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Banam
 
The banam is an ancient fiddle like instrument played by the Santals. Of the 14 different instruments they play, the banam, is the most revered. The Santals play this generally one-stringed instrument as an accompaniment to their songs and dances like the Dasae, Sohrae, Don, Lagre and Karam. 

According to legend, seven brothers once conspired to kill and eat their sister. It so happened that when she was cooking, she accidentally cut her hand and a few drops of blood fell into the food. The food turned out to be very delicious, so the brothers thought that she would make a tasty meal. When they had killed their sister, the youngest brother was full of guilt and could not bring himself to eating his sister’s meat. He took his portion and buried it in an anthill. Later, a beautiful tree grew in its spot. One day, as a man was passing by, he heard music coming from the tree. Out of curiosity he cut some wood from the trunk and made a musical instrument out of it, which later came to be known as the banam.



 
The banam is an ancient fiddle like instrument played by the Santals. Of the 14 different instruments they play, the banam, is the most revered. The Santals play this generally one-stringed instrument as an accompaniment to their songs and dances like the Dasae, Sohrae, Don, Lagre and Karam.

According to legend, seven brothers once conspired to kill and eat their sister. It so happened that when she was cooking, she accidentally cut her hand and a few drops of blood fell into the food. The food turned out to be very delicious, so the brothers thought that she would make a tasty meal. When they had killed their sister, the youngest brother was full of guilt and could not bring himself to eating his sister’s meat. He took his portion and buried it in an anthill. Later, a beautiful tree grew in its spot. One day, as a man was passing by, he heard music coming from the tree. Out of curiosity he cut some wood from the trunk and made a musical instrument out of it, which later came to be known as the banam.

The importance of the banam to the Santals was measured by the elaborate artwork and carving that could be found on instruments which were sometimes so rudimentary that they did not even have a tuning peg. This artistic expression of the maker resulted in a wide variety of shapes and designs on the peg box found in the older banams made by a few old Santal craftsmen of Dumka and Birbhum. Ornamentation took precedence over an otherwise basic structure with the human figure being the predominant motif.   

There are various kinds of banam. It could be as simple as a coconut shell body covered with skin of a local water snake, a bamboo neck and a wooden bridge. This is the Huka or Reta banam. Sometimes, the bamboo neck is replaced by an umbrella stick! A Huka banam often has 2 or 3 strings, often wire.

The banam could also be carved out of a single log of wood (sometimes the jackfruit tree), with the sound box covered with animal skin – goat, chameleon or monitor lizard. This is considered to depict the belly of the human figure and the bridge rests on this. The unsheathed portion of the hollow is considered to represent the chest above which is a short neck and finally a carved head.  This is the Dhodro banam. The resonator of the Huka banam is held to the chest with the neck pointing outwards while the Dhodro banam is held vertically.

The bow is made from a specially shaped bamboo strip and horse tail hair. Sometimes sisal fibre is used as a substitute for horse hair. A block of rosin (extracted from resin) is rubbed on the bow hair to grip the strings together and make them vibrate better, thus producing a better sound. The string on the body of the dhodro banam is usually a thin cotton rope. 

Another derivative is the fretless Phentor or Phet banam which looks like a dotara and has three or four strings. This banam seems to have overtaken the Dhodro in popularity in recent times and more in sync with younger Santals. 

The Dhodro banam is often designed in the shape of the female body and as per tradition, only men have played the instrument. But so that it does not become a museum piece, girls nowadays are being encouraged to learn it. 

Though the Dhodro banam is still made and played in Santal villages, it is reflective of a slower lifestyle and a more sedate outlook. It is only the older people in the villages who are associated with it - there is no demand for it among the younger generation of Santals. And even among the existing banam makers, the ornate, elaborate carving that so typified a Dhodro banam is rarely found. The old masters, in West Bengal at least,  are no more. 



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