The versatility of the tutari in Maharashtra’s politics and culture - Hindustan Times
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The versatility of the tutari in Maharashtra’s politics and culture

Mar 02, 2024 02:31 AM IST

The trumpet-like wind instrument has inspired a cult poem, a train, folk performances and even followers of a political party.

The Election Commission of India allotted a new election symbol — tutari vajavnara manus (a man blowing a tutari) — to the Sharad Pawar faction of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The party led by Ajit Pawar retained the analogue alarm clock, the original poll symbol of the party that was started by Sharad Pawar in 1999. Interestingly, the faction didn't include the tutari in their list of preferred choices that they had provided to the Election Commission. Thus, the allotment of the bugle-like musical instrument that dates back to the pre-colonial era, surprised everyone, including the Sharad Pawar faction. The NCP-Sharadchandra Pawar party — as the faction is officially called — welcomed the decision and conducted a grand ceremony to inaugurate the new poll symbol at the Raigad Fort, the erstwhile headquarters of Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Raigad: NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) chief Sharad Pawar during the launch of party's new symbol, at Raigad Fort, in Raigad district, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI02_24_2024_000076B)(PTI) PREMIUM
Raigad: NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) chief Sharad Pawar during the launch of party's new symbol, at Raigad Fort, in Raigad district, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI02_24_2024_000076B)(PTI)

Tutari is a traditional Indian musical instrument of significant historical importance among Marathi speakers. It also holds considerable significance in Maharashtra's political-cultural setting and shows the uniqueness of the region's musical tradition. From an Indian musical perspective, tutari is categorised as the Sushir Vadya. The Sushir Vadya are wind instruments, like bansuri, shehenai, and shankh, where sound is produced by blowing air into a hollow column. It also closely resembles other musical instruments popular across India, like sringa, ransringa, kurudutu or kombu, which are found in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, respectively. Even outside India, tutari-like instruments, including the narsingha, are used in neighbouring Nepal and Sri Lanka.

A social and cultural role

Due to its distinctive sound, tutari is usually played during ceremonial or festive occasions in Maharashtra. In the precolonial era, it was played to alert people about the arrival of royalty or the commencement of an auspicious occasion. Simultaneously, it was also considered a signal of the beginning of a war. At the same time, it was an essential part of the Warkari tradition, which dates back to the 13th century. Earlier, the tutari was made from the horn of the bullock — today, it is made from metal.

That’s not the only thing that has changed in contemporary times. The tutari is often played in public events —more to hearken to a political past that lends itself to a narrative of glory and pride. Bollywood music may have overwhelmed the audience, but the sharp notes of the tutari not only remain a powerful presence in the regional folk culture, village festivals (jatras) and folk performances but also in Marathi cinema. Marathi movies produced since the 1950s and ’60s, for instance, liberally used the tutari to tell the story of Chhatrapati Shivaji and the history of Maratha conquests.

A strong political tug to the past

Since the sound of tutari is closely linked with the popular perception of Maratha history, it has often been strategically used by the political class to recreate past glory for electoral benefits. During the political rallies of Bal Thackeray, the founder of the Shiv Sena, the tutari was used before the commencement of his speeches, generating a robust emotional response from those gathered.

The rallies undertaken by the Thackeray clan, including Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray, continue with that tradition. In the last two decades, other political parties, including social and apolitical organisations like Sakal Maratha Samaj, have also capitalised on the tutaris ability to attract people’s attention.

Inspired by a cult poem, and a train

The tutari also has a distinctive trajectory in Marathi literature. One of the prominent literary figures of modern Maharashtra, Krishnaji Keshav Damle, aka Keshavsuta (1866-1905), used the instrument in his poem (also named Tutari) to make a strong case against superstition, injustice, and inequality. The poem attained the distinction of becoming one of the cult poems of the early 20th century. With regard to the immense critical accolades the poem received from its readers, the admirers of Keshavsuta established a discussion forum called 'Tutari Mandal' in 1911.

The forum established by the renowned Marathi writer and poet Ram Ganesh Gadkari catered to budding poets to study and discuss the unique literary style Keshavsuta introduced in the 20th century Marathi literature. Keshavsuta's deployment of the idiom of tutari as a clarion call to awaken and rise against social and political injustices generated a new radicalism among the writers and poets. He wrote, for instance:

Bring me a Trumpet

I shall blow it with my breath and soul

And Pierce the entire sky with its extended scream

Bring me such a Trumpet

As a mark of respect to his contribution, the Indian Railways renamed the Rajya Rani Express from Dadar (Mumbai) to Sawantwadi (Sindhudurg district) as Tutari Express.

Considering this ancient instrument's significance in the cultural and historical narratives of Maharashtra, it can undoubtedly become a powerful election symbol for the Sharad Pawar-led party. However, other factors may well ensure that this will be a tough election for the octogenarian and his colleagues.

Prabodhan Pol is an Assistant Professor at Manipal Centre for Humanities, MAHE, Manipal Karnataka. The views expressed are personal.

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