Author Archives: Arpit Bhanderi

Gujarati Folk Dance – Garba

  1. Main Piece: Garba (Amit Bhai)
  2. Informant’s Background
    1. What is it?
      • “Garba is basically a mass form of dance that is done in a circle around a statue of a god. There is a basic set of movements that almost everyone who goes to a Garba knows – and if they don’t know it, they learn it, it’s not too difficult. But there are an endless amount of combinations of these basic steps – every line that circles the statue Garbas have no size limits, sometimes a dozen people come out, sometimes a thousand – it just depends on the occasion, time and place. There are also two very different forms of garba. While both use the same basic set of moves, one is performed with sticks called Dandiyas in hand, and one is performed without. The video I have recorded is of me performing with Dandiyas.”
    2. Where did you learn it:
      • “Considering it’s a part of Gujarati culture, I managed to pick it up growing up between weddings and Garbas. But now I go with my friends and create new combinations of steps every time.”
    3. What does it mean to you?
      • “I know it’s a religious event, but that’s not the way it’s viewed by most people, at least people here in America. It’s kind of become a social event. Over a thousand people, all different ages and from different parts of India come to the “ACC Garba” that I go to. It’s such an incredible time, everyone looks forward to it: you get to catch up with friends, meet new people, and just dance and have a good time with thousands of other people. So for me, it really just means a whole lot of fun.”
  3. Context of the Performance: Garba is traditionally performed at the Hindu festival of Navratri that goes on for 9 days, celebrating the goddess Durga.
  4. My Thoughts: I believe that the festivities that encompass Navratri – large amounts of people, music, and dance – caused the event to expand beyond simple religious purpose. Religious cause and dedication did not need to be a requirement to participate in this event, so it began to spread to communities beyond just Gujarati’s – everyone is looking for a reason to party. I thought that this form of dance was also interesting when compared to other forms of dance from India such as Kathak and Bhartnatiyam. Both of these are referred to as “classical” forms of dance and it is seriously frowned upon when people perform these without “proper form.” Garba on the other hand is a form of dance that is all welcoming and people encourage one another to dance regardless of their knowledge of the form. This could stem from the reason that while Kathak was originally performed for Royalty and with the purpose of telling a story – there was a greater air of serenity and perfection that encompassed it, where as Garba was performed as a form of mass worship (which in hinduism, we find to be less strict – requiring simply the intention) and eventually transformed into a mass form of entertainment.Garba (Garba (Amit Bhai)Amit Bhai)

Folk Game – Mindi Cot

  1. Main Piece: Mindi Cót is a card game where 4 people are broken into 2 teams. Each person gets 13 cards and there are 13 rounds. Every round, each individual takes turns playing 1 card that is the same suit as the first card that was played – the highest card wins the hand. The winner of the hand is the plays a card first in the next round. A “trump” suit, or “sir” is decided by the first individual who does not have the suit that is being played – what ever suit he plays will be the trump suit for that game. Any card in the trump suit is stronger than any other card in any suit. You are only allowed to play a different suit than the first card if you have no cards of that suit. Any other suit (besides the trump suit) is considered weaker than the first card played. The goal of the game is to have your team possess the most “10” cards in their winning hands. The 10 cards are neither valued more nor less than a 10 – they are treated as 10s, sometimes this confuses people. If both teams win two 10s, the team with the greater number of hands wins (7+ hands, as there will be 13 rounds played). One team winning all four 10s is considered “applying a cót” to the losing team – which is a shot to most peoples pride.
    There are many variations of the game though, such as a 6 person game where two decks are used, but the “2”, “3” and half of the “4” cards are not used in play. Then there is an 8-person version played with 2 decks and in order to claim a hand as yours, the same individual has to win two hands in a row. There are also variations where the trump card is decided upon before the start of the game. Also where the trump card can be redefined during the game, but I do not know how this version is played. I have heard of this game being played with the goal being to just have the most number of hands, and winning all 13 rounds is considered a “baavanyo,” but I’ve never really played that version.
  2. Informant Background:
    1. What is it: It’s a card game that all of us friends grew up playing together – that is really just what it is, a game.
    2. Where did you learn it: We all saw our fathers playing this game at get-togethers and we picked it up by watching them. It was rare that we played with our fathers; we would just play amongst each other as kids.
    3. What does it mean to you: I especially like this game because it takes wit, concentration and brainpower to play the game well. Good coordination with your partner and attention to what cards have been played is the key to winning, and I love a game that requires a smart strategy.
  3. Context of Performance
    1. I play it with friends or family during pastime – on the train ride to and from work, and a dinner party, on vacation at nights in the hotel room.
  4. My Thoughts:
    1. Games, especially strategy games, tend to stand strong in society – as we have seen with Chess, Settlers of Catan, Risk and many other famous games. Thus, much like Mr. Ramesh said, the strategy to it keeps the game entertaining. Such a simple, but entertaining strategy game is easy to hand down and persist through generations. Having played the game myself, and learned it from Mr. Ramesh himself, I can safely say that the game is fun enough to want to play it frequently, and keep it alive.


