Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Dappu: The Symbol of Dalit Protest

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar


Dappu is the life line of dalits. Dappu represents the rhythm of life of untouchable communities. The culture and politics and struggles of every day life of dalits are associated with Dappu. Customarily, it is often played at festivals of village deities, and fares, jatara, procession of gods, procession of marriages, and death ceremonies , mostly by the dalit community of Madiga. The beat of the drum resonates in all the public ceremonies and processions of rural telugu society. Dappu is not only marked with the identity of dalitness but also occupies the central role in performances of folklore. Dappu is an exclusively dalit sound and a dalit music. Dappu music and Dappu dance are very distinctive from classical art forms of socially elite. Dappu has emotionally involves its audience. Dappu emerged as the symbol of assertion with raising struggles of dalits. The struggles of madigas (dalits) centred on the beating of the drum. Beating Dappu is the celebration of the culture of the marginalized against the dominant brahminical culture. In other words, it is the performance of folklore against the dominant art forms of ‘classical’ culture. Dappu is most common accompanying instrument for folk performances of Andhra. The dappu is carried with the process of politicization of folklore. It is evolved from ritual to political performance. In propagating peoples culture and reaching the masses dappu played a remarkable role. Dappu has a significant change from the customary practices to contemporary dalit politics. The cultural organization Jana Natya Mandali of Naxalite politics has not only politicized the folklore, but also appropriate musical instruments such as dappu and dholak, in propagating the people’s culture. The contemporary dalit struggles are translating the condemned life styles, symbols and cultural practices into a symbol of protest with a lot of pride. Dalit movement, especially Madiga Dandora movement has brought immense respect to the Dappu. It has projected it as a symbol of protest of dalit against the brahminical social order and its knowledge systems. Dappu has many facets and symbolizes many things. It signifies the upholding the knowledge systems of the productive castes. It is analogous to the dalit presence in public. It is the creative energy of dalits to liberate from the oppressive and inhuman social structure. Dappu is the aesthetic expression of dalit life. Dappu is the political declaration of self respect of dalits in public against the dominant brahminical hegemony. It is a Chandala Chatimpu! However, Dappu has to be read and understood in the changing socio, economic and political context of dalits in general and Madiga community in particular.

