The Dhol pathaks are here

Come August and every year the city starts reverberating to ‘dhol’ beat every evening especially along the bank of the River Mutha. And every year there is general outcry against high sound levels, protests from organisations, dire warnings from authorities etc but usually all these have only a limited effect. For the uninitiated ‘dhol’ is a traditional percussion instrument, drum as it were that is played in a group at festive occasions, processions etc. These preparations are for the Ganesh Utsav, that usually falls in sometime in September, which is the prime showcase for the dhol pathak.

This year I had an opportunity to visit one group during their practise sessions. As I mentioned earlier,  training begins at least a month before Ganesh Utsav. People from all walks of life get together each evening for about four hours of practise. The Raja Mantri Path in Pune has several groups practising simultaneously which can be troublesome for people living close by. I spent just under an hour there and my ear drums went into a defensive shutdown that lasted for over two hours thereafter! The groups seemed to be well organised and disciplined. The air reverberated with different beats that grew louder as we approached the practise area.

Pune, dhol
A Dhol pathak during the 2012 Ganesh visarjan procession, this image taken on Laxmi Road.

Practise was on full swing and they did not stop for even a minute for the period we stood there. They obviously forcefully struck the stick on the dhol but the beats seemed to invigorate them rather than tire. The group seemed to follow an apparently invisible command set by the leader (invisible to outsiders) as they smoothly changed their strokes. That’s great team effort!

Ganesh immersion procession, dhol practise
I wonder if this image conveys the speed and force with which the dhol players strike the drums…
Ganesh procession, pune, dhol pathak
The group practises

Participants come straight from work, college to practise

I tried carrying the instrument and it seemed to weigh about 5 kgs, which is not much considering its size. It is carried strapped around the waist and a stick called “Tippru” is used to strike one side of the dhol. The other side is struck with the palm of the hand. Girls/women use a slighlty smaller dhol but there is not much of a difference I am told. Smaller drums called ‘tasha’ are also part of the troupe along with big dhols. The entire group plays together to create memerising catchy unforgettable rhythms. An average pathak can have 40-60 people. 

Vidyesh has come to Pune all the way from Nagpur just to participate. He has had an amazing experience so far and given a chance would like to come again next year! He says, “Yes the practise is tiring but when we play at full power and full rhythm the pleasure acts as a pain killer!” They use cotton balls to protect their ears he said but after a while they get used to the sound.

Its people like Vidyesh and the many others like him who manage to juggle time with their jobs who are helping keep this traditional art form alive and flourishing. This Ganeshutsav, do go out and enjoy the processions especially the foot tapping,decibel defying dhol!

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