Ganesh Chaturthi 2018: Balya community lost their voice in Mumbai’s noise

Mumbai: With Ganesh Chaturthi coming to an end, a small community’s dream run of traditional folk dance, too, has come to a close. The Balya dancer community gasps for breath in the fast-paced lifestyle and ever-changing trends of the maximum city. Originally from Konkan, dancers performed Balya or Jakhdi nritya to welcome Ganesha’s mother Gauri on the fifth day of the festival. ‘Jakhdi’ means standing position. The dholak and other instrument players sit in the middle and balyas dance around them in a circle.
Tukaram Raut, treasurer of Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS), the umbrella body of all Ganesh mandals in the city, said there has been no performance for last three years. “I am staying in the city for more than 40 years now, Girgaum and Dadar used to flood with Balya pathaks (groups). Every household used to obediently call Balyas every year. Now, the tradition is lost because new people don’t need old traditions. They want novelty in festivals too,” he said.

In this dance, the Dholak player and other instrument players sit in the middle and a group of about 8-10 dancers dance around them in a circle.  “Fervour has been replaced with fever,” said Prakash Chavan, a performer, adding “We wear an ornament called ‘bali’ in one ear and hence are called ‘balyas’. The folk dance originated from tamasha.” Balayas would form circles, turn and clap in front of Gauri and got the beats from ghungroos and dholki. “Every year, we used to travel from parts of Konkan to Mumbai for the 11-day festival. We used to stay in someone’s house and work as domestic help there,” said Sunil Mandavkar, a former Balya dancer, adding the demand has dipped in the past five years. “Everything comes to an end. But we did not expect it so soon,” he rued.

Naresh Dahibavkar, president, BSGSS, said, “Balyas used to come to Gujarati families and help with household chores. They trusted Balyas so much that they used to hire them to manage their accounts and even gave their tijori ki chaabi (keys to the safe).” Their only hope rests in the Friday order of the Bombay High Court which refused to lift the blanket ban on loudspeakers, DJs and digital dolby sound systems for Ganpati visarjan. “We could only hope just like the Lazim bands are alive and kicking, we are remembered again,” said Chavan, “Otherwise boasting with traditional fervour, the city has seemingly disowned its child.”

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