Vaidehi Solapurkar got up before sunrise and got dressed to go for a run. The dress however, is not the running gear with loose fitting T-shirt and track pants. It is a white chudidar, a saffron shawl and a turban.
“It is Durga Mata Doud (run). It is different. You could call it a cultural marathon,” says Vaidehi. The young lawyer has been participating in the event for five years. “The run is held on all nine days of Navaratri in different areas of Belagavi. I try to participate wherever I can. It is refreshing. It reminds me of our glorious past and the valour of kings like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj,’’ she says.
Rashmi Kanabargi, a resident of Wadagaon in the old city who is a part of the Dhol Tasha band, says, “I am happy that the run has resumed after three years of COVID-19. I have participated in all the doud on all routes this year. I have introduced several of my friends to the run this year,” she says. This year, the doud started on September 26 and will end on October 5.
They are among the hundreds of girls and boys who join the run in white and saffron. Those who play musical instruments join the band. The runners are called Dharkaris, the Marathi term for ‘warrior’. This is reminiscent of Warkaris, or devotees, who participate in a fortnight-long padayatra to the Vithal temple in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. As the word ‘Dharkari’ suggests, it has a more strident Hindutva overtone. It is actively promoted by Hindutva groups.
“The doud started a few years ago, and was held only on the main road for the first few years. Its success prompted organisers to hold it in various locations in Belagavi,” said Shivaji Salunke, one of the organisers. He points out that the proportion of girls and women participating in the event is increasing every year. The event is non-competitive and the runners are accompanied by music and dance troupes performing along the way.
Ramakant Konduskar, Sri Ram Sena Hindustan leader, said the run is spreading to other towns and villages. “For many years, only Belagavi organised the run. Now, there are similar events in Gokak, Hukkeri, Chikkodi and Bailhongal. By next year, the number of places will increase,” he said. He claims it is a non-political event and that BJP, Congress, NCP, MES and JD(S) activists participate in the event.
Origin of Durga Mata Doud and controversy
The doud was conceived by Manohar ‘Sambhaji’ Bhide, founder of Shiv Pratishtan Hindustan, a Pune-based Hindutva organisation. He was accused of inciting violence after the Bhima Koregaon protest. The charges were dropped later. Mr. Bhide started the doud in Pune in 1984. Now, it has spread to other States. The event was held in Udupi for a day this year.
The doud routes cover the entire city, including some Muslim-dominated areas. Heavy police security is provided in these areas. It is not uncommon to see police personnel run along with the Dharkaris. Some police officers say Hindutva groups are trying to push a communal agenda in the garb of a cultural event.
This year, some men tread on cloth that had the colours of Pakistan’s flag during the run in Maratha Colony, Belagavi. Some persons had put the cloth along with the rangoli and floral decorations on the road that the runners were to take. Police rushed to the spot and removed the cloth.