GONDHALI Laxman Malave claims he ends up climbing 1,35,000 steps every day on the nine days of Navaratri to reach the houses and pandals where his group is invited to perform. Accompanied by his brother, Chandrakant Malave, and nephew Santosh Malave, he performs Gondhal — a traditional form of prayer offered to Ambabai, an avatar of Goddess Durga, on the eighth day of Navratri.
The family, which hails from Koregaon in Solapur, has been performing Gondhal at weddings and Devi utsav in various parts of the state for the past 40 years. The Malaves have been visiting pandals and houses on invitation.
“Gondhal is integral to Navaratri. The instruments and words used are specific to the goddess. Devotees who follow ancient practices still arrange for a Gondhal at the pandal on the eighth day as a ritual,” Laxman, who is the fifth generation Gondhali in his family, said.
It is believed that the Trimurti — Vishnu, Brahma and Mahesh — had calmed down the angry goddess Durga after she killed Mahishasura, the demon. Gondhal was performed to calm the goddess. As the goddess had triumphed over evil on the eight day (ashtami), Gondhal is performed on the same day.
“Gondhal cannot be performed by one and all. As we have been trained since childhood, we can emote well. The sound of the instruments need to match the words used and that is where proper training is useful. Our family is specifically known for years,” Chandrakant said.
The instruments used to perform Gondhal include sambhals (drums), symbolising the two heads of the demon, and a tuntuna (ektara). When a Gondhali beats the sambhal, it symbolises victory of good over evil.
The Malaves cater to 40 pandals and homes on each day of Navaratri. On the other days, they sing aaratis (praises) to the Goddess at homes.
“We are invited by acquaintances to spend the nine days at their houses in Mumbai. We start our day at 8 am and wind up by 10 pm on these days. We refuse oily food and cold water to retain our voice,” Laxman said.The family gets bags of food grains and other eatables from devotees.
“Listening to Gondhal makes the environment much more peaceful. The combination of words and music in Gondhal is unmatched. It creates an environment for devotion,” said Amit Bhadricha, who is associated with the Devi Mandal in Chirabazar, in Girgaum where the Malaves have been performing for 40 years.
They earn anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 for performing each aarati and Gondhal throughout the nine days. Back home, they survive by recycling paper.
“The other members of my family work at farms to earn some money. If there is less demand for bhajan groups and weddings are not around the corner, we end up making less money. As I am not very good with repairing electronic items, I cannot do that work to earn some extra money, unlike my peers,” Laxman said.
While Laxman and Chandrakant’s relatives are also Gondhalis, they are not sure if the culture will stand the test of time. They hope that the growing demand for Gondhals in the city will continue.
“Our future is not assured. We are not paid any pension or given a post-retirement benefit, unlike a Tamasha artiste. As Gondhal is equally integral to the history of Marathi culture in the state, we also demand future security,” Chandrakant said.