by Aditya Desai
As of last Friday, it is officially Navratri 2010, the Indian festival of nine nights. It is the auspicious time marking the start of the autumn season, when Hindus worship to the goddess Devi for good tidings over the coming season. The holiday is most prominently celebrated by Garba-Raas dances, where participants make pumped up foot movements, circulating around a lamp or picture of the Goddess.
While Garba is based on a series of coordinated steps and claps, it’s component, Raas, involves using dandia, or decorated sticks. Partners hit the sticks against each other’s, mimicking an ancient sword battle that the goddess Devi took part in.
Tradition aside however, Garba-Raas has become a significant melting pot for the Indian American community. The conflation of South Asian communities across the United States, Garba has attracted people from all backgrounds to gather and enjoy night upon night of dance, music, and fun.
At college especially, where people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds rubs shoulders with each other, there are always many who attend their first Garbas, and join in on the festivities. This includes not only non-Indians, but Indians as well, as the significance of the holiday varies depending on which part of the country you hail from.
However once you are in the circle, all differences are dropped and it becomes a beautiful pageantry of colorful saris and kurtas, swaying back and forth to the drumbeats. The annual Navratri Garbas have lead to an increased popularity in the style, leading to Garba-Raas competitions across the country.
For the community at large, Garba continues to be an important pillar in celebrating Indian culture and tradition in the country. People will come from far and wide to go to their closest high school gym or temple community hall to join family and friends. In some areas with especially large communities, sports stadiums and arenas have been used as Garba venues, such as Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
Along with being an important religious occasion, Garba-Raas in the United States has also become an opportunity for the Indian-American community to broaden horizons, increase presence, and offer a fun, festive way for people to learn about the culture.
Aditya Desai is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland, College Park.