Coronavirus in Mumbai: Dhol-tashas will fall silent this year due to pandemic outbreak

Dhol tasha pathaks which are integral part of the 11 days annual Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations will be in a complete mute mode this year due to the pandemic outbreak. The Ganesh festival is starting from August 22 this year.

One of Mumbai's popular band group, Parleswar Dhol Tasha Pathak, having 400 people from the age group of 5 upto 60 years are now instead engaged in social activities like food and book distribution to the poor and needy people. Cheetan Belkar (29) founder of this group told the Free Press Journal, "By now we should have started our practice but due to COVID crisis we cannot do anything. The demand for dhol tasha band is huge during Ganeshotsav. We receive booking from various sarvajanik Ganesh mandals in advance. However, everything is cancelled this year."

The group usually begins the practice one and half month before the start of Ganeshotsav. They have 100 dhols, 40 tasha besides other musical instruments which are kept in a rented shop. The expenses mainly include maintenance of these instruments and rent payment where they have been kept, Belkar informed.

Meanwhile Belkar stated, "No one in my team has joined the group for making money. So even if we won't be able to perform this year, financially it will not affect any of us or make any big difference. We are here to showcase our rich traditional music culture which was introduced initially in Nashik and Pune cities."

Interestingly, this dhol pathak in 2017 was part of Indian traditional programme organised in China. "A team of three people of Parleswar band stayed in China for five months and represented the state tradition there," Belkar said.

The sarvajanik Ganeshotsav in Maharashtra are incomplete without the dhol tasha performances. Every Ganeshotsav, dhol tasha pathaks, are called to play during aagman, the ceremony when Ganesh idols are brought home, and then subsequently when the idols are taken for visarjan or immersion. The drums that the dhol tasha bands carry are so heavy that they have to be tied to their waists. Their palms get blistered with the non-stop banging yet they carry on.

However, this time due to the pandemic and to prevent large gatherings, several Ganeshotsav mandals have already announced that they will celebrate the festival in a simple way.

This has further impacted the business of traditional musical instrument shopkeepers who manufacture and repair dholki, tabla, pakhawaj etc, that are more in demand during Ganeshotsav. Interestingly, a few shops are in Mumbai's Lalbaugh area are more than a century old. One such shop named Damodardas Govardhandas is situated in Lalbaugh since the last 123 years is witnessing a drop in business of 85-90 per cent this time.

Mehul Shantilal Chauhan of Damodardas Govardhandas said, "During Ganeshotsav the demand is more from Konkan, however, due to the lockdown those who left in March for their hometowns have not yet returned. So we are hardly making any business. Also, our karigaars have left for their native place. However, we are not losing hope and not even thinking of changing our business. We strongly believe this too shall pass soon."

It is the fourth generation of Mehul Chauhan's family that is solely engaged in manufacturing and repairing of musical traditional instruments. They belong to Dabgar community from Gujarat. "We are also facing manpower shortage as most of our karigaars went to their villages. Unlike other profession, the artisans here need to be skilled to carry out the work efficiently," Chauhan added.

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