Dappu : The Music of Life Line of Dalits
Dappu is the life line of dalits, especially leatherworking community named madiga of telugu society. They produce chappals and other necessary leather items required for the agriculture. In Indian society this productive caste has seen inferior and untouchable in the name of pollution and caste system.Today's association of leather-working with chappals, the characteristic Indian form of leather footwear, often obscures the former importance of leather items in irrigation, farming, cattle husbandry, transport and many manufacturing processes. In a world where technological substitutes had yet to be developed, leather goods were of immensely greater significance. The tanning of animal skin to produce leather transforms a messy, smelly and rapidly decaying substance into one that can be experienced as sweet and clean and of great utility. It is one of humanity's major historic technological transformations, along with the smelting of metal. In India, complex values related to a main source of the skin, cattle, generated a problem but did not prevent the development of a major industry, carried on in almost every village and town across the land.[i]
Along with the work of leather, they perform other functions in the village. They themselves prepare the dappu and perform in all the public functions of the village. The cultural art form dappu is exclusively belongs to dalits of madiga community. For the Madigas of the Telugu hinterlands, the drum is the heartbeat, their voice, their very lifeline. It is as much a part of their body as the hand that wallops it. Feast or festival, delight or mourning, morning or evening, the `dappu' is omnipresent. He could be an untouchable to the world, yet life's all-important moments are incomplete for the Madiga without his `dappu'. ‘Dappu’ is the most common instrument used in Andhra for making people aware of or publicising any event. From selling of pulses to the calling of the village Panchayat, all secular events are announced to the public by the local dappu player. Similarly, all rituals and festivals will invariably have the dappu throughout, both while the rituals are taking place and in the procession. In some communities marriages and deaths are also signified by the accompaniment of the dappu. It is also an accompanying instrument for many folk performing arts, especially the dances. It is integral part of many folkforms of performing arts and folk dances. It is a circular wooden frame work generally made up of Neem. It is radius about six to eight inches. The skin of young male buffalo or goat is tightly tied to one end of the frame. Two small sticks are used to beat the dappu. This results in various types of sounds. The stick that is held in the right hand is a round one and it is about nine inches in length. It is called ‘sirre’, and is the main hitting device. ‘Sitikena - chitikena – pulla’ is the other stick and it is thin. It is a little longer than the other one. The expert drummer produces different sounds by putting his left palm on the upper rim of the frame. The stick in the left hand is used to control the rhythm. The different kind of “drumming styles” is known as "debba".
A unique dance form has developed inspired by the beatings of Dappu. This dance is known as Dappu dance. The different dance steps or the leg movements are called 'adugu'. Each step has individual names like ‘ata dappu’, ‘okka sira dappu’, ‘samidika dappu’, ‘madil dappu’, ‘gundam dappu’ etc. The performance begins with a ‘pradhana dappu’ or the invocation during which the artists move slowly in circles. Acrobatic postures of the performers while playing the dappu is also a common scene. Watching a Dappu dance along with the beatings of dappu is a trilling experience for the audience. Dappu Dance derives its name from this instrument. The songs sung in Dappu Dance are choric and sometimes erotic. Tiger Steps, Bird Steps and Horse steps are some of the movements related to the Dappu Dance. In the Dappu Dance the music is often titillating and the foot steps of the dancers are very vital to keep the rhythm of the dance. The Dappu Dance is accompanied with drum beats, which provides rhythm and tone to it. Dappu is a lively dance that invigorates the artist as well as the audience. The Dappu Dancers wears ankle bells that keep the rhythm. They generally perform in front of a huge procession and Jatras are often commenced by a performance by the Dappu Dancers. A troupe consisting of ten to twenty artistes presents Dappu dance during marriage processions, car festivals of deities and village fairs and festivals. Tiger steps, bird steps, horse steps are some of the styles of dance movements presented in the Dappu dance. The beat of the Dappu and the foot work of the dancers synchronise with each other so perfectly that from a slow moving, low-beating rhythm, it reaches its climax with the frantic drums keeping pace with the dazzling foot work by the dancers. They play several kinds of rhythms like Trisra, Chaturasa, Mirsa, Khandagati, Sankeerna, jatis, comprising seven type of beats. They follow different kinds of dance, leaping from one side to another with complicated foot work. The costumes worn by dancers constitute of a 'Talapaga' or a head turban, 'dhoti', a 'datti' and ankle bells. The performance starts with an invocation called "Pradhana Dappu" when the dancers move slowly in a circular way. The dancers usually move in a circular way while at a standing position and in a linear way of two rows while in procession. Their steps (movements of the foot called ‘adugu’) include steps with side-long moves ( ta dappu), two steps, one forward and one backward (okka sira dappu), moving side ways with right leap (samiḍika dappu), two leaps upwards (mādil dappu), moving with one leg side-way and the other in a circular way (gundam dappu), etc. Each dance performance starts with a ‘prādhana dappu’ (invocation) during which the artists move slowly in a circular way.

