Mrinalini Singh speaks to one of the only handpan players in the country who
also hand crafts Didgeridoos.
On a light spring evening in Lodhi Garden, Abhinav Deodhar, 30, is sitting by the lake. He has a UFO looking object in his hand—round, metal and black. It is a handpan, similar to the original and more popularly known “hang”. A musical instrument that has been gaining popularity in the recent years for its clean and otherworldly sound.
The handpan can have an instantly calming effect on people. Most who have experienced it first, have experienced it like me, through videos of Daniel Waples on YouTube playing the instrument through the cities of London and Edinburgh. Like most people, I have been overwhelmed by its unique sound that seems to belong to the five basic elements of nature. So naturally, when I got the opportunity to interview and experience the phenomenon live, I didn’t give it a second thought.
He is the first to arrive and waits patiently, never once complaining as people are wont to, he says he is happy to be outdoors and in a park. It’s refreshing, this unassuming egolesness. At the risk of not propagating stereotypes, one rarely associates it with the artist types. An advertising professional by day, he moonlights as a musician and a didgeridoo player, who even crafts the instrument. He is also perhaps the only one in the country to do so. A self-taught musician he says his music flows from his heart. “The need for it comes from something deeper. It stems from various experiences of life. Devoid of fear, prejudice and entanglements.”
So here is this person from advertising, living a seemingly normal yet extraordinary life. How is he playing this beautiful music from an instrument that looks more like it belongs on the set of Game of Thrones?
While growing up, he was much like any other Delhi boy who listened to rock music and was a vocalist in a band. But with time he found a disconnect, “that music didn’t move me,” he says. About 5 years ago, he encountered the didgeridoo, whose sound he describes as organic. It was very different from what he was used to, yet he connected to it instantly. “I spent some time looking for the instrument in India, eventually found someone who was willing to exchange it for a pair of jambe.” The deal was made in Paharganj. “It was only when I had learned how to play the instrument and understood it better, did I realise that I had a raw deal. The one with me wasn’t in a very good condition.” There were not many places that one could buy it as well, so after YouTube tutorials, and some observation, he started to experiment with making them. “I work on them on my terrace and my family is very supportive of me. It means slogging long hours in the sun in my free time, but it is worth it.”
Around the same time he found artist Ezahn Buerahang on YouTube and inspiration struck. “’I saw this guy sitting in absolute chaos in Switzerland, playing the most meditative tune,” he says. “I knew it right then in my gut that this was the instrument for me.” He contacted Ezahn online and waited for five years to procure it, and ever since they have been inseparable—he and his handpan.
I have spent some years analysing their sound quality and I am curious to know what Deodhar sounds like. So I ask him to play.
The only way to describe the experience is surreal. Within ten seconds of him playing, it sounds like all the elements are in tandem and the whole universe is aligned to that sound. The beauty of this instrument lies in the fact that it has a very complete voice that doesn’t require any backing—no vocals or any stringy friends. It can hold completely on its own. While Deodhar continues to play, the atmosphere around us seems to slowly dissolve and change. The warm yellow light that haunts all old monuments in Delhi engulfs me in its warm glow. I feel as if I am inside one of those Tibetan singing bowls. My entire body reverberates with sound and energy. I feel nothing around me, and just like that, suddenly I am breathing better. That is its magical quality— it is as meditative when you listen, as when you play.
The sound of the handpan he is using has a purer ambience from my earlier live experiences. Deodhar says this is because there are many different kinds available in the market and quality of sound differs depending on the maker. The one he owns is called an AsaChan Handpan, AsaChan means “miraculous” in Thai. These are handcrafted by the founding artisan Ezahn Buerahang and made only in Switzerland. To own one of these is rare as they build only 40-50 per year. Even though they look just like two shells, sealed together at the rim, leaving the inside hollow, they are not easy to replicate. There is a long and highly technical process that goes into treating the metal and hammering the right notes on the top shell.
But why wait 5 years to purchase an instrument you love? Deodhar explains that while one can easily purchase it to be fashionable, most in the market don’t have the original sound quality. If you want the real deal, you need to wait, as there is a long process that goes into the making of this deceptively simple looking instrument. Not everyone claiming to make it, can. His advice to people who want to try this is, do your research, catch up with people like him to get acquainted with the sound, decide on where to buy it, and then be ready to wait patiently for one.
The “hang” was first created by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in Bern, Switzerland. The name for it is derived from the Bernese German word for “hand.” The inspiration for this instrument comes from similar instruments called steel pans from the Caribbean islands. So technically all other similar instruments cannot be called “hang” and definitely not hand drum, as these are not percussion instruments, which need to be struck by a beater.
These beautiful instruments are hand-crafted in such a way that they are extremely sensitive to touch. The lightest touch can sometimes reveal the most profound effects, and this is where their magic lies. Over time musicians become so malleable with their instruments that they become an extension of them. When you play something it’s like you are talking and exploring facets of yourself that you never knew existed. Deodhar’s conversation with the handpan has been going on for over 2 years now. One can sense the maturity of this conversation. There is a sense of calm around him that is hard to fake and a balance that is hard to replicate. There is a discipline and a deeper understanding of sounds and healing. For him, it is no longer about just learning to play an instrument, it is an extension of his personality.
Most of us live in high stress environments, often pushing away feelings to accommodate work needs. Stuck in cities with utter chaos around us, everyone is looking for some sort of a release, some find it in artistic pursuits others take it out in aggression. But there is a beauty in passivity that one can learn to arrive at through listening to sounds such as the one’s propagated by Deodhar, who also does sound healing. A concept that is built on the premise that vibrations and organic sounds have the ability to positively affect your psyche and bring back that lost positivity. He performs in holistic events throughout India and his last one was at Auroville. To track his next performance you can check his page Anandamide. It is also the name of his music project that plays a handpan, didgeridoo and mouth harps to create “acoustic, ambient, healing, meditative trance.”