Born under the supervision and care of renowned Dhaki, Shri Gokul Chandra Das of international fame, the band of female Dhakis of Machlandapur came together in 2010. The idea came to him earlier the same year, 2010, while touring North America with Ustad Zakir Hussain and his Masters of Percussion. There, he encountered a woman at a music shop demonstrating and playing sax, guitars, Tabla, brass, etc. on her own. It inspired him to form a band of female musicians playing Dhak back home. His journey began with six women. Over the years, the group has toured various paces and prestigious venues, playing in front of thousands of people across India, including institutions like Jadavpur University, Saint Xavier’s College, hotels like ITC and JW Marriot and across cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Raipur, Digboi, etc. Their performance has also been broadcast on popular TV channels in prime time shows.
Speaking of the steep challenge and the struggles behind their present circumstance, the women talk about the zeal and perseverance it had taken. Besides the learning part of it, the most significant difficulty involved here was to overcome social norms and financial challenges, in terms of their normative gender roles, mainly to take care of the household. But their passion pushed them hard enough to pursue this otherwise male dominated practice, fulfilling a long-cherished yearning. Their Guru Gokul Chandra Das talks about the idea and the inspiration behind it. But still everyone seemed doubtful and sceptical. It was only with popular recognition, acclaim and their performances being aired on TV, the women managed to silence the critics.
One of the main issues that inevitably arises when talking about a woman playing a Dhak is the sheer weight of the instrument, bringing into question her physical capacity. The women’s Guru Gokul Chandra Das has made a substantial contribution towards solving this problem. He displays, explains and demonstrates a Dhak with a tin body as opposed to the tradition wooden ones, and synthetic skin instead of leather. While it certain interferes with the sound of the instrument, especially the tonal quality, it enables the women to carry the instrument on their shoulders while standing and performing for as long as even five hours at a stretch. As they are exploring newer territories like fusion projects, besides playing only during the Durga Puja, they feel happy for playing their part in liberating the instrument from the constraints of the Puja pandals.