The entry of film songs, DJs and orchestra has put an end to traditional folk dance performances by Balya community.
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. “They wore an ornament called ‘bali’ in one ear and hence are called ‘balyas’. The folk dance originated from tamasha,” said Naresh Dahibavkar, president, Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS).
“We would form circles, turn and clap in front of Gauri. We 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.”
“Youngsters don’t appreciate our tradition. They want novelty in festivals too,” said Tukaram Raut, treasurer, Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti (BSGSS). “I have been living in the city for more than 40 years. Girgaum and Dadar used to be flooded with Balya pathaks (groups). Every household used to religiously call Balyas every year. There hasn’t been one performance in the past three years.”
Dahibavkar 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.”
“Fervour has been replaced with fever,” said Prakash Chavan, a performer, adding the community, along with its tradition, has lost its voice in the city’s noise. “DJs and orchestras have replaced the traditional flavor of the festival.”
Chavan said another meaning of Balya (in Marathi) is a child. “The city seems to have disowned its child,” he said.