Holidays and religious festivals are great occasions for social entertainment. The religious-minded Hindu attaches great merit to the uttering and hearing of and meditating upon the name of God or that of his favourite deity and attending to different kinds of religious expositions known as purana, pravachana, katha
or kirtana and bhajana delivered by professionals in a technique which they have developed and preserved for generations.
The professional readers and reciters of sacred books are known as puranikas who are engaged sometimes by a rich house-holder or by a temple management to read purana. These readings take place either in the after-noon or at night from eight to 12 O'clock. They read usually from the Ramayana, Mahabharata or Bhagawata purana in Sanskrit and expound it in Marathi. Pravachanas are learned religious discourses delivered by Shastris well-versed in the knowledge of Hindu scriptures. A pravachanakar need not be a professional lecturer or a puranika.
A kirtana is a musical discourse in which God and religion are described and expounded in prose and poetry. A kirtankar (a performer of kirtana or preacher) is also known as Haridas (servant of Hari or Vishnu) or Haradas (servant of Hara or Shiva) or Kathekari. Of the nine forms of bhakti (devotion), kirtana is one form and the objective of a kirtankar is to express his love of God, sing His praise and at the same time lead the listeners to a life of faith and morality.
Two schools of kirtana are generally followed at present: the Narada and the Varkari. In the Narada type, for the purvaranga (first part) the preacher chooses as his text a Sanskrit verse from the sacred books or a song of a poet-saint, makes out a philosophical theme of it and follows it up in uttararanga (second part) expounding the principle by an illustrative story. In the Varkari type the distinction of purvaranga and uttararanga is not observed, the preacher quotes themes by way of reciting abhanga rhymes and songs of famous poet-saints, one after another and immediately expounds them with
illustrations and commentary. Off and on he pauses and starts a bhajan in which his accompanists and even the audience join.
Bhajan is the chanting of religious songs in chorus. Almost every village has a bhajan group which consists of a leader singer called buva, a drum-player called mridangi, a. player on the harmonium and several cymbal-players called talkaris. The buva is equipped with a vina (lute) and a chipli (castanets) and he gives out the song, the mridangi and harmonium-player provide the rhythm and tune and the talkaris pick up the refrain and vociferate it in chorus clicking their tals in unison.
A recreational fare similar to that of bhajana and kirtana is served by Gondhalis, a community of religious mendicants and hereditary worshippers of the goddess Ambabai, in whose honour they sing and dance. Maratha Hindus and also many Brahman families, after some joyful event in the family such as birth of a son or a grand-son or marriage, usually hire Gondhalis to give a gondhal performance at night. A high wooden stool is set in the middle of a room or hall and a handful or two of wheat is laid on it. On the wheat is set a copper cup with betel-leaves in it and over the leaves, a half coco-kernel, holding some rice, a betel-nut and copper coin. Near the stool is set an image of the goddess Ambabai and a lighted lamp-stand, the three or four dancers playing on the sambal (double drum), tuntune (one stringed fiddle), zanj (cymbal). One holds a divati (lighted torch). The head dancer dresses in a long robe and garlands of cowrie shells and stands in front of others, lays sandal, flowers and naivedya before the lighted torch and takes the torch up, dances with the torch in his hand for a time, sings and at intervals makes a fool of the torch-bearer. The dance lasts for about an hour and after waving an arati in front of the goddess and throwing copper and silver coins in the plate, holding the lamp, the dance is over.
A popular recreational activity is Tamasha. It is an indigenous species of folk entertainment which includes singing, dancing, dialogue etc. Usually a Tamasha party which is known as bari consists of about seven persons, the minimum number considered necessary being five. It includes artistes of histrionic talent and of musical skill. There is one dancer, one drummer, a comedian and two others keeping time, one with a tuntune and another with a pair of small cymbals. In bigger party, there may be an additional dancer and a drummer and some actors. Generally, every village has its own amateur tamasha troupe of which it is proud. Besides, there are professional tamasha troupes of performers. The nachya (dancer) in amateur troupes is generally a boy dressed as a girl while a female dancer and singer is the chief attraction in professional tamasha troupes.
Tamashas are usually performed at the annual fairs of local shrines where people congregate in large numbers and are in gay mood as the harvesting season is just about to close. Tamasha parties prefer villages to towns as they get better patronage in rural areas. Night is considered the proper time for the performance. As participants enter they salute the audience in humility. A prayer in chorus is then offered. The general prayer called arati is followed by a song in praise of Ganapati known as gana. The item that follows the gana songs is known as gavalana in which the traditional milk-maid-Krishna theme is enacted with characteristic repartees between the boy-hood play-mates of Krishna and the gavalans, i.e., milk-maids headed by Radha. Krishna's dramatic appearance on the scene and at the end singing of some devotional gavalan songs by the maids to the accompaniment of appropriate gestures and movements is the next item.
