Dancing to ancient tunes

Dancing to ancient tunes

Residents of Thane are known for their enthusiasm for festivals. And from August to November, there is a string of festivals, one after the other, which Thaneites celebrate with fervour. The ten-day Navratri festival, culminating in Dassera, is one of the big celebrations, with several mini-events gilding the main event. One such mini event is called the Bhondla dance. In the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, when the sun moves to the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac called "Hasta" (Elephant), unmarried and newly married girls perform a dance known as "Bhondla" or "Hadga" and sing specially composed Hadga or "Bhulabai" songs. Bhondla begins with the installation of the deity’s idol and ends on the ninth day of Navratri. Like every year, this year too, hundreds of girls of all ages, and from across the city, were seen celebrating Bhondla by singing special Bhondla songs and performing dances throughout the nine day period.

Manjiri Deo, the veteran dance teacher, who has been teaching Kathak in Thane for 28 long years and has trained thousands of students, organises Bhondla for her students every year since she began coaching. This year was no different, as her students and their parents celebrated bhondla on Sunday, complete songs, dance and sharing of Khirapat. Deo says, "In Kolhapur, where I spent my childhood, Hadga (as it is known there) would go on for 16 days, and little girls would handpick different fruits from their garden, to make a garland which they would then offer to the devi. But in the urban setting, it’s difficult to spare so much time and so we organise Bhondla only for one day. This helps the new generation to learn about the age old tradition and also keep it going."

Another city-based institution that strives to uphold the cultural tradition is the Sarawati Mandir Trust’s pre-primary section in Naupada. The school instils the seeds of cultural heritage in the young by celebrating all the important Indian festivals in school. On Tuesday, 19 October, as many as 200 kindergarten children participated in the bhondla event organised by the school. Preparation for the event began a few days ago when the teachers taught the toddlers the words and tunes of Bhondla songs. On the chosen day, little girls sang and danced along with their teachers, while the little boys cheered them. Everyone, including teachers, was dressed in traditional outfits. In the classrooms, the blackboards exhibited the drawings of the devi and the elephant, and the relevance of the same was explained to the students. For children, the most enjoyable part of the Bhondla tradition is the making of khirapat, which is usually a surprise. This year the kids were asked to bring different ingredients that go into the making of Misal, the spicy, delectable Maharashtrian dish. So while the children brought onions, tomatoes and potatoes, teachers got farsan and usal, the spicy gravy that forms the base of Misal. Before the children could relish Misal, teachers taught them how the dish is prepared.

The enthusiasm of Thaneites is contagious and it travels places, literally and figuratively, as is evident from the way one group of women celebrated Bhondla. These 16 women travel to work every day in the 9.11 am CST bound Thane local and board the ladies first class in Thane and Mulund. Anagha Chitale, one of the group members, initiated the practice of celebrating Bhondla in train four years ago and since then the group celebrates it every year. So on Tuesday, all members came draped in saris, and were welcomed with the customary Haldi Kumkum and Ittar. One of the group members, Gauri, had brought Gajras, which she distributed to everyone, even passengers who were not part of the group. Then the women sang bhondla songs throughout the journey and shared Khirapat, which included a variety of items like dry fruit Samosas, kachoris and even chocolates.

In today’s pop culture, Bhondla may have lost out to Garba in the commercial sense, but those who value culture and tradition strive to uphold this ancient tradition by celebrating it in its true essence. It is in the hearts of such citizens that the rich Indian heritage lives.

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