Andhra Pradesh has a rich culture of folk dances from all over India. Dappu is one of the many things. This is a lively dance that is accompanied by the beat of the drums and is enjoyed by people who are filled with joy. Leatherworkers are the ones who started dancing and playing this drum for fun, since the upper caste people wouldn’t allow them to participate in their events. Dappu is not only a drum, but signifies so many things. The Madiga community became a movement in support of one another. For upper-caste societies, the Dappu is an untouchable instrument, a drum played only at funerals.But for the Madigas, who are the only ones to create and operate this instrument, it is a tradition rooted in folklore, an integral part of their lives, and a way of resisting injustice. The Dappu or Parai is a percussion instrument made from a round wooden frame and animal hide, which resonates with the history of resistance and assertion.
Many people tell the story of the monkey and the drum. The folk story of ‘the monkey and the drum’ is commonly recounted by Madiga communities in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. According to the man, he went to the forest to hunt some prey. He saw a male monkey playing a one-sided drum and the female monkey dancing and swinging to its beats. The man wanted to hunt a monkey, and since it was forbidden to kill the female, he aimed at the male.He missed and accidentally wounded the female. The male quickly ran to his partner and began to apply a mixture of crushed herbs. He started playing the drum, hoping it would wake her up, but this did not happen. The monkey was heartbroken as he mourned near her body. He left behind the drum. The man who had been watching this all along took the drum back to his village. He recounted what he had witnessed to his fellow villagers, and they were soon dancing to the drums like the monkeys on the tree.They all learned how to play the instrument, and the community was transformed. Even after the death of the man who discovered it, others continued to play it and pass on the knowledge of its music to future generations, who would play it with sticks.
“Mana thaathalu antha sachipoyinlu! Yaadiki botharu? Mattloki poyina thappetu kottalsindey, cheppulu guttalsindey! Aakasam loki boyina, mabbulameena nilabadi, dappulu gottalsindey!”
All our ancestors are dead, but what difference does it make where they are, alive or dead? Even after being buried in the ground, they will still have to play the Dappu and they will still have to sew shoes! Even if they soar to the skies, they will have to stand on the clouds and play the Dappu!
—From ‘Mallemoggala Godugu’ by Yendluri Sudhakar, a prominent Dalit Telugu writer and poet.
Rittika (she/they) practising therapist. Art, music and philosophy enthusiast ( “Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness… an empathy… was necessary if the attention was to matter” – Marry Oliver)