After gavalana comes the farce, a humorous presentation of a story, the chief role being acted by the comedian. The farce is followed by sangit bari, an interesting item of dance and song by the woman-dancer. Lavanis, zagdas and modern songs from the films and other popular songs are sung when members of the audience sometimes give small coins for a particular song which has particularly pleased them.
The extra collection earned by the dancer is known as daulat jada. Then starts the vag or the dramatic presentation of a story which is often taken from the puranas or some historical incident. Tamasha troupes have now taken to modern social themes and present them in the way of stage actors. The vag has an indefinite duration from one to three hours. Generally, the songs during a vag are sung by all irrespective of their roles. The performance is brought to an end with the singing of a prayer.
Theatrical troupes from Bombay and Pune also visit Ahmadnagar and other urban
centres with their plays and they are also a source of entertainment
particularly to sophisticated audiences. There are cinema theatres too in urban
centres and travelling talkies that move to the villages. The radio is a source
of entertainment in well-to-do houses and the rural broadcasting service
organised by the Government of Maharashtra is a source of both entertainment and education to the peasantry in the villages.
The newspaper-reading habit is growing daily not only in urban centres but in rural areas also. That provides a good pastime to grown-up men and women. Libraries which stock books and periodicals are also patronised by many to seek entertainment and education.
Games: A number of forms of recreational activity such as games, sports and amusements are traditionally known to the people and are in popular practice for a long time.
In the play activities of infancy and early child-hood boys predominate over games. Babies are fascinated by multi-coloured rattles (khulkhula) and toys that make a variety of sounds, all kinds of pipes, whistles, drums and tamborines. These are followed by their keen rival, the doll and then come the toys on wheels. It is not an un-common sight to see a child tripping about the house with a pangulgada or running about dragging behind him a toy-vehicle attached to a short string.
Children of four to five years of age play a few simple games taking part by turns. Shivashivi is the simple chase and tag game in which one of the children becomes a chaser and others run. The chase is simple with little or no dodging and the tagged player becomes the next chaser. Children love swinging and jhoke ghene which is but a reversion to the days of their infancy when the cradle rocked them to sleep, holds a pleasant attraction to them. Golanti (somersault) wherein the child puts his head on the ground and swinging his legs and body backward lands supine facing the sky is a brave performance enticing others to follow.
Games of the imitative or make-believe type wherein various roles like that of a cartman, horse-driver, engine-driver, music-player, palanquin-bearer etc., enacted with fidelity to real life are a particular
attraction of early child-hood. They are games of the sort played with no set rules but with a good team-spirit and with every player having some part to perform. Ghoda-ghoda is played in several ways. Usually two children stand, one behind the other as driver and horse and both run forward the driver holding the horse by his garment. Sometimes a rope is passed from the back of the neck of the horse and the driver holds in one of his hands the two ends of the rope and carries a whip in the other. Another variety of the game consists of the horse moving on all fours with a rider on his back. Horse and rider is also played by only one child the child holding a long stick (horse) between his two legs, one of the ends resting on the ground behind and the other held on the hand. Palkhi (palanquin) is usually played by three. The two stand facing each other each gripping with his right hand his left elbow and with his left hand the right elbow of his friend opposite.
In the arm-square so formed, they carry the third who sits with his arms resting on the shoulders of the two. Ag-gadi (train) is just a queue of children, each holding the garment of the one in front of him. The engine-driver is at the end and in-between are the wagons. The guard whistles and gives the signal, the ' wagons' get ready to move and the engine speeds up.
Doll-dressing and doll-marriage are favourite pastime among girls. Bhatukli is the game of house-keeping often played enthusiastically by girls with secondary roles given to boys. Doll's marriage may form part of Bhatukli or be played as a game by itself when planned on a grand scale. Gadya-gadya-bhingorya is a game of whirls in which children go round and round themselves till the quaint sensation of giddiness sets in.
