Goa`s ghumot percussion instrument set for makeover

Panaji: Whether the purists like it or not, the ghumot, one of Goa`s unique and indigenous percussion instruments that is an essential part of the Ganesh Chaturthi aartis, is heading for a makeover.

The baked-clay made ghumot looks like a cross between a ghatam, a popular percussion instrument used in Carnatic music, and the more popular dholak. What makes the ghumot unique, however, is the tough hide of the monitor lizard stretched across the face of the specially designed clay pot. And unfortunately it is this USP that had been driving it towards extinction.

Hunting and human encroachment into forested areas have taken a toll of the monitor lizards, locally known as gars, which were commonly sighted in Goa some decades back. This slump has forced the forest officials to crack down on hunting the reptile species and warning of action if ghumots adorned with monitor-lizard skins are used for Ganesh Chaturthi aartis.

"The practice is not only detrimental to wildlife biodiversity in the state but also constitutes a grave offence under the Wildlife Protection Act. Conviction under the act for hunting and killing of any animal listed in Schedule I may result in imprisonment of up to six years and/or a fine up to Rs. 25,000 or both," the Forest Department has warned in a public alert ahead of the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities which begin on August 29.

Arties (singing of devotional hymns) using ghumots as the main musical instrument is common practice in several Goan homes during Ganesh Chaturthi.

But ground realities such as the dwindling population of gars as well as the legal implications involved in trapping and dealing in gar skins have forced ghumot specialists to adapt.

Vinayak Akhadkar, 62, is one such. Considered one of the top ghumot players in the state, his group has won laurels over the last several years.

"There is no point ruing about anything. We switched to she-goat skin after monitor-lizard skins became rare," Akhadkar said.

That finding monitor-lizards is getting more and more difficult is a fact endorsed by poachers who specialize in trapping and dealing in gar skin.

Former gar hunter Gabriel Costa claims the hills in coastal as well as interior Goa used to abound in gars until some decades ago. He would trek around the hills, armed with a pickaxe and a chopper with his dog pack that were trained to sniff out gar trails.

"They smelt lizards out like there was blood on them. They would sniff out the holes and bark aggressively when they tracked a burrow with a lizard in it. We would then dig the hole and kill the lizard trapped in it," Costa recalled of his hunts.

And while she-goat skin might work for some, others like Marius Fernandes, a ghumot aficionado, are on the lookout for a more authentic replacement to the instrument`s epidermal appendage. The need for adaptation of skin-based musical instruments in the contemporary world we live in is a global phenomenon, he said.

"The she-goat skin is a barely acceptable alternative to the gar skin. It is acceptable but doesn`t sound the same. Synthetic alternatives are being looked for but there is no audio engineering course available in India, so who is to test the synthetic alternatives to see whether the sound is the same, he asked while speaking said.

Until a synthetic alternative is developed and tested, it looks like she-goats may just have to make do instead of monitor-lizards as far as ghumot lovers are concerned.

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