Brahminical culture vs Dalit culture
One may find interesting differences between the culture of lower castes and brahminical castes, though culture has changed with changing times. The brahminical culture is treated as high culture and generally known as classical culture, where as the culture of the lower castes treated as low, animistic and generally identified with folklore. The culture of the social elite got its supremacy further with the technological innovations such as script, print and photography. The elite culture is surviving through the written culture and the culture of lower castes still remains with oral culture. The brahminical culture practiced with reverence and the culture of the lower castes looked down. Infact, the Brahmanical forces and market forces pick up the elements of culture of lower castes for their own advantage. It is necessary for them to create a cultural hegemony over its subordinates. The ruling class gets the consent from its subordinates through this kind of exercise. The form and content of those cultural forms change is accordingly. The original cultural form had the element of freedom of lower castes expressed through aesthetic forms. It is ingrained with life, joy, suffering and struggle of the communities. In place of it, the ruling Brahmanical and market forces presents the artificial culture with false values. They appropriate the cultural forms of dalits and ultimately use it to govern these. The culture of brahmins become God centred as against the human centredness of lower caste communities. Culture of the lower castes was taken up by Brahmanical class and changed its form and methods of worship. They locked up the culture in temples against the practice of performing in the public, in front of whole community. The cultural form has become standardized rather than interactive. 'The art, culture and literature outside the temple are treated as culture of the low people. The lifeless movements in temple projected itself as the 'art'.' As the leader of Dalit Panthers of India, Thirumavalavan observed, 'Bharata Natyam is not some new dance form. Hindutva and casteism entered into our arts, into our culture and our arts and culture assumed different forms. They changed the methods of worship. The mother of all this is the culture of the Cheri people, the arts of the Cheri people. Only we live a life of community. Only we have a culture of equality.
All the celebrated forms of brahminical art forms had roots in the art forms of lower caste people. The classical dance, classical song, modern drama had originated from the folklore which predominantly belongs to dalits. Prior to invention of language art exists. The human life was set in motion and she/he finds the ways to entertain himself/herself along with gathering of food. He/she narrated to others his/her heroic deeds. He narrated his fears and struggle to survive. This narration had become literature. He/she performed certain rituals either to please or gain control over natural forces. The performance had become dance. All these literature, art, dance were originated from their collective social labour. The culture lies very much in community life. The human creativity has connected with his/her engagement with social labor. This is rooted in natural phenomenon. The culture, art, literature of the common people was transmitted orally along with their life experiences. The language was enriched with rich life experiences in a more naturalistic way.
Dappu the folklore cultural form of dalits came into existence quite naturally along with the life of untouchable community and their involvement in labour. It has transformed in course of time. It is appropriated even by dominant social groups through their cultural mediums such as cinema. At the same time dalits are radically transforms this cultural form into political, in their struggle for human dignity and self respect.

The musical instrument Dappu and Dalit Aesthetics
Carol S. Reck and D.B.Reck ‘Drums of India: A Pictorial Selection’ one should note in passing the connection of drums and drumming with specific castes, depending upon the drum and its status or function. Specific drums may be connected to certain musical traditions or to other uses(ritual, thetre, minstrelry etc. ) and they may be played by certain castes.[ii] The double headed Mrudangam the principle drum of south Indian classical music, the high status classical music drums ,tabla ( a pair of drums, one hemispherical and other conical), barrel shaped pakhawaj of Hindustani music, barrel shaped mrudangam and khajira tambourine of karnatak music tradition.these drums re also part of classical dance ensembles. Some of the drums areasociated with ritual and temple worship such as panchamukha vadya,pambai, urumi, kundalum, kirkatti, udukkai, tavil with nadgaswaram. The folkdance traditions bridge the ritualistic and recreational, dhol, dholak found in north India, dhumsa of tribals of Bihar and Dappu of madigas of Andhra Pradesh. As Mudali Nagabhushana Sharma observes, though classicists feel that the drum with the two sides gives better depth and variation to the sound produced, one should see and hear the dappu dancers to believe the different nuances that it can create. In spite of the existence of several other types of drums, none can beat the thrill that a dappu can create in the minds and hearts of countless villagers of Andhra even today.[iii]