A number of chase and tag games are played by children between the ages of five and nine. Sankhlichi Shivashivi is a more complex game than the ordinary tag. In it, as the chaser tags one player after another, they all join him to form a chain and run together to chase others. Chappa-pani is a tag game with the restriction that the chaser cannot touch a player who squats and the squatter cannot get up unless helped by some player who is on his feet. In Andhali Koshimbir (blind man's buff), the blind-folded player tries to tag any one that comes within his reach in the fixed playing area. Lapandav is the game of hide and seek.
The seeker stands facing a wall with his eyes closed while the others hide. After all the players have found a hiding place they call out koo-koo re-koo. On this the seeker unfolds his eyes and starts searching the hidden players who rush to the spot and touch an object previously agreed upon before the seeker touches them. This object or spot is called ' cave' in English. In Sat-talya the chaser faces a player from the group while others stand near the latter, ready to run away. The
facing player gives the chaser seven claps, the last being the signal to run. The players run, followed by the chaser who tries to tag one of them. In all chase and tag games, the player who is tagged becomes the chaser and the game starts afresh.
Games of gotya (marbles), bhovra (top-spinning) and patanga (kite-flying) have a great attraction for boys between the ages of six and sixteen and are played with competitive zest. For hitting a marble, usually the spring action of the drawn up middle finger is used. Each instance of correct aiming adds to the delight of the player and gives an impetus to the others to compete. For spinning the top, the top is twirled with a long string one end of which is held between the middle and the ring finger. The top is held between the thumb and the index finger and whipped on the ground so as to land spinning on its spike. Once a mastery over the spin is acquired more skilful top games are contested. Days round about the sankranta festival is the season for kite-flying. Hoisting up a kite is as good a challenge to anybody to have a kite-fight. Each boy so handles his kite as to cut off the string of the opponent's kite. For these fights a special kind of string (manjva) treated with powdered glass and gum is used.
A number of team-games are played strenuously and boisterously in later child-hood and adolescence, for instance, Badabadi or Raparapi. In this a soft ball of either rags or rubber is tossed up in the air for all to catch and the player who succeeds tries to dodge. The game can continue indefinitely. In Gap-cup-toba, players sit in a circle facing in and one of them runs outside the circle with a toba, a well-knotted piece of cloth, which he quietly and swiftly puts behind one of the players. If the player is alert, he immediately picks up the toba and chases the player who dropped it behind him. The latter to avoid being hit by the toba by the chaser must reach the vacant place quickly. If the seated player fails to detect the toba put behind him, the chaser completing the round picks up the toba and with it beats and chases the ' dullard' till he makes one round and resumes his seat.
In Vagh-bakri, one of the players is made the tiger (vagha), another the shepherd (Dhangar) and the rest are lambs. They line up behind the shepherd, each holding the one in front by the waist. The shepherd handles a knotted piece of cloth for the protection of his lambs and in spite of all the beating he gets, the tiger makes repeated efforts till he captures all the lambs. Surparambi is predominantly a play of the cow-herds. From a circle drawn on the ground under a tree, a player throws away a stick as distant as he could. By the time the thief runs for the stick and restores it in the circle, all climb the tree. The game lies in the players from the tree jumping from or climbing down the tree and touching the stick before they are tagged by the thief. The one who is tagged becomes the thief next.
Kurghodi is also an interesting game. Two teams of equal number of boys are formed. One team acts as horses and the other team as riders. The leader horse bends before a wall for support and others bend and file behind him each holding the one in front by the waist. The riders, one by one, take a start, run, jump and ride a horse. The leader-rider closes with one hand the eyes of his horse and asks to tell the number of fingers of the other hand held before him. If the horse tells the correct number, all the riders get down and the teams exchange their parts and the game is resumed.
There is some difference between the play interests of boys and girls. Girls generally prefer amusements like doll-dressing and are interested in dancing, skipping and singing. Boys love to play strenuous games involving muscular dexterity and skill. Now-a-days, however, both boys and girls in schools seem to take equal interest in games like hututu, langdi, khokho etc. Some common games played in-doors by both are cards, songtya, ganjipha and chess. Some games are peculiar to girls like sagargote. This is a sedentary game played by girls. Big round seeds (gajge), pebbles or shreds of pottery serve as ready material. Five or any convenient odd number of these are thrown up into the air and an effort is made by the player to catch as many as possible with the palms turned backward. These are again hurled up in the air and caught in both the palms facing upwards. Thus each player goes on playing till she exhausts all the pebbles. In a more complex form of the game, the player throws all the pebbles on the ground, picks up one of these, tosses it up in the air and before hopping it again, picks up one, two and sometimes a larger number of pebbles, all at once.
