Tasha is a musical instrument played to propitiate Veerabhadra. This is an attempt to understand Cultural Change and Continuity.
Veerabhadra and Daksha Yagnya
If you live in India, chances are, you heard about Veerabhadra, know his story. I will recount it briefly here:
“Sati- the wife of Lord Shiva gets insulted by her father Daksha. A series of events occur during Daksha’s yagnya and she self immolates herself in fire.
Knowing that his beloved wife is no more, Shiva creates Veerabhadra. Created to kill, Veerabhadra sets out for destruction with an army of soldiers.
He forages towards the Yagnya, fights, destroys the sacrificial ritual and beheads Daksha.”
The story goes on. Shiva is called in to stop Veerabhadra and his entourage. Shiva arrives, revives Daksha back to life and reinstates the yagnya. This is the story that, one most likely knows.
This article in no way pretends to be an exhaustive account of Veerabhadra’s stories. It is based on ethnographic research of the South Asian deity and his Culture in Godavari Districts of Andhra Pradesh, India.
In one of my interviews with a Tasha (a musical instrument played in the ritual processions of Veerabhadra) player, I got to know the following Oral narrative. It is in continuation with the above story.
After Daksha’s beheading, Asakini- the wife of Daksha with her inherent power stops all three worlds. All the gods headed by Brahma and Vishnu then went to Siva and pleaded with him to restore Daksha back to life.
Siva restores the life of Daksha by attaching a goat’s head to his body. While everything including the sacrifice got restored, Veerabhadra remained furious.
This resulted in destructions across the world. Unable to pacify him, the masses prayed and asked him what he wants to become peaceful.
He replied: Omkaranatham- the sound of Om- is to be played for him. Then, Narada and Tumbura, the two celestial sages well-versed in music, created a human called Veerangeya.
Veerangeya was to create the sound somehow. He used his creative energies and took the body of the goat whose head was fixed to Daksha and created an instrument called Veeranam.
He removed the skin and created the membrane on which one plays the beat. He used the intestines as the rope to tie the instrument and started playing it.
After listening to its music, Veerabhadra got pacified. The gods were relieved and gave boons to Veerangeya.
Brahma gave him the power to be a creator, Vishnu gave a Chakram (Wheel) and, Siva gave a Soolam (Trident). Veerangeya received all these boons and became a Kummari- Potter.
Veerabhadra granted a boon to Veerangeya. Every time a ritual procession is held to propitiate him, Veerangeya and his descendants are given the right to play the instrument.
This is an oral narrative about Veerabhadra. It discusses the origin stories of jataras, a musical instrument called Veeranam and the community of Kummaris (Potters) in the region. During my field work in 2015, Komarapati Verriyya – a Tasha player shared this Oral narrative with me.
Tasha and the Old man
Veeranam and this community, among others, are said to have an indispensable role to play in the ritual procession or the Jatara of Veerabhadra. Verriyya was seventy- seven at the time when I went to meet him at his remote village.
I saw the house’s cupboards filled with mementos, awards and pictures of him with prominent people. I was told that he played throughout the country in Arts and Culture programs. He gave a few programs outside India as well.
His story interested me, it was a good case to observe continuity and change of cultural processes.
Verriyya got interested in Tasha in his childhood. He said he loved the sound of it so much that he wanted to play it. He went to a famous Tasha player and asked him to teach. The teacher was hesitant.
You must be wondering why. Verriyya didn’t belong to the community of people who transmit this art from one generation to another. At the time, him wanting to play the instrument meant that he was challenging the existing socio-cultural system at place.
Tasha is to be played with a group- alongside a minimum of 2 or 3 other Tasha players and other instruments like Veeranam, Ramu Dolu and Sannayi.
He recounted how joyful he felt when his teacher agreed to train him. His main challenge was not just learning to play it. He had to find a group of people who would accept him to play in their group.
He shared one instruction his teacher told him: he had to be an exceptional player if he had to break into the circle. He succeeded at it. This is his story of Tasha.
“Tasha is dead!”
If you want to know about Tasha, you should understand how it is supposed to be made. Back then, we all made our own Tasha. The surface of these Tashas bought from a shop are made of plastic.
We went to the butcher shop and asked for the left-over skin of a goat. One needs to clean it, clear the hair, soak it in soap nut water, rinse it thoroughly and let it sun dry.
We repeated this process until we know the membrane is ready. Then this membrane is fitted onto the frame using natural gum and rope. The frame is made out of clay, wood or iron.
A Tasha made in this way is a second life for the skin. Its skin is significant due to the story of Veerangeya as well. It has a characteristic sound- lively and louder than the plastic ones.
The plastic covering is readily available for thirty rupees and its durable. So, everyone started using it. But it’s sound is not as rich, it feels lifeless.
The story and the philosophical meaning that comes along with the repurposed skin Tasha is being neglected. Now the process of preparing it, which was passed on from generation to generation is nearly extinct.
I spoke to authorities in Ministries of Culture to not enable plastic ones at least in their performances so the knowledge can be preserved.I ask my fellow players to not use the plastic ones.
No one pays heed to it.
Tasha is played in a group. As the sound needs to be in sync, we can’t use different kinds of Tashas at a time.
So, I unwillingly gave up and play the plastic ones alongside them.
Tasha sachipoyindhi- Tasha is dead!
This is Verriyya’s story of Tasha. It is a window to the bigger Cultural processes at play- a story of Continuity and Change.
Tasha and Cultural change
Continued existences form the central theme in the tradition of Veerabhadra. It is believed that some dead children can continue their existence in the human realm as a Veerabhadra.
Using the skin of a dead animal to please these Veerabhadras during rituals has a significance to it. The story of Veeranam mentions the significance briefly, but not directly.
Just as becoming a Veerabhadra is a second life of the dead child, so is Tasha to the dead skin. It is a symbolism that represents life after death and continued existences.
As Tasha continues to be played in ritual processions and performances, the way in which it is made changed. Along with this change, the Cultural meaning attached to Tasha has also changed.
Its meaning shifted from a Cultural symbolism rooted in the stories of Veerabhadra to a plastic musical instrument.
Verriyya’s story of standing against caste differences to play Tasha is a good case to understand social change.
Any social tides didn’t turn just because one person was allowed to break the convention. His story became an exception- not a rule. He loved the instrument, convinced his master to teach him, mastered it and years later became a renown Tasha player.
By playing Tasha at a time when certain communities were only allowed to play it, he represented a possibility. A possibility that didn’t exist until then.
Bands and, music-cum- dance groups are slowly replacing the strict caste-based guidelines and communities.
One can study the life cycle of Tasha as a microcosm to understand certain Cultural and Socio-Economic processes.
A while back, I wrote another story about the multiple identities of Veerabhadra and, the story of a Gate Keeper in Pattiseema temple. Read it here.