Political Resonance of Dappu
In early seventies, with the rise of Naxalite movement, the cultural organization Jana Natya Mandali (JNM) came into existence to carry forward the ideology of revolutionary politics to the masses. JNM has politicized the folklore with a political. For all its performances , the music dappu occupies central place. In this sense, JNM revolutionized the music of dappu. Dappu symbolizes the creativity of the community. Jana Natya Mandali ’s Constructive introspection led to a phase in the late seventies where art was truly from the people and so was the form. The hypnotic 'kanjira', the rhythmic 'gajjalu', and the vibrant, powerful 'dappu' redefined aesthetic parameters.[iv] It is obvious that Dappu and Dolak remain as main instruments in the JNM programmes. It has experimented with many instruments going along with the interests of the people who join the JNM. The JNM experience reveals that Dappu and Dholak were with them till the end. Musical instruments are needed to be revolutionized.
The symbol is reinvented with intensified struggles of dalits from late eighties. Dappu symbolizes the political assertion of the community. It has changed the political and cultural discourses of telugu society. The condemned life styles and cultural forms of untouchable communities are transformed into the symbols of pride and protest. The Madiga Dandora movement, which is demanding for the rationalization of reservation policy for Scheduled Castes, altogether gave a new meaning to Dappu.[1] The word Dandora means traditionally identified with the public announcement carried by the dalit with alerting public through dappu beat. As it is reported in prominent dailies, ‘as the clock struck two on Sunday, a group of youths wearing the anklets of dancers and beating drums started the walk, announcing the ‘waging war against the Government’s indifference to the Madigas’ problems’. This proclamation is the ‘Dandora’, the traditional form of announcement in the villages, and the movement has come to be called the ‘Madiga Dandora’. The group holds wayside meetings at the Madiga hamlets situated on the outskirts of every village early in the day. (April 14, 1997)
The struggles of the dalits has created the consciousness among the people to construct/ reproduce their own culture to fight oppressive social relationships. In recent times dalit movement is one such struggle in upholding the culture, history and politics of lower castes. Dalit movement provided spectacle through which they could look at their own culture. There is a serious attempt of dalit intelligentsia to construct their culture from the past in response to the cultural hegemony of dominant castes. From late nineties in the back drop of dalit movement there is a considerable literature Telugu society in general and other alternative democratic movements in particular. It is the dalit poet Sudhakar's search for his community roots where rich cultural tradition and indigenous knowledge systems were enlivened. To write these stories he went to his native village and recorded the social and cultural experiences of older generations. Ramesh's Dhim, Ku, Ta, Ka (Dappu Notes) of JNM. is an attempt to write the grammar and rhythm of dappu.

The celebration of Dappu is visible in all its cultural and literary expressions of dalits. As a testimony to this one may see the appearance of Dappu as the emblem of dalit literature and dalit movement. The chandala chatimpu of Nagappagari Sunderaraju, Panchamavedam of Satish Chander, Noorella dalita vudhyamam of Adapa satyanarayana are few examples to cite. Dandora Daga Padda Gunde Chapudu (The resonance of deceived Hearts ) by Panthukala Srinivas[v], and Lelle Suresh’s Mahadiga documentaries are important visuals in this direction. The film Mahadiga, which was shot in eight months in Krishna and Khammam districts with real life characters, captures the angst of the Madigas isolated for generations despite their enormous service to the society. "From birth to death, the Madigas are there when the people need them. People wear the slippers they make; they get into a trance in festivals to the earthy rhythms drummed up by the Madigas. Madigas are there till the end when the mortal remains are consigned to the flames. We ensure a decent exit to people and cattle from this world. Yet, we are treated as untouchables even by the untouchables. What justice is this," asks Suresh.[vi]

