Durga Puja: Dhakis jobless as people prefer recorded music

Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the Bengalis, has always been considered incomplete without the wildly enthusiastic beats of dhak, and the dhakis, who play the cylindrical, barrel-like instrument.

Suspended from the neck, tied to the waist or kept on the ground and played with two wooden sticks, the beating of the dhak is inextricably linked with the festival. The dhak occupies a prominent place not only in Durga Puja, but in many other pujas in Bengal.

With less than a week left for Durga Puja, it is once again that time of the year when the dhakis should be at their busiest. But over the years, the dhakis of West Bengal – a number of them are from Malda, Jalpaiguri, and several districts of south Bengal – are steadily losing jobs. Some are moving out of their home districts or even going outside West Bengal during Durga Puja.

Dhakis say that the demand for “original music of the dhak” has gone down, and have been replaced by records of dhak that are easily available. “Organisers don’t want to pay for hiring dhakis for five days, when recorded music is easily available,” said Mukundo Sardar, a dhaki. This has gone on over the past few years, with recorded music taking over the scene in pandals.

Dhakis are also poorly paid, especially in their home districts. If they manage to get a proposal from Kolkata or in some other city, then the pay is better. But then, demands have indeed gone down steadily. Demand for dhakis exists in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and different parts of Assam and Tripura, but then, it all depends on whether the dhaki has good contacts. Not all are able to find work elsewhere.

Earlier, dhakis were in huge demand not only during pujas, but even in ceremonies like marriages. That trend too, is dying down.

Thus, the dhakis who had once taken up the profession passed on to them by their forefathers over many generations as their only means of livelihood, are now left with no other choices but to find odd jobs year round the year to sustain themselves and their families. Playing dhak can no longer be one’s full time job choice these days, they say.

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