Festive beats of pujo

Divine rhythms

Normally during any Durga puja festivities, one can hear the sound of drums beating, and if you turn in the direction of this soulful rhythm and music, you will see the formation of dhak players.

These energetic drum players or dhakis can be seen beating their drums with two sticks, and creating an infectious rhythm. 

The history of dhak and its use during these festivities has a significance that some visitors to pujos may not be aware of. If one looks closely at these large membranophone instruments, they have a distinct appearance — they have long white, or sometimes coloured feathers jutting out. They give the instruments, seemingly, a swan-like appearance. According to mythological lore, Goddess Durga or Shakti had immense fury, and in her anger slayed demons. To calm her, feathers were attached to the drums. Dhakis create an invigorating and enlightening experience for celebrants with their large musical instruments that are wooden and hollow, and are structured and layered on either side with goat skin. The traditional drum is played on one side only, with sticks. Several dhakis bring positive energy during pujo by changing the rhythms according to the rituals throughout the five-day festival. 

Dhakis-in-creative-motion are often accompanied by dhunuchi naach, when dancers hold special mud vessels (containing burning coconut skin), and dance in front of the goddess. A dhak aficionado, Tushar says, “During the puja, dhakis dance together in unison, holding swan-like drums. The objectives of the swans dancing together in unison, historically or mythically, was to calm the rage of the goddess, because it could destroy the entire universe. There is an inherent importance to the number of dhakis, although it varies depending on how big a pujo pandal is. Historically, the time periods of dhak performances have reduced — they play only during aarotis. I am sure, earlier, they played for long hours. Dress code for dhakis is traditional, and only people belonging to a particular community play dhak and the skills are passed on through training, from one generation to the next.”

Dhak players, apart from being dhakis, also work as labourers and farmers, and come from villages in the Bankura, Asansol, Purulia and Murshidabad districts. They do not earn as much as they ideally should. To recognise their talent and to give them more opportunities to showcase their work and earn money, throughout the year, not just during yearly pujas, would be an endeavor in the right direction.

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