Folk Song – Gujarat

  1. Main Piece: “Leeli lemdi re
    Leelo nagarvel no chhod
    Parbhu parodh na re
    Maar gher uttaara karta jaao
    Utaaro nahi karun re
    Maar gher Sita juve vaat
    Sita ekla re
    Juve ram-lakhman ni vaat
  2. Informant Background:
    • What is it: This is an old folksong that was sung by my grandmother and her friends at Garbas. In Vaghela (village of about 100 in population size), my friends and I learned it from our grandmothers and mothers, and would sing it every year when Navratri came around, so it has stuck with me since then. This is a song that we would dance to. It is telling the story of Ram and Sita (God and Goddess couple). Ram is rushing to get home because Sita is alone at home and waiting for him. I am not sure the origin of the song, but it has been sung in my village for many generations.
    • Where did you learn it: I learned it when back in my village, from my grandmother and mother.
    • What does it mean to you: It is a reminder of my times in my little village growing up. It’s a song from my childhood, and is a memory in such a way.
  3. Context of Performance:
    1. This song would be sung at the Garbas (mass prayer and dance gatherings) of Navratri (Indian festival honoring Gods). People would dance and sing along to this song.
  4. My Thoughts:
    1. After researching this song, it came to my attention that this song has been used in several films in the Indian movie industry, including major blockbuster “Ram Leela” which was an Indian rendition of Romeo and Juliet ( Considering it has been used in several major movies, it must to be very well known and wide spread, beyond just the small village of Vaghela in Gujarat. Stories of Gods tend to last longer through history, and this may have had a hand in the spread of the song throughout India.

Sri Lankan Grooming Tradition

  1. Main Piece: Don’t cut your hair and eat Rasam on the same day
  2. Informant Background:
    1. Why: When an individual passes away in Srilanka, it is tradition for the man of the house is expected to cut all of his hair and eat only Rasam (tomato soup – a staple food in Sri Lanka and South India) for a day. Thus cutting your hair and eating Rasam is mocking death and is seen as inauspicious.
    2. Where did you learn it: My father
    3. What does it mean to you: This doesn’t especially pertain to me since I am not yet the man of the house. However, my grandparents and parents find this important so they all follow it and my parents ensure that everyone in the house follows it, as regardless of whether or not the individuals following the tradition are “men of the house,” it is inauspicious to mock death in such a way.
  3. My Thoughts
    1. This particular piece, when I heard about it from Arjuna, spiked my interest because I had previously collected a Grooming Tradition from Tamilnadu. As Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu are quite close physically and both speak the same language (Tamil), I was expecting there to be some similarity in the reason behind such a tradition. However there is no apparent similarity. Much like that tradition, however, this seems to be one of those traditions that gets put into practice as habit due to superstitious beliefs, and gets handed down through the generations as such.

Cat Superstition

  1. Main Piece: If a cat crosses your path, do not cross the street.
  2. Informant Background:
    1. Why: Before cars were a means of transportation, and people walked to their destination, it was a believed that if a cat crossed the street, it would be running away from a snake and so for safety purposes, one should take a cat crossing the street as a warning sign to stay away from that general vicinity.
    2. Where did you learn it: My Mother
    3. Why do you follow it? Well, I don’t know really. Snakes as a threat aren’t really a concern for me for many reasons. First, there aren’t many stray cats in my neighborhood, nor are there any snakes and second, this superstition was more relevant back in the day in India when people did not travel regularly by cars and instead walked everywhere. Since I travel everywhere by car, even if there were to be stray cats crossing my path, the likelihood of my seeing them is extremely low. However I’ve heard other superstitions about cats crossing paths as bad luck, and so I’ve begun to follow the ones that my parents have taught me.
  3. My Thoughts:
    1. Again, we see folk beliefs that are being blindly followed. Once these individuals are questioned as to why they follow it, they aren’t able to give a straight answer. In this scenario, the individual actually follows the belief because she has heard similar superstitions that others belief. This superstition is being followed because of the belief that if the masses have similar beliefs, it is worth following. We see a trend of superstitions being followed by the younger generation due to it being enforced into habit rather than the reason it was practiced itself. I believe that such a cautionary practices became habits, and is still being followed regardless of its lack of necessity.