Navratri – World’s Longest Dance Festival

SLB (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) seems to have learnt the art of timing. On a Wednesday afternoon of October 2nd, enjoying my mid-week holiday, I listened, for the first time, to the song Nagada Sang Dhol from his upcoming movie Ramleela. With lot of buzz created around the song as Gujarat and Mumbai gears up for world’s longest dance festival – Navratri – SLB could only expect this song to go viral.

 

Navratri, being one of the most awaited festivals for Gujaratis, unleashes the energy they have saved throughout the year. For nine nights, cities of Gujarat, especially Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat, turns into dance floor. Navratri represents worship of Goddess Shakti and symbolizes victory of good over evil. It coincides with Durgapuja in West Bengal (the time to be in Kolkata) and concludes on the day of Dusshera, the day when Ram killed Ravan (or the day when Goddess Durga killed Mahishasur).

Born and brought up in Gujarat, it was inevitable not to have Navratri addiction. Especially after being raised in a society environment (one society with 11 buildings having 12 flats each – 132 houses and a whole group of kids of my age), the memories of those nine days every year just cannot fade away. Those were the days when Navratri was not so commercialized. There was a society ground where every evening of Navratri, people would gather for Goddess Amba’s prayer, which would commence the “Garba”.

Garba is a Gujarati dance form that is among the most traditional of all dance forms during Navratri where Goddess Amba’s statue/picture and a lit lamp is placed at the center and devotees dance in concentric circles with songs being prayers to the Goddess. We (kids) used to reach the ground much early to prepare for the prayers and play all the non-electronic games (which we don’t see kids playing these days) once we were done. Games like pakad-daav, maal-dadi, saatolia (seven stones), lakhoti (marbles), bhamardo (spinning a top) and many more just gave us a warm up for the night.

Vibrant Colors of Navratri Attire…… Photo Credit: Navratri.TV

As the time of the prayer approached, everyone would gather at the center of the ground, putting on new traditional clothes for the evening. Colors are a very characteristic of Navratri. Irrespective of the era you talk about, vibrant colors of the attire symbolizes the zeal and energy that is associated with all dance forms of Navratri. It demonstrates how people forget all the sorrows of their life, let the life blossom in all colors, welcome the spring with wide open arms and celebrate it by thanking the almighty that has protected us till date from all the evils because of which we are able to see the light of the day. As the prayer concludes, the never ending night began. It is incredible how there are different ways to pray to a single goddess and likewise for each form of almighty in the Hindu culture as the garba songs played one after the other throughout the night. I did not understand that much of the prayer part as much as I used to enjoy the garba and dandia with my whole “gang”. As I grew up, I learned to be a little more civilized.

Today, the festival has evolved a lot to become more commercialized. With clubs and party plots organizing the event on grand scale, people leaving no stone unturned for the season passes, celebrity specials at various places, remixes and disco-dandia taking over the traditional garba and even sheri-garba being branded itself, the festival has taken a new shape. It is a source of yearly income for singers like Falguni Pathak and Devang Patel, who get one chance during this time of the year to come in limelight and go into exile for the rest of 356 days.

In Ahmedabad, places like Karnavati Club, Rajpath Club, YMCA, University Ground, NID and CEPT are crowded with youngsters flock in groups, ready to drive the nine night’s dance extravaganza. Besides the dance itself, competitions and prizes for best dance, best dress etc drives the zeal for the festival. Today, the festival also brings in a big marketing opportunity in itself – as cashed in by Sanjay Leela Bhansali this year. With events on such a big scale, companies find themselves getting another touch point to the young and spending audience. From clothes to food and from media to energy, everyone earns during this festival.

10 years from now, the festival will surely evolve further to something new. Evolution is inevitable and necessary. But as long as people don’t forget the history and meaning of the festival, all is well.

Jai Mata Di!!!

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