In 2010, Dhaki Gokul Das saw a woman at a shop playing various instruments before making a sales pitch to prospective customers. It inspired the dhaki, or the drummer, from the village of Machhlandopur in North 24 Paraganas, almost 60 km from Kolkata, to take on board six women members of his family and train them to become dhakis. The tradition of dhakis is as old as the Durga Puja, and until then it was a male preserve. Twelve years down the line, his band of 40 women dhakis has attained immense popularity in Bengal and has gone places across India and abroad. “Though we don’t earn very well, it has given us women a sense of economic empowerment,” says 15-year-old Misti Das, who studies in Class IX.
The band of women dhakis led by Das has spawned around 100 such dhakis across villages in the vicinity. Outlook catches the women in action in still frames.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Dhakis of Machhlandopur")
—Text and photographs by Sandipan Chatterjee