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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Garba

My informant is a young Indian-American woman who is well-versed in the customs of her culture and frequently participates in these traditions. She told me about Garba, a traditional Indian dance.

Garba is a non-choreographed dance celebration usually performed during the festival of Navratri (based on the Hindi words for nine + nights). Garba is typically performed by North Indians and Gujaratis but is sometimes celebrated by Punjabis.

Garba usually celebrates the Hindu goddess Durga, who is considered to be the main mother of creation. It consists of two circles, one in the center of the other, with an idol inside the inner circle. The inner circle is supposed to represent the womb of the universe, while the circles represent time because the Hindu concept of time is cyclical due to reincarnation. The dancers are always switching dance partners, so they are constantly moving.

The traditional outfit worn during Garba is a chaniya choli: a top that sometimes has a vest or jacket, with a long skirt and a scarf. People come to this celebration dressed up in bright colors and the women wear lots of nice jewelry – essentially people choose to come dressed up and looking their best.

The version of this dance that my informant is familiar with is called Dandiya. In this dance, each dancer wields two wooden sticks roughly 2cm in diameter and 1.5ft in length. Sometimes these sticks are decorated but they are usually plain. Two people act as dance partners and hit each other’s sticks together: first one stick, then the other, then both, then they spin, and then move on to the next person. This is the basic movement, but people tend to improvise in fancier patterns so their partner has to keep up (my informant jokingly told me that this is why North Indians tend to be good dancers). This style of Garba (also known as dandiya-raas) is associated with Krishna. “Raas” means play/dance. This style is supposed to imitate a sword fight.

I am glad that my informant knows so much about the symbolism behind this dance, as it adds so much more depth and beauty to the understanding of this practice. I also find it interesting that there is a rendition that combines the idea of creation and the flow of time with battle.

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