Maanbhatt is a tradition believed to be over 400 years old, yet in today’s Gujarat there remains just a few custodians of this dying art form. Maanbhatts are story tellers who use the Maan an earthen pot to interlace the story with music wherever needed.
Mayank Pandya, son of Dharmiklal Pandya, said that the decline in the Maanbhatt tradition is in line with the struggle that almost all other folk arts in Gujarat are facing. It should be noted that the Pandyas are believed to be the sole surviving exponent of this tradition in Gujarat.
“The Maanbhatt tradition was known even during the time of poet Narsinh Mehta, who himself was a well-known ‘Kathakaar’ although it is not known whether he played the Maan or not,” said Pandya. He said that the most famous exponent of the tradition (born 1645), Raskavi Premanand, was inspired by Narsinh Mehta and hence it can be safely assume that the Maanbhatt tradition had been there even before Premanand.
On how the tradition began to decline, despite the fact that kathakaars (story-tellers) continue to remain popular in Gujarat, Pandya said it is because learning to be a Maanbhatt is a tough proposition. “It is not that we don’t get people keen on learning the tradition. But it takes seven years before one can claim himself to be a Maanbhatt. This is because unlike other forms of art, this tradition does not merely involve playing the maan,” said Pandya.
He said that a Maanbhat also needs to learn literature and Sanskrit.
“But nowadays people don’t have patience. They come to us and want us to teach them things in a year or two. When they realise that it is an art that demands extreme patience and time many give up,” said Pandya.
They also blame Gujaratis nonchalant attitude in preserving their culture and the government’s indifference for the situation too. “Had Maanbhatt been a tradition of south India it would not have suffered this fate. Unlike the south, in Gujarat we are not worried about protecting our folk culture and tradition,” said Pandya.
Interestingly, Maanbhatt kathas in modern times reflect the new challenges faced by the society. “Earlier, the kathas used to be about an incident from the Mahabharat. But now we also have kathas on drug addiction, water conservation, environment awareness, among others,” said Pandya, who revealed that the Maanbhatts have to script a new katha depending on the topic on hand.