Written by Taraana Madhok
With the arrival of Ganpati Bappa and amid all the festivities, an all-girls dance troupe will be performing all over the city like every year and will be a treat to watch in the significantly male-dominated arena of Ganesh Chaturthi. This year, Jnana Prabodhini Yuvati Vibhag’s Barchipathak has been trained by two 18-year-olds, Gargee Deochake and Apurva Shah. An all-girls troupe, Barchipathak was started in 1986 and has been around for 33 years.
“Barchinrutya is traditionally a warrior dance that involves dancers using two sticks. Originally, the barchi was a weapon. Once the arrows are removed from it, it is used for the dance form,” says Deochake, the pramukh of this year’s Barchipathak.
Set to the beats of dhol tasha, Barchi is an energetic dance form that thrives on the enthusiasm and cheer of the dancers. “We want people to realise that they don’t need alcohol, gulaal and DJs blasting music to enjoy festivities. We want them to have fun the traditional way,” says Shah.
The troupe makes an agreement with organisers at each of their performance venues that there will be no DJs and showering of gulaal while they dance.
Jnana Prabodhini Yuvati Vibhag makes it compulsory for students of the school to be part of the Ganpati procession. Every student must be part of each dhol, tasha, lezim, dhwaj or Barchi pathak for at least a year while at school, which is how Shah and Deochake, both ex-students, were introduced to Barchinrutya.
Junior college students now, the duo has returned to train and be part of Jnana Prabodhini’s Barchi troupe. While the walking procession, or miravnuk, requires the dancers to be on their feet continuously for two hours, their standing performance, or pratyakshik, has them dancing for an hour at a stretch.
“We have stamina building training throughout the year and official practice starts a month before Ganesh Chaturthi. Our practice sessions range from two to four hours daily,” says Shah.
Deochake and Shah are also part of the dhwajpathak or flag troupe this year. “We have to move the flag for two hours at a stretch while we dance,” Apurva adds, holding up her hands that are lined with scars and bruises.
However, this is sadly one of the smaller challenges they face. A much larger one is that of narrow minds. “When people call us to perform, they assume that we are a mixed troupe. An all-girls Ganpati procession dance troupe is hard for society to fathom,” says Bhakti Rajarashi, an 18-year-old member of the tasha troupe.
While they are now accustomed to hearing numerous comments expressing surprise as well as doubt on their credentials, they feel that this perception is on the decline.
“If women don’t look out for each other and help each other fight challenges, who will? Why should we depend on men to solve our problems for us?” asks Deochake.
Besides the strong feminist message that the troupe sends out, the fundamental message that the Jnana Prabodhini organisation aims to advocate is ‘Svayam vikas, samaaj vikas’.
So, once every year, the Yuvati Vibhag troupe performs at a slum area in Pune. This year, they are planning to perform at Patil Estate. “An all-girls troupe performing at a slum sends out a strong message. We want the girls from the backward classes to be aware of possibilities that await them. They should know what they are capable of,” says Shah.