The sound of drumming is common in my neighhourhood, especially during festival season. There’s a temple in the next street so many noisy processions go by on festival days. And just a few doors away, is an office of the Congress party who like to have noisy ‘functions’, complete with long speeches yelled into a megaphone and of course firecrackers and yes, drumming. Funeral processions are also accompanied by drumming as a way of letting people know that someone has passed away.
The sound of loud drumming can’t go unnoticed, that’s why the city authorities regularly hire drummers to make a lot of noise as a tactic to embarrass tax evaders and get them to pay up. I have already written about this here and in the past week there have been several stories in the paper revealing the success of this tactic. The drummers show up in front of the tax offender’s house or business with a banner listing his name and the amount due, and start drumming away. And it works!
The sound of drumming is quite hypnotic and even trance-like. During festival processions there’s usually a few people (always men) dancing away to the frenetic beat of the drum as if in a trance. The vibrations of the drum are also very strong and you can feel them reverberating off your body just a few metres away; it’s almost uncomfortable.
So I’ve often thought about these drummers, who they are, where they come from and especially, how they manage to drum for so many hours. Recent articles in The Hindu and The Caravan have mentioned these drummers and something about their background.
Most of them have day jobs working as labourers, construction workers, auto rickshaw drivers, etc. They’re hired to play the drum (tamate in Kannada) at funerals or by political parties for their rallies, and as mentioned above, by the city authorities. The Hindu article reveals that they make about 300 Rs. each for a few hours of drumming.
Believe it or not, as I write this, I hear distant drumming… it could be a funeral procession, a political rally, or a tax defaulter!
Once during Ram Navami, while I was lying sleepless in the middle of the night, listening to the loud, crazy drumming, I wondered to myself: “Why kind of drugs are these guys on?” Seriously, they drum for hours non-stop, and not only is it very loud, it's extremely energetic and fast-paced. It must be exhausting (and deafening)!
The Caravan article shed some light on their superpowers. A senior drummer reveals: “Without alcohol it is impossible to play the tamate... there is a lot of vibration that comes from the tamate. If you don’t drink, your hand will start hurting after a while. If you’ve had enough to drink then you can keep playing the tamate continuously, come rain or shine.”