Dance the night away at the Navaratri garba of the Shree Gujarati Samaj

The lively beat of the dhol mixed with lyrical Gujarati folk songs resounds in the clear night air at Rangavilasom Palace. There is excitement and joie de vivre, whoops and claps, as men and women, old and young, and even toddlers, dance around the ‘garba deep’ – a blazing lamp atop a framed portrait of Goddess Shakti.

It’s the annual nine-day Navaratri celebrations of the Shree Gujarati Samaj, Trivandrum, perhaps the one place in the city where you can put on your dancing shoes and take part in the festivities.

“All are welcome to dance and celebrate Navaratri with us,” says Arun H. Patel, long-time secretary of the association that is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. Inside the hall, the men are slowly dancing around the garba in circles, singing and clapping their hands, in tune with the dhol. It is so quaintly infectious that you find yourself tapping your foot in tandem.

Bhavesh A. Patel and his cousin Alpesh Patel, both of who grew up in the city and who can speak Malayalam as equally well as Gujarati, explain: “Each evening’s festivities start off with an aarti (pooja) to the Goddess at around 8.45 p.m. On each of the nine days, different forms of Shakti are worshipped. For example, today we are worshipping Amba. On other days its Gauri, Kalka, Saraswathi…This is followed by the men’s garba raas and then the women’s dance, dhandiya raas (with sticks), and so on and so forth. We conclude the festivities at around 11.30 p.m. with another aarti.”

Now it’s the turn of the women to get on the dance floor. They make for a colourful group, dressed to the nines in glitzy embroidered saris. The women start off slow, circling the garba in easy twists and turns, and gradually increase the speed of the dance in tandem with the pace of the dhol.

Kushi, Alpesh’s 23-year-old sister says: “The dhol player holds the key to the pace. The dance itself is easy to follow and largely involves a few set moves of the hands and legs – if it’s with sticks it’s the dandiya. These dance moves have been passed on from generations. For those who don’t know we are always willing to teach.”

The members of the association say garba in the city is celebrated in the traditional way, with they themselves playing the dhol and singing the songs.

“In Gujarat, garba pandals nowadays have DJs, rