Monday, 22 December 2014

Pungi or Bin - Cobra charmers' magic and musical wand

Pungi or Bin musical instrument played by Indian snake charmers. www.arunamusicalstore.com
Snake charming in India in on the decline as it was banned by the Indian Government way back in 1991. However, the  snake charmers conduct shows  in secluded areas in villages and towns to avoid cops.  Indian people themselves have no idea whatsoever about the instrument being used by the various tribes of  snake charmers.
Nagin, 1954 popular Bollywood film based on snake charmer & his romance
Pungi or Bin used by snake charmers of India.www.slideshare.net
The musical instrument commonly used by them is called Bin or Pungi(in Tamil ''Magudi''), a reed instrument carved out of dried gourd which is  widely available through out India.This strange instrument has to be played  without pauses with circular breathing.  When air is blown, the bulbous portion (gourd) stores the air from where the air passes through two reed pipes made of dried bamboo, one pipe has holes for playing tune or melody and the other one is for drone.

As we are aware now, snakes don't have ears  and  lack  hearing capability. As  such, you can't  charm a deaf snake by playing a wind instrument before it. The usage, snake-charming is a misnomer as it does not have anything to do with charming the deadly snake. You can not control the movement of a live cobra by playing a jazz tune - ''Chattanooga choo, choo'' in big band style or ''peanut vendor'' in tango style. However, snakes like cobras can pick up ground vibrations easily, based on which they  move around in search of prey. On several occasions I heard people from villages  and hill places  tell me that they saw stray snakes in the houses near the wooded areas  in the hilly regions. On request or emergency call, the snake charmer or catcher  came there with his standard bin instrument, mumbled some  ''mantras'' while playing the instrument. The snake or snakes,  hidden in the house, automatically came before him, raised the hood and swayed following the player's hand movement. He effortlessly caught the snakes in a short time, kept them safely in a basket and went  away with the subdued  snake that was in  a state of stupor. The snake catcher was cool and collected, whereas the the people in the house were really tense and scared.

Snake song and movie:

The famous Hindi movie "Nagin'' ( 1954)  - Vyjayanthimala-Predeep Kumar starer was a very popular movie  for its  mesmerizing snake song "Man Dole Mera Tan.''
The heroine Vyjayanthimala, a well-known actress from Tamil Nadu and a great 'Bharata Natyam' exponent, became more popular after this movie. This movie was more a  romance  than a thriller. This film is about the heroine  Vyjayanthimala, a jungle lass who fell in love with a snake charmer (Pradeep Kumar) and how they  solved  the hurdles caused by their tribes who were on the war path..  This well-known Hindi film was dubbed  in many Indian languages. For several years  all over India at social functions, playing this particular  song was a must. This song became a theme of India's snake charmers in those days when they ran  'sidewalk shows'(in the olden days  the streets were almost free with fewer motor vehicles and people) before a tense, motley crowd. when they opened the basket, the lethal reptile cobra would raise his head in defense initially  and then later sway beautifully as if he liked the tune very much. When the film was shown in the theaters, the owners would bring the snake charmers  to the theater compound  for the fans to listen to a session of music and 'live snake dance.'It was a sort of promotional gimmick that worked well.

This immortal old movie song set to music by great Hemanta Kumar, Music director still lingers in the heart of old timers and compel them to go on a short trip down the memory lane.