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Uploaded on Jan 29, 2011
The parai is a frame drum about 35 centimeters in diameter. It consists of a shallow ring of wood, covered on one side with a stretched cow hide that is glued to the wooden frame. The preferred wood is neem wood although other types may be used. The shell is made up of three separate pieces of wood each in the shape of an arc. These pieces are held together by three metal plates. The parai is played with two sticks: one long and thin flat bamboo stick (approx. 28 cm) and one short and thick stick that can be made from any variety of wood (approx. 18 cm). Local histories describe the parai as an ancient instrument performed in the courts of Sangam, Chola, and Pandiyan rulers. The drums were used to announce important messages and orders of the great Tamil Kings. Today the parai folk drum is associated with Dalit communities (formerly known as untouchables). Dalits are the lowest ranking members of the Hindu social order, outside the four classes of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. The two best-known Dalit drumming castes are the Paraiyars (named after the parai drum) and the Telugu speaking Cakkiliyars. The former refers to this drum as a parai, the latter as a 'thappu'. In addition to performing music at their own temple festivals and religious celebrations, Dalits for the last several centuries have provided inauspicious ritual services for higher castes, most notable drumming for funerals. Because of its association with death, Dalit drummers and the parai drum are considered both impure and degraded by upper castes. In recent years, Dalit communities have reclaimed the parai with pride to become a symbol of Dalit cultural identity and social freedom.