//Parai : The rhythm of Dalit liberation

Parai : The rhythm of Dalit liberation

Radhika Giri in Madurai, SNS, March 21. —

These days, when A Arumugam boards a Madurai-bound bus, he no longer feels it necessary to hide his Parai. With a new-found confidence, he flaunts his single-face, calf-hide drum, ignoring the occasional look of surprise on his fellow-travellers’ faces.

This year, the 35-year-old man was one of 100 Parai performers who united to render a stunningly symphonic midnight rendition of the traditional folk beat, the Thappattam,” at the 13th Dalit Festival in the grounds of Tamil Nadu Seminary College at Arasaradi in Madurai.
With it, Dalits quietly broke new ground in projecting an art they can very proudly call their own. The performance highlighted this year’s meeting of Dalit artistes and writers in what was an annual feature of life in Madurai, even if it was caught napping when the performance took place. But if Madurai slept, just as the rest of Tamil Nadu did, there were reasons for it.

The festival celebrated the Dalit identity. And, equally importantly, the Parai, until a few years ago, was an “untouchable instrument.” Recalls Arumugam, who had for the past 10 years been attending the festival: “Till about seven years ago, when I was a labourer, I used to visit bereaved families to play the Parai and be given the previous night’s leftovers. I used to be treated very badly.”

He stopped performing for mourners after attending the festival, which made artistes recognise their own worth within the community. And, once associated with mourning, the Parai today livens up college festivals.

The Dalit Artists Festival, begun 12 years ago, is conducted annually by the Dalit Resource Centre in Tamil Nadu Seminary College, Madurai.

Thanks to the efforts put in by the festival organisers, the Parai is now the most-favoured instrument for film music.