Islamabad - The rich cultural heritage of traditional drums is dying a slow death. The sadness can be seen in the eyes of Mehr Ghulam Nabi. Nabi sits on the footpath of the busy Murree Road, searching for customers to earn bread for the livelihood in his family in his native village in Shorkot.

Mehr Ghulam has lost all his passion for drum beating, which he once had. Now he is just playing drums to meet the ends for his family back home. His family is spinning into a debt of the sole general merchant in his village.

In the past, one could witness the presence of drum players on reaching the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Road (Murree Road). But the changing scenario of the country has seen a visible reduction in the number of drum-beaters.

Majority of the drum players belong to other parts of Punjab including Jhang, Multan, Shorkot, Faisalabad Sargodha and Lahore.

In the current scenario, the price hike and deteriorating law and order situation have affected the livelihood of these folk music players. At times, weeks go by and they are unable to get a single function to display their artistic skills and earn money for food and shelter.

Talking to The Nation, Mehr Ghulam, a drum player, told us that he had been in this profession for the past 40 years and had been performing in the city since 1992.

He said that this was his family profession. However, he added that his training by an Ustad (teacher) was a deviation from the family rule of learning the art from one’s father.

“Now our earning has been significantly reduced due to bomb blasts and other terrorists’ activities in the country,” the old performer told lamenting about the poor law and order situation of the country.

He added that some time ago, government also used to hire drum players to give welcome receptions to the visiting heads of other countries but this idea had been dropped due to fear of terrorist attacks.

Ghulam said that many of people had now left the profession of drum beating and started other labouring works after return.

Elaborating on the details of their functions, he informed that people mostly hired them for events such as weddings, engagement ceremonies while political people also availed their services for political gatherings.

Sabir Ahmed, who performed with him also seemed upset about the current situation and told that they came here every day and went back empty handed.

This colourful tradition of drum (dhol) beating on the occasions of happiness and joy, which represents the rich culture of Punjab, is in decline.

Once, drum beaters clad in colourful dresses used to be an important part of functions such as marriage, child birth and other occasions of happiness. They were also a part of religious ceremonies. With the advent of electronic devices like tape recorders, CD players, and computers the presence of drum beaters (Dhol players) in celebratory events has reduced.

The drums or dhol are also the world’s oldest and most ubiquitous musical instruments. Their basic design has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. The history of drums is as old as the human civilization itself.

It is presumed that drums originated as early as 6000 BC. Mesopotamian excavations discovered small cylindrical drums dated 3000 BC. Inside caves in Peru, several wall markings were found which show the use of drums in various aspects of communal life. The American Indians used gourd and wooden constructed drums for their rituals and ceremonies. Drums are not only used for creating music. They have been used for communication as well.

In the Indian Sub-continent, the dhol is a drum that dates back to the 15th century. It was probably introduced to the Indian subcontinent via the Persian drum type dohol or duhul. The evidence for this is found in Ain-i-Akbari, which describes the use of duhul in the orchestra of the Moghul emperor Akbar. The Indo-Aryan word “dhol” appears in print around 1800 in the treatise Sangitasara.

Few years ago, this traditional culture of rural Punjab was introduced in the main cities. These drum players used to wear colourful dresses and turban (pagdi) for an enchanting outlook.

Another drum player, Nasir Ahmed, who was unhappy with the situation said that he had no intention to indulge his children in this profession because it had become very difficult to make ends meet due to the limited income. He said that he was trying to give his children a good education so that they could live a good life.

He remarked that the English culture had overwhelmed this folk culture of drum beating. However, he added that there are still a few people who enjoy this performance. Describing one such example, Nasir told that recently along with his party, he was invited to a marriage ceremony of a boy on the desire of his grandfather. The old man wanted to tell his new generation about the culture of Pakistan.

Nasir Ahmed, who is not so sure about his future, is sure that he would not transfer his skills and art to his children only to save them from the hardships of life that he has to face.