Dappu or 'tappeta', a percussion instrument, is the most popular musical instrument of the Andhra village. Used originally while announcing an important event in the village such as a meeting, a sale, etc., it has developed into an artistic form for over a hundred years. This instrument is used both on auspicious such as marriage processions, village festivals and inauspicious occasions such as funeral processions.
The instrument has a round frame, usually made of neem wood, with a diameter of 1 1/2. Fitted into it is leather of medium thickness. After a long process of cleaning the leather and making it fit for fixing into the frame, the instrument is ready for use. The preparation of the leather to be used in the making of the dappu is by itself an art, as in case of preparing the skin for making puppets. The "dhup" must have got its name from the sound it gives. Two sticks - one of 9 inches long and two inches thickness (called sirre, held in right hand) and the other one of the same length but much thinner (called sitikena/chitikena pulla, held in left hand)- are used for creating rhythms of innumerable variety. The drummer controls the sound by placing his left palm on the upper edge of the frame and uses the stick with the left hand to control the rhythm using different types of "beating styles" called "debba". The 'laya' varies according to the occasion. For example, separate rhythms are used for marriages, deaths, rituals and villages festivals.
The dancers stop at village centers and show their expertise both in drumming and in dance. They wear a tala paga (a head-turban), a dhoti, a dhatti and ankle bells as their costume. The dancers usually move in circular patterns while on stage and in two straight rows while in procession. The styles differ according to the steps or movements of foot called 'adugu'. The styles include steps with side-long moves (ata dappu), two steps, one forward and one backward (okka sira dappu), moving side ways with right leap (samidika dappu), two leaps upwards (madil dappu), moving with one legside-way and the other in a circular way (gundam dappu) etc. Each dance performance starts with a pradhana dappu (invocation) during which the artists move slowly in a circular way. The dance begins on a slow beat and slowly picks up tempo and ends in vigorous steps.
Of late, the dance has started using traditional talas such as trisra, misra and caturasra, These talas, popularly known as debba (beat) have also been given native names depending upon the occasion during which the instrument are used. 'Police debba' (used for march Past), pelli debba (used for marriages), cavu debba (used for deaths), Puli debba (used to imitate the tigers movements), etc.
Dappu is used for every important occasion in an Andhra village. The dappu dances, consisting of twelve to twenty people, do acrobatics also while dancing. The dances are specially performed during marriages and on celebrations. One should see and hear the dappu dancers to believe the different nuances that it can create. In spite of the existence of several other types of drums, none can beat the thrill that dappu can create in the minds and hearts of countless villagers of Andhra even today.