As much as Navratri is the time for Garba and Dandiya in the Maratha-dominated parts of the city, the Bhondla dance was celebrated with much pomp by women. The nine-day affair, full of song, dance and delicacies, culminated on Dussehra on Thursday.
Dressed in festive finery, women and young girls pay obeisance to the elephant — the carrier of the Goddess Parvati, who is worshipped during Navratri — and dance in a circle around her picture or idol. Paithani sarees and festive nine-yards make the Bhondla vibrant. Although, traditionally, it was performed by much younger girls dressed in ethnic parkar-polka.
“Earlier, women would get married at a very young age. To ensure they returned to their mothers’ homes during Navratri, Bhondlas would be arranged. Women of different age groups can participate in this dance form,” said Girgaum-resident Savita Aathawale, who performs the Bhondla with her friends.
Many Bhondla songs, therefore, have references to “hardships” in the girls’ matrimonial homes and the love and comfort in their mothers’ homes, embodying what was in ancient times a common sentiment among girls leaving their families to move into their matrimonial home.
The Bhondla is performed on each day of the Navratri. What usually starts with ‘Ailama Pailama Ganesh Deva’, a prayer to Ganesha, then goes on to songs poking fun at a girl’s in-laws including unleashing a “zhipra kutra (shaggy dog)” on them. All in good humour, the songs have coordinated dance moves.
Bhondla is called ‘Hatgai’ in some parts of Maharashtra including Vidarbha and Marathwada, and is called ‘Bhulabai’ in Madhya Pradesh.
After the song and dance, Khirapat, which includes sweet and savoury delicacies, is distributed among the women. But the delicacies are not just given — they have to be earned. A woman must guess what has been cooked that day, and only if she guesses right will she get to eat it. The number of dishes progresses with each day of Navratri, which means the highest number of delicacies is made on Dussehra.
“We play simple games among ourselves while we perform the Bhondla. The most popular is identifying the dish prepared for the day. We all carry some form of sweet including Khobri wadi, pedha in our tiffins and the other women must guess what is in our tiffins,” said Aathawale, the Girgaum-resident.
Bhondla is quite popular among the Marathi belts in Mumbai including Dadar, Girgaum and Vile Parle. For women who cannot spare time to visit any mandals, some people oragnise the Bhondla at railway stations or even in trains.
“We mostly sing songs and clap as we cannot occupy more space at Badlapur station. We perform Bhondla on the ninth day of the festival after we have made a rangoli and decorated the local train,” said Meghana Kshirsagar who resides at Mulund.