There are not many hands playing Sarinda, a three string traditional musical instrument of Tripura. Ranjan Debbarma, 60, is one of six people in the state with finesse over the instrument. At Natya Gram, it was one-of-its-kind attempt to bring the soulful music of this instrument in theatre. Sarinda music paired with that of flute and dholak was extensively used in the first play of the 20th People’s Theatre Festival, ‘Roop’.
‘Roop’ was a play improvised during a two-month workshop in Tripura with artists from various places, headed by Subodh Patnaik, founder of Natya Chetana. It was during this time the addition of Sarinda’s music to the story was decided, as the story has been sourced from different fables of the state.
Interestingly, Sarinda is played both a ceremony of celebration such as marriage to that of sorrow like a death in the family. With diminishing use of Sarinda, there are fewer who make it. Made out of gumwood, it traditionally used animal skin to cover the bottom part of the front of its hollow wooden sound box. The bow has strings, which too traditionally, were made of the hair from a horse’s tail. Now, instead of the animal skin, aluminum or plastic is used and the strings of the bow are made from banana plant.
Ranjan Debbarma makes his own Sarindas and sometimes teaches about the instrument. He learnt it from his father to play the instrument, but has no one in his line to continue. Coming from his village, Champak nagar, it became difficult at one time to go to All India Radio for occasional shows that he used to get, leading him to opt for jhum cultivation for five years. With a promise of better exposure and income from All India Radio in Tripura 25 years ago, he joined back in the profession. Here he met Sujit Debbarma, dholak player and Buddi Debbarma, flute artist. All the three artists were a part of the music faction of ‘Roop’.
Instruments like Sarinda and artists like Ranjan Debbarma need to be brought in the mainstream so as to save the art from extinction. Through theatre, Natya Chetana tries to revive folk culture and instruments like this.