Vagulabharanam Sets World Drumming Record
In a small shiva temple in Bangalore, esteemed tabla maestro Embar Vagulabharanam set a new Guiness World Record for consecutive hours drumming on March 19th, 2006 by playing tabla for 54.5 consecutive hours without sleep. Tabla drumming is viewed as a form of yogic exercise in Indian musical tradition. Musicians typically play for six hours or more in the early morning hours accompanying vocal or stringed instrument performers.
The day I arrived in Bangalore a local newspaper The Deccan Herald announced Embar's embarkation on the herculean feat to set a Guiness record by playing tabla longer than anyone had to date (on record) played.

Embar, 53 years of age, is known as a valiant and dedicated tabla master in the carnatic tradition of southern India having performed in the region for 40 years since his childhood. During Embar's performance, various vocal, dance and classical instrument artists Embar had accompanied over the years turned out to perform with him in his world record attempt (32 acts in total). Embar would perform for ten hour stints at a time throughout the three days with friends bringing water to him on stage and attending to his attire as the performance continued.

Tabla is typically an accompanying instrument. However, the complex rhythms, called bols/talas, have won international appreciation for this complex drum style bring it to the status it deserves among drum traditions, often appearing in musical ensembles and compositions beyond Indian borders.

I had the privilege to witness Embar achieve the Guiness record on the evening of Sunday March 19th to a packed house of onlookers. Pictured above, still good-humored, and miraculously performing strongly after 48 hours of continuous playing (pictured above the after his 48th hour of playing) offering rhythmic counterpoint perfectly on beat and strongly alert to his accompanying vocalist Sreevanjeeyam Murali.

In the imposing spotlight of video cameras, documenting the feat for the benefit of the Guiness foundation, with the ominous presence of a school-room clock ticking away at the base of a dias upon which Embar sat, the audience was given an impressive display of art's transcendent capabilities. As the audience shifted sitting positions, took breaks for chai tea or other bodily functions, Embar's constant performance seemed eerie. It was as if Embar's keeping time with Shiva's drum took him out of suffering the ravages of the seconds we all succumb to. By riding time he escaped it somehow.

I imagined Embar's view of the event. Windows lighting and dimming with the coming and going of days like stop-motion-movies; Musicians cycling through a full repertoire of carnatic music's variety from centuries of tradition; Children dancing to his drum while senior citizens counting out his bols knowingly on wrinkled digits; Alertness fading from the faces of audience members as they suffer the sleepiness he evades; Tired audience members strolling off as new bright-eyed visitors wandered in. The event seemed an ominous treatise on the permanence of art and impermanence of all else.

Still going strong after completing the Guiness record Embar continued playing until after midnight completing a full 54.5 hours of tabla performance before a much deserved rest.

The event was sponsored by the Hasthiru Foundation and Trust

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