The Art Behind a Dhol Pathak

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Ganeshotsav doesn’t arrive anytime soon, yes, I know that. However, I simply couldn’t resist thinking about my favourite musical instruments in this world- Dhol Tasha. There is something unexplainably beautiful about this pair of instruments; they go along together like ghee and modak.

I’ve been a part of a Dhol Tasha Pathak for almost seven years. The things I learned, the experiences I’ve amassed have been golden. And that is why, I wish to speak of it today, because there are a lot of inhibitions. Mostly, a general lack of knowledge in the proceedings of a Dhol Tasha Pathak. Today, I’ll tell you what goes on behind the screen, and why a Dhol Tasha Pathak is such an eloquent system of operation.

To start with, a Dhol Tasha Pathak operates on one, and only one belief- unity. Newcomers or the old crowd, the entire point is that on Visarjan day, the Pathak needs to perform as a unit. This is where practice comes into play. Coordination being the key word, literally everyone has to be in sync. A common myth is that among eighty dhols, one dhol going off key won’t be recognizable. You’re wrong, it can clearly be heard. The Pathak members and seniors know this; that’s why minute attention towards every single dhol player is observed during practice.

What a Dhol Tasha Pathak essentially teaches us is unity in diversity. Within my seven years, I have played with and alongside some of the most varied groups of individuals. Our backgrounds were so polar opposite, and yet we pulled it off. The main reason being the passion for the instruments, and the love for the melody. It is through a Dhol Pathak that I learned how to mix, understand and forgive humans for being humans.

While practicing, rapport is extremely important. Since it’s a team, no one is allowed to rush, or fall behind. During an avartan, four important aspects come into play- Dhol, Tasha, Dhwaj, and Toll. These are the sources of expression for any Dhol Pathak, what you do with them decides how good you are. More experimentation and variation means entertainment for the crowd and more joy for the Pathak member. The seniors will build a tune and the juniors will learn it, such has always been the case. At the end of the practice, juniors and seniors start playing together. That is when the Pathak, in all its essence, performs for the first time.

No member in a Dhol Pathak is inconsequential. Everyone is part of the team and plays a very important role, regardless of how small it might feel to you personally. This has been my biggest learning lesson till date, it has made me appreciate and admire everyone I work with. The people who manage the Pathak do so with utmost dedication and love. Despite the clashes, the Pathak stays as a family; gets together, performs, and then departs as one. Amid nostalgic smiles and sad goodbyes, the Pathak fragments into individuals for the rest of the year. And that is how it still manages to be a single, powerful unit!

All images are by Anant Nath Sharma.

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