Navratri. Nav-Ratri literally means “Nine Nights” in Sanskrit. A festival which celebrates nine forms of Goddess Amba. It is celebrated five times a year, the most important being the Sharad Navratri, or the Maha Navratri, which marks the beginning of Winter. You can read more about it here.
It is celebrated differently in all parts of India. Here, in Gujarat, it is celebrated as a dance festival; the longest dance festival in the world. For nine nights, we do Garba (the dance form) on traditional Gujarati songs. Yeah, the tradition began long before the night clubs were even invented!
This is what was keeping me busy the past week, though I danced only on some of the days, being in the university.
Of Dance and Worries
As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to worry a tad bit more than most people. There is always stuff to do, deadlines to meet, goals to be accomplished. The back of my mind is a pretty happening place, I tell you! Quite a bustling market!
Why do I mention this? Though the back of my mind is jam-packed place a lot of times, it magically clears up when I dance! I may be worried about a thousand things before I start dancing, and I may continue to do so after the dancing is over. But when I’m dancing, in those moments, I’m free and floating. In those moments, I’m completely blissed out! Dancing, like music, is food for the soul!
Which is why Navratri is my favourite festival. I wait for it throughout the year, and I’m hung-over for at least a week after it (Still in the Garba-mode, I mean). I’ve been doing Garba for as long as I can remember. It has become so much ingrained in me that though I do it only for these few days every year, I could probably do it sleep-walking if you ask!
Of Navratri Experiences
Where I stay, the Navratri Garba is organised with great fanfare every year. This includes live music and singers, beautiful lights and of course, mid-night snacks!
Garba, I should tell you, is not a dance form which is practised individually. You do it in a group, mostly a circle around the idol of Goddess Amba.
The sound and video quality is not excellent, but you’ll get my point. Watch from 1:30 to get a clearer picture of what I mean.
The beauty of it is that most people here have grown up doing it, including me. So, most of my friends are just as enthusiastic about it as I am. Not all the people that dance with us are friends. Some are friends of friends, some are total strangers. Most are acquaintances; people who come together every year just for one purpose: Garba.
Our “group” dances every year. Each year, there are additions to the circle, and subtractions too (excuse me for being too mathematical). But each year we meet, dance, chit-chat into the wee hours of the morning, learn new dance moves, and have a whole lot of fun!
The Kid Problem (or how I learnt Garba as a kid)
Garba, traditionally, is to be done in one big circular formation. But more often than not people break into their own little circles. Our group too has its own circle after the first few songs. (A group that people admire, by the way!). A lot of other people join too. The trouble arises when kids as young as seven want to join too!
Now I’m all for encouraging kids to dance. They will learn it this way. I learnt it the same way, coming in the
way circle of the grown-up didis, getting bashed by the strong and fast-moving arms! Nevertheless, I pursued it relentlessly, though I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of them!
What goes around comes around! The thing about Garba is coordination of foot-work. And those kids have tiny legs! And then, we grown-ups (ahem!) have to take care not to hurt them. It does take the mindlessness that I enjoy the most out of dancing!
But then I see some kid actually moving in sync with the beats, and I think (as if I’ve had hundred years of experience doing Garba!) that “Hey, that one’s got potential!” It makes me really happy.
Continuing The Love For Dancing
I wonder what it will be like after, say, fifteen years. All of us will be busy with our jobs, families, lives. A lot of us would have moved to different cities perhaps. Will we come back here? Will we get the time to celebrate Navratri? Will we come here, with perhaps our spouses and kids, and connect once again through dancing? More importantly, will we be able to begin where we left off, as we do every year?
I should very much like to think so.