Drumming Up a Dance

 

In Daulat Khana, one of the many courtyards of Mehrangarh Fort, a group of 12 men sit on a carpet on the floor. They are clad in white kurtas and pajamas. They wear blood red turbans on their heads and a red sash is tied around their waists. Ghungroos—small bells that are strung together and worn by dancers on their feet—are tied to their ankles. Round drums lie by their side. As a gaggle of tourists passes by, one of the men beats on his drum to try and interest them in a performance.

The group, which goes by the name of the Shyam Mithra Mandal, is here as a part of the festivities that take place at the Mehrangarh Fort, every day, during Jodhpur Riff. They play something called the ‘chang’, a shallow, round drum that the drummers hold up in their hands and beat while simultaneously dancing to its rhythm. It is made of bull or goat hide, stretched over a spherical, wooden frame. On the off white flat surface of each chang, which the drummer beats, the name of the group, their village, Pabusar, and their district, Churu is painted in red. “We don’t make the chang ourselves but we get them from Jaipur,” says Omprakash, 30, one of the group members. “You get the best chang there.” At the fort, they perform throughout the day, from 10 am to 5 pm.

Their performance is a mix of a unique dance form, the pleasant notes of a bansuri, or flute, and the steady rhythm of the chang, coupled with that of the ghungroos on their ankles. The dance, called gindan, has the men leap, in step with the drumbeats, and turn in the air. At times they walk from side to side, half sitting as they beat the chang. The dance form is from the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, native to the districts of Churu, Jhunjhunu, and Sikar. The drummers usually drum and dance on festive occasions, such as Holi and Diwali. “It is a dance of celebration,” says Gopal Ram, 36, the leader of the group. They only ever perform together. The group members are related to one another: each is either a cousin or a brother of the other. “We learnt to dance on our own,” says Gopal Ram. “We taught each other.”

Of the 12, two members play the bansuri and the dholak. During the dance, they sit in the middle while 10 others dance in a circle around them. Do the women in their village dance as well? “No, they don’t. That is against our tradition,” says Samandar, one of the drummers, who claims not to have a surname. “They may dance with each other inside the house but not outside, in front of everyone.”

But these restrictions don’t bind their audience. Earlier in the day, when a large crowd had gathered to watch the group dance, a number of women from the audience could not help but sway to the beat of the chang. Some of them eventually joined the drummers, dancing with them. The drummers spread out, making them a part of the performance. Eventually they were dancing within the circle.

 

(Image: The chang drummers of Shyam Mithra Mandal at Jodhpur Riff. By Kavi Bhansali / Jodhpur Riff. )