The tag-game of chhapa-pani and Khamb-khambolya, a game of dodges are more popular with girls than boys, but they are played by them together also. Phugadya is a typically indigenous game usually played by girls in pairs. Two girls stand facing each other, keep their feet together with a distance of two or three inches between the toes, cross arms, keep them straight and hold each other's hands, balance the body backward and each time stepping the right foot a few inches to the right and sliding the left along with it, start an anti-clockwise movement. As the foot-work quickens, the movement gathers in tempo till the players get swung in a whirl. They sing jocular couplets and blow rhythmic breathing sounds with the mouth known as pakwa to keep time and add zest to the dance.
There are various types of phugadis. In Danda phugadi the players hold each other by the danda (upper arm); in Nakulya they inter-lock their fingers in a hook-grip. In bas-phugadi one player keeps moving with bent knees while the other is comparatively erect. Ekahatachi phugadi is played with only one hand engaged in the grip
and the other resting on the hip. In Lolna phugadi the players bend the legs and hold the great toes and then start rolling on the back and then sit. In bhui-phugadi, the dancers start with a full squatting position and arms resting on the knees, and then scrape the feet alternatively in oblique kicks balancing the steps with backward and forward movements of the arms.
Jhimma, Kombada and Pinga are phugadis of a different kind. There are no whirling movement done in pairs. In a way the callisthenic movements repeated with rhythm of songs and pakwa and acted in pairs and groups, they lead to a competitive zeal.
A number of games, both western and Indian types, are played in Ahmadnagar district. Indian games do not require any elaborate equipment. Of the major Indian games, (1) hututu, (2) khokho, (3) langdi, (4) atyapatya, (5) Vitidandu and (6) lagorya are well-known. These games, when popularly played, undergo some variations. Standardised forms, however, have been carried out by institutions like the Akhila Maharashtra Shareerika Shikshana Mandala which are now widely adopted and strictly observed when the games are played on contested matches.
Cricket, football and hockey have become quite popular in the schools and colleges and tournaments between different schools and colleges are held from time to time. Teams from other districts are invited to play on the home ground and local teams go out in other districts. The cricket season is particularly much enjoyed not only by the school-boys but also by their teachers. These are all friendly matches.
Tennis and Badminton also are becoming popular in urban areas in which members of the liberal professions also participate. Badminton has attracted educated middle class women also. Tennis and Badminton courts have been built for amateurs where they are trained to play by various gymkhanas and clubs. But these have not made as much headway as cricket, football and hockey have done.
Talims and Akhadas: Talims and Akhadas are to be seen in towns and villages which are really old indigenous institutions for the training of athletes, wrestlers and gymnasts and generally for providing facilities for physical culture. A Talim is usually managed by a committee of panchas or notables of the locality who are five or seven in number. Funds are raised by subscription from residents of the locality for the initial stage of construction and equipment of the Talim and further for celebrations such as urus, Ganesh festival or satyanarayan puja etc. A Talim is conducted by one or two senior persons known as ustads or masters who are much respected by their disciples. As trainer-gymnasts, they train young people also, who have come to the Talim for exercises and for learning wrestling and other
athletic arts. In villages, the temple of Maruti usually serves the purpose of a gymnasium, but in towns a talim may have a building of its own. In its necessary equipment are included lathis, bothatis, farigadgas, lezims, dandpattas, Malakhamb, karela, jod-jodis, hatte, heavy stone-balls and nalis, stone wheels and sometimes dumb-bells and modern weight-lifting apparatus. Every talim has a hauda (wrestling arena) and one or two deities either a Maruti and/or a Pir. Sometimes a talim has an open ground attached to it.
Talims usually aim at turning out good wrestlers. Wrestling matches are arranged between young and mature athletes of different talims in the same place or outside places. The winner is usually awarded a prize in money or kind. When such matches are arranged, the wrestler is put on some special training and diet. In villages, the annual ' challenge meet' is usually held on the day before Dasara and it is regarded a great event. The winner gets a handsome prize, sometimes a gold bracelet, a gold bordered turban or some such precious article. Similar wrestling bouts known as hangama are a regular feature at most fairs.
Music: Of late, the love of music, scientific and popular as well as vocal and instrumental, is spreading among the well-to-do and the middle class. Music classes are springing up in urban centres and both young men and women are benefiting by them. Concerts are often held at music halls or in private houses where people congregate to enjoy the performance of a maestro or an ustad in singing or in instrumental music played on sitar, harmonium, sarangi, dilruba, flute and tabla etc.