As Ganpati idols make their way to pandals , the procession isn’t complete without the rumpus of music troupes. Theirs might not be a welcome sound in residential areas , but for the accompanying crowds , there isn’t a more familiar clarion call to the festivities .
“You need the music , otherwise what is the point ?” says drummer Rajesh Prabhu . “The crowd dances along , and their enthusiasm keeps us going .” For the 45-year-old , the knack of keeping the throngs on their feet has been perfected over two decades . “I was always c u r i o u s ab o u t t h e dholtaashe-walas as a child,” he recalls . “I learnt to play dhols from seniors , and in college , decided to start my own troupe .” The first pandal to hire the greenhorns was the one on Vile Parle‘s Hanuman Road . Prabhu’s childhood friend , Amol Pitale’s family had been organizing sarvajanik Ganpati celebrations there for over 40 years . Assignments at other neighborhood pandals followed, as did those for events in London , Bangkok and New Zealand .
Most pandals have a troupe they favour each year , which includes drummers , keyboard players and bassists .
The lead-up to Ganesh Chaturthi can have a troupe juggling up to three pandals in a day . Multiple assignments are avoided during immersion , says drummer Abhijit Pawar . “When the idols are being brought to their pandals , the organisers try to finish the rituals on time ,” he explains . “During visarjan , there are many delays , and the roads are jammed with traffic .” The festivities are curtailed sooner today than when he first started out, says Prabhu . What has persisted , though , is the series of practice sessions that kicks off about a week prior to the festival .
“We pick songs from current films ,” said keyboardplayer Prasad Varhadkar . “This year , it’s Chennai Express and Anybody Can Dance.” Younger members often update veterans on the recent chart-toppers . But the fail-safe option is always a pacier version of the bhajan .
“The music has more Western beats now ,” says Prabhu , adding that changing tastes have made instruments like keyboards and drums part of the mix .