Dappu : The Symbol of Protest

From Emma Rauschenbusch ‘While Sewing Sandals Or Tales of Telugu Paraiah Tribe’of 1900[vii] to Vemula Yellaih's novel Kakka of 2000, Dappu stands as the a symbol of contesting the brahminacal hegemony.
Emma Rauschenbusch ‘While Sewing Sandals Or Tales of Telugu Paraiah Tribe’ describes madigas are among the humblest and most despised of the Pariahs of Southern India. They are the leather workers in the Telugu country. For centuries they have tanned hides, sewed sandals, prepared leather buckets for the wells of the Sudras, and made trappings for their bullocks. And all their search for truth was carried on while sewing sandals with their hands. It was part of the service which they owed to the village community, on the principle of mutual service, that they should beat the drums when there was a festival to the swamis. The Madigas had to furnish the leather for the drums. Who should beat them but they ? To refuse to perform this old-time duty "meant loss to them. They received the carcases of the animals which were slaughtered to please the gods in question as remuneration for their special service.(p.209) Some years had passed, when the priests of the goddess Ankalamah decided that the annual feast at her temple in the village Muktimulla should be held with unusual pomp. There had been cattledisease of late, and some of the wells were running dry. They said the goddess was probably angry because she had not of recent years been honoured sufficiently, and they hinted, too, that the Madigas and their refusal to beat the drums had fanned the displeasure of the goddess. Now Ankalamah is one of the ten great Saktis, a form of Parvati, consort of Siva. The Karnam of the village Muktimulla was a Brahmin, seventy years of age, anda worshipper of Siva. He decided that Ankalamah should have the drums beaten by the Madigas at her annual feast, just as she had seen it done during many a century. Moreover, she should have the pleasure of seeing the rebellious Madigas humiliated as they deserved. When the feast was in course of preparation, and crowds of worshippers had gathered, the Karnam sent for the Christians to come and beat the drums. They returned a message that their religion forbade them to have anything to do with idol-worship. Five village constables were then sent to fetch five of the leading Christians. They were brought by force. Water was poured over their heads until it was thought the uncleanness of their Christian religion had been washed away. Their heads were shaved, and only a lock on top of their heads—the juttu—was left, that the swami might dwell therein. And, finally, their foreheads were marked like those of the other worshippers. The drums were forced into their hands, and for three days they had to endure the shame of their position, while large crowds came to worship the goddess.
Kakka is a dalit boy's struggle for madignzation. Kakka was denied an opportunity to take up the duty to perform madigarikam (caste profession) that is considered a honour in the community. He learns to play Dappu from the community's head as a symbol of pride of the community.
This is to conclude that life, struggle, culture and politics are not separate in case of dalits. The music of Dappu symbolizes the rhythm of life of dalits. It represents the dalit aesthetics and creative cultural energy of dalits. The dappu has not only performed for customary rites of Indian society but also set against the dominance of the brahminical hegemony. The meaning of dappu may be changed from Emma’s ‘While Swing Sandal’ to Yellaiah’s ‘Kakka’, but the undercurrent theme of struggle for respect remains the same.
[1] Madiga Maha Pada Yatra was acclaimed as a march not only for the rights of the Madigas but for the rights of every marginalised caste and community for their ‘due share’ in the reservation facilities. Further, they assured everyone, the ‘march’ was not against any group or caste but for a society which is based on equality, where everyone is treated equally and rights and privileges are distributed equitably among the marginalised castes (Personal interview with Krupakar Madiga, co-convenor of the MRPS, Hyderabad 14.3.03.)

[i] Charseley, Simon. Interpreting Untouchability: The Performance of caste in Andhra Pradesh, 2004 Asian Folklore Studies 63: 267-290

[ii] Carol S. Reck and D.B.Reck Drums of India: A Pictorial Selection, Asian Music Vol.13. No.2 1982 p.40

[iii] Nagabhushan Sharma, M Folk performing Arts of Andhrapradesh, Hyderabad: Telugu University, 1995 p.51-55

[iv] Somsehar , N.The Movement and the Song; Portrait of a cultural Army, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 25 No.29 (July 21, 1990) p. 1570

[v] Panthukala Srinivas, Dandora Daga Padda Gunde Chapudu CD Anveshi 2006
[vi]Madhav, K.V.S. Starring Madiga and Dappu, A Report on Lelle Suresh’s documentary film Mahadiga, The Hindu Daily
[vii]Emma Rauschenbusch ‘While Sewing Sandals Or Tales of Telugu Paraiah Tribe’ (London, Peternoster Row, 1899

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