artists and has won several awards. He is also the first Gumat artiste to introduce women to an exclusively male art form.

The art is intact

Untouched by the negative influences of Western missionaries, the Kudubi community has preserved this art in its original form. The Kudubis consider the Gumat as sacred, use it only on festivals and religious occasions and worship it before using it for the first time during the year. Holi, a spring festival, celebrated on the full moon during the month of Phalgun is the first occasion of the year for the Kudubi artiste to express their art. The men decorate their heads with long garlands of the bright orange Aboli flower, wear colourful robes and proceed to the Gurikar’s (chief) house with their precious musical instrument. There the Gumat is placed along with the other musical instruments in front of a decorated stage newly set up near the tulasi and worshiped. The actual Gumat performance begins only after the singing of the ‘Noman,’ an initial song. The dancers form themselves into two rows. Two people called Kol Gurikars begin the song. The artiste sing and dance in co-ordination in keeping with the beats of the Gumat hanging around their necks. There are a variety of subtle movements in Kudubi Gumat dances. After their first performance in front of the Gurikar’s house, the troupe goes from house to house repeating the performance. The modern Kudubis have relaxed the rules of using the Gumat only on festive and religious occasions. The Gumat is now taken to the stage to delight a number of worshippers of this ancient folk art.

Forms of Gumat

Though the music emanating from a Gumat is great, the instrument in itself is simple and if I may say it is the King of Konkani folk music. A clay pot open at both ends; one a large opening and the other a smaller one. The larger opening is covered by with the skin of a Monitor Lizard. This forms the Gumat. It requires the combined efforts of six people to cover the skin over the mouth of the pot as the slightest wrinkle will render the Gumat useless. The skin is pasted into place with Tembra, a gum obtained from the Glue tree and secured with ropes. The instrument is now ready to produce music and the affectionate Gumat artiste beats on the skin with his fingers. The Gumat of various communities vary in shape and size. While, the Kudubi Gumat can easily be mistaken for a pumpkin, the Catholic Gumat is pot-like. The Siddhi Gumat is slightly bigger than the Catholic Gumat while the Halakki Gumat resembles a mridanga.

The Gumat artiste uses a permutation and combination of four different types of beats — Lalith, Sheeda, Udthi and Talyo. The Gumat songs, filled to the brim with knowledge, wisdom and devotion, reveal the heart of the community to the listener. In addition to their literary value, the songs are social, historical and religious documents. They give profound knowledge of the community’s history, culture, folk literature, lifestyle and religious beliefs. Sung slowly to the accompaniment of the Gumat, they can instill the spirit of dance in the idlest feet.

The present position of the Gumat is pathetic. Despite attempts being made from all quarters to preserve and popularise this art by training more people, innovating it and blending it with modern electronic musical instruments, the Gumat is on its way to becoming a museum piece. In several houses, it occupies the attic, gathering dust and forgotten by the members of the family. Rich, modern, educated, materialistic youth shy away from the Gumat, considering it to be a useless, unproductive art belonging to an unsophisticated past. Luckily, Gumat music is preserved in cassettes and CDs. Gumat songs are finally in print. Gumat artists are recognised for their great talent and their art. The youth might develop a taste for it. May the Gumat survive for many more generations.!


floyd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
floyd said...

This is really amazing,never thought that there would be something on the net abt the Gumat.Its really interesting to know that its played by all those along the Konkan coast.I always thought it was only an instrument used by the East Indian Community only.

mkkhare said...

I am playing Gumat in my show and this is the only link on net which helps me in getting to know so much in detail. Thanks for all the information.