Representing performances unique to community

My understanding of community and culture started to develop in the five years of my early childhood that I got to spend in Kolkata, West Bengal. I chose Dhunuchi dance and its association with the dhakis as the performance unique to the community. Mainly, because I have had a close association with these performances and have witnessed these from my early childhood till the present day.

Besides my personal experience in witnessing the performances, another major factor is that these performances provide a direct glimpse of the Bengali culture. The festival revelers get pulled in because of the grandeur of this dance. People enjoy the dance and it feels like one is on the edge. The costumes, the aura, everything brings the festival of Durga Puja to life.

When I started attempting the sketches, the idea was to use a possible colorful representation so I could show the authenticity in the attire of the male and female devotees wearing white/cream bases with red borders. I used colored pencils as a medium for representing the same.

The challenge with me arises when it comes to the technicalities of hand and feet, even though I get the proportions of a human figure pretty close. The holding formations of the dhunuchi (earthen bowl) varies, and the hand has a curvature accordingly. For each curve, the hand position varies, and it takes time to draw each finger right. So, I started with the drawing of the performer first, by bringing out the proportions and then the curves of the attire they were wearing. The last part was to come to the hands of the performers where they were holding the dhunuchi (earthen bowls).

I attempted the male performer wearing the traditional dhoti-kurta (a type of sarong with a long shirt), along with a female performer wearing the red-bordered Bengali-style saree. The main idea was to get the traditional outfits right in terms of the colors as well as the human proportions. This was new to me; to be this specific to detail of the costume including the curves being formed in the saree and the dhoti. Also, the Bengali style of the saree is worn in a specific way, that I tried to document in the sketch.

The dhunuchi dance performance is incomplete without the rhythms of the dhakis, studying about them was my next step. I tried to understand the lifestyle of the dhakis. They are skilled performers who come from humble rural backgrounds in districts of West Bengal like Murshidabad, Hooghly, etc. They play the Bengali dhols (drums) called dhak, and the sound produced is called the same.

The sketches I made for dhakis include two men performing with their respective dhaks in a formation where they are facing each other. But it is not limited to such formations only.

In the next sketch, I tried to put light on the décor of the dhak, which includes multiple colors and feathers, and sticks that are used for beating the drum. It is the maddening beats of the dhak that get the people in a festive mood. The drum is barrel-shaped and is highlighted using multiple colors in the sketch.

In the present day, female artists have also taken up the responsibility to revive the age-old part of playing the dhak. The sketch shows a woman dressed in traditional Bengali attire playing the dhak in the present day reviving the age-old tradition.

After leaving Kolkata for more than fourteen years now, it was a nostalgic feeling of having to go through those cherished memories and experiences again. The sketches were a new experience of looking at the performers, and to understand the intricate details that they hold.