It is not uncommon now to see a women’s group beating the traditional “chande” (drum) at any important function in Udupi and its surrounding areas. Women have not only stormed this male bastion of beating “chande”, but also have come up trumps.
Beating “chande” was an exclusive male preserve. But a few years ago, the change began with a group of two women learning “chande” at Bannanje in Udupi and nearby Katapady village.
Explaining the beginning of Bannanje Mahila Chande Balaga, its president Vidyalatha Shetty said that she and other women in her neighbourhood wanted to do something different, and they were attracted to “chande”. They then learnt beating “chande” under percussionists Malpe Shashidhar and Marpalli Subrahmanya. “When we started six years ago, we were among the first to learn “chande” and form our own group,” she added.
A “mahila chande” team normally has six or eight women beating “chande”, one beating “dhol” and two beating “tala”. The number of women going for a programme varies depending on the needs of the organisers and varies from six to 10.
“While beating “tala” and “dhol” are easy, learning “chande” is slightly difficult. Some women master it quickly, while some take time,” Ms. Shetty said.
President of Manjusha Mahila Chande Balaga Tara Acharya said she and her team members learnt “chande” under percussionist Alevoor Nagaraj Bhat. “Our training lasted over a year. First, we were taught to beat the ground with sticks and then a wooden piece. Training was tough. It was only after a year, Mr. Bhat taught us beat “chande,” she said.
Now, Bannanje Mahila Chande Balaga, which began in 2008, has 15 members, eight of whom are active, while Manjusha Balaga, which started in March 2010, has 10 members. According to Ms. Shetty, there are seven such balagas in the district.
Bannanje Mahila Chande Balaga and Manjusha Mahila Chande Balaga have not only performed in various places of Udupi district and the State but also in neighbouring States such as Maharashtra and Kerala.
It is not an easy job to beat the drums during sweltering heat. These women’s teams have to walk long distances beating “chande” during festivals and fairs. They also perform in various functions.
There is no set timing for this work. They may have programmes in the mornings, afternoons, evenings or at nights. Sometimes, they have to perform in other towns for three to 10 days.
With such uncertain timings how do they balance their work and family life? Saroja Shettigar, a member of Manjusha balaga, said members of the balaga had good support from their families. “Besides family members, our neighbours have been very supportive,” she added.
Ms. Shetty said that the fees charged by her team varied from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 5,000 per function. They charged extra for outstation assignments.
“But this is a lucrative profession. During the season, a member can earn between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 30,000 per month,” she said.
Do women feel tired walking long distances beating “chande”? “Not at all, when we see people admiring our work, we feel enthused to contribute our best,” said Sujatha, a member of Bannanje balaga.