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Bhanda vadya seems to have been the ancient Indian word used to denote drums made of clay. They have more or less spherical bodies. Bhand literally means a vessel or a pot. In ancient literature, Ramayana and Jatakas, etc., we get references of bhanda vadyas in abundance which were of various shapes and sizes. We get the details of the earliest pot drums in Natya Shastra in which it is called dardur and constitutes an important part of the ensemble along with the mridang and panav. The instrument can be seen in the sculptures of various temples. Dardur is described as spherical shaped. Its mouth was covered with hide, which was kept intact by means of a jute string. In playing, both the hands were used. Various types of sounds were produced by placing the different parts of the palm and fingers on the mouth of the pot.
Later on, it slowly declined in importance and at the time of another important text of the thirteenth century, it almost lost its independent identity, and the name was also changed from dardur to ghatam, and the mnemonics described were the same as those described for mridang.
With the passage of time the covering of the mouth of the spherical pot was dropped.
Gradually this uncovered ghat became a popular instrument of folk music of various regions in the north, whereas in the south it rose to the status of a concert instrument. It is just a coincidence that in Carnatic music it is again played with mridangam and khanjeera as a part of an- ensemble. All the rhythmic patterns of mridangam can be played upon this instrument. It is for the last 100 or 150 years that ghatam has been honoured for being introduced into the more serious type of music of the Carnatic system.
By the continuous pressing and opening of the ghatam’s mouth against the stomach of the player, a wide variety of sound modulations can be produced. The strokes are given on various parts of the pot, the neck, the centre and the bottom with the help of palms, wrists, fingers and nails of both the hands. Ghatam is said to be made of the five elements of nature, i.e. earth, water, fire, air and space.
Ghatams are made of clay with iron fillings. Copper, silver, gold and aluminium particles are also mixed with the clay to give the instrument sweet and resonant tonal quality.
The instrument is made in various types so as to suit the different sruties. Mostly the sruti of the instrument would be the adhara sruti of a performance. By taking precaution with regard to sruti, the quality of the performance is greatly enhanced. When soap or wet clay is applied to the neck of the ghatam, it brings down the sruti by half a note or one note. In winter, if heated, the instrument gives a good tone.
The first man who developed the instrument as an accompaniment was probably Vidwan Chidambara lyer of Polagam. He flourished in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
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