08, Jan 2021 | Mamta Pared
It looks as unusual as it sounds, a bulbous pot-bellied gourd on one end, merging into slender bamboo on the other. You may have seen it in the centre of some traditional Warli wall paintings, where a Tarpa player is the core of the spiral of dancers, who seem to be moving in unison under his, or her spell. The Warli Pied Piper’s Tarpa makes hypnotic music even in a painting!
The Tarpa is a Tribal musical instrument used by Warli tribals in their festive dances. It is a wind instrument, made from a dried-out gourd, leaves and bamboo. It is as ancient, and as unique as the tribe itself, both in tune with the land they come from. For an urban listener, the tarpa makes music that can at once remind one of a blend of the higher pitched sounds of a bagpipe, but uniquely anchored with a deep base note.
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Imagine, two wind instruments playing in perfect symphony. The tribes-folk and their inbuilt artistic instincts, and intricate engineering skills passed down hundreds of generations, come together to create layered musical magic in a single instrument, using tools and materials that grew, or were found on their lands and forests.
“All of us who learned to play Tarpa were herdsmen. None of us went to a real ‘school’,” says Kamlakar Gowari, a Tarpa player who loves to share the stories of his community’s music. Even though he is a talented Tarpa musician, Gowari still has to work as a labourer drilling in the nearby quarries to make his daily wage. He, like other members of the community, also works in the fields during the rainy season, and always plays the Tarpa during the festivals that mark harvest, and celebrate the farming seasons.
Playing the Tarpa is an art, say the musicians whose renditions of ancient folk tunes are more than worthy of an international stage, however they do this for their own inner joy, and for the love of their tradition and community. They get no worldly rewards in return, but continue to play the Tarpa for pleasure and for keeping the legacy alive for their people. “Nowadays all the kids go to school. Their story is different. Playing Tarpa is not an easy task, it takes hard work. It takes practice. I used to go with those who used to play the Tarpa. I used to see how they do it. I used to try that. That’s how I learned Tarpa,” said Kamlakar Gowari, unsure if the younger generation was willing to invest the effort and time needed.
The Tarpa dance is the physical manifestation of the music. The dancers interlock hands being their backs, making a fluid yet secure human chain, and move in small, perfectly matched steps, spirals, and circles, across the fields.
The Tarpa is specially played and danced on Diwali to please Ann Dev (the God of food). The tribe believes that their crops will yield a better harvest if the Tarpa players cross the farms while dancing. Even non-tribal farm owners would invite the dancers to cross their fields and in thanksgiving, would give them grains. This celebration would also be a time to bond with neighbours, both tribal and non-tribal.
The worship festivities are conducted either annually, or once in five years, perhaps depending on the harvest and the alignment of the stars that mark auspicious dates for all ancient cultures. According to the tribes-folk, when dancing to the tunes of the Tarpa, some people go into a trance, dancing as if possessed. The music itself is organic, and nothing is really pre decided, it is upto the artisan to channel his or her energies and play whatever their soul decides.
Some say the vibrations generated by this music also have healing powers, when we went to his house, Kamlakar Gowari, was helping to heal a woman’s chronic headache with forest remedies. The tribe has historically relied on ancient holistic treatments. They have learnt about the healing powers of all things natural. This includes, music, herbs, vegetation, and other first produce. However, while Gowari acknowledged that he learned about these natural remedies from his ancestors, he was not keen to share details of the treatment.
What he shared easily with everyone, is the music he plays on his beloved Tarpa. An instrument he treats with love, as if it were a living being… handling it with care, checking to see if it was in good health, or did the humidity make it swell up. He makes adjustments as needed, cleaning it, tigerting the strings if needed. And then took deep breath and began to play, a tune befitting the Gods.
Here old Vimal Parade (70) and Pramila Pardhi (64) share their story of the Tarpa dance:
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Mamta Pared who hails from the Warli tribe and lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. The daughter of brick kiln workers, Mamta wants to be a journalist, and is working on earning a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Abasaheb Garware College in Pune. Here she shares the story of the unique Tarpa musical instrument that is a part of her tribe’s ancient culture.
Meet Mamta Pared
She hails from the Warli tribe and lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Her mother is unlettered and her father has studied up to the fourth standard. Mamta’s parents started working together at a brick kiln soon after they got married. Every year the family used to migrate for employment and stayed at brick kilns six out of twelve months, year after year. Mamta has four siblings, the last one was born when she was five years old. As the eldest daughter in the family, Mamta was responsible for caring for her youngest brother. When she should have been playing Mamta started helping her parents with household chores. It was as if she had lost her childhood.
Mamta enrolled in school when she was six years old but had to skip frequently and stay home to take care of her brother. On the days she could attend, Mamta had to walk long distances to get to school and started to lose weight. She suffered from skin infections because she bathed in dirty water, and played in the mud. Teachers and students avoided Mamta, and she was made to sit in a corner. Such an atmosphere almost killed her enthusiasm for learning, yet Mamta persisted and did not leave school. Adversity fuelled Mamta’s resolution, she knew that education was the only way out for her.
Mamta studied hard and passed the scholarship exam in class eight, this became a big financial support. After class 10th Mamta stayed in a government hostel. She had to beg and borrow money to pay the college fees and meet other expenses. The financial strain was so severe that Mamta’s family asked her to stop studying after class 12. However, Mamta persisted, as she knew that giving up on education was not an option.
Fortunately, Mamta’s struggle came to the notice of Vivek Pandit, Founder of Shramajeevi Sanghatana and recipient of an International Anti-Slavery Award. He has been helping her in her educational pursuit since then. The first year she studied in the College at Tehsil (Block) in Marathi, then decided to get transferred and completed the next two years in English medium from Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala college in Mumbai.
Mamta graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media and worked as an intern at the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) last year. She worked with the resources’ team and also reported multiple stories on the lives and struggles of the Warli and Katakari community, a particularly vulnerable tribal group, in the Palghar and Thane region. It has taken great courage for Mamta to leave her tiny village and come to Mumbai to study journalism.
Since childhood Mamta had been connected with a social organisation called Shramjeevi Sanghatana which works for ensuring people’s fundamental rights. She is a youth organiser there, and puts together leadership and personality-development programmes for young people. She’s working to secure the education of tribal students.
Mamta’s childhood dream was to become a doctor. However, now she wants to be a journalist, and maybe later become a professor in college. She is working on earning a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Abasaheb Garware College in Pune.