Durga Puja, a grand festival of Bengalees, is not complete without the rhythm of Dhak — a large iconic drum with rhythmic patterns are distinct from other percussion instruments. Dhakis (Drummers) are traditional drummers who play the dhak (drum) during Hindu festivals, primarily in Eastern India and Bangladesh. Drum beats are an integral part of the five-day-long annual festivities associated with Durga Puja.
Bengali communities outside Bengal get dhakis from the state during Durga Puja. About 750 dhakis from Malda, Midnapore, Birbhum and Murshidabad districts, travel across India to perform. Not all of them find work and some return empty handed. About 600 of them are brought in by various pandals, which provide them food and lodging. Others hang around on sidewalks to get hired. They are generally landless farmers and play the dhak in their villages when they have time to spare. Freelancer dhakis earn an average of Rs. 4000 for the season from organisers and around Rs. 3000 in tips.
The dhakis routinely suffer police harassment in order to reach the capital with their large dhaks, even after checking with metal detectors for guns and bombs, the police do not allow them to go unless they bribe them. The return journey is more hazardous because they have money in their pockets.
They spend the festive season away for their family and friends. Relatives eagerly wait for their return with some earnings. But unfortunately most of them come back with very little. They need to pay for food, travel and other expenses. Here is the story of the drummers outside Bengal during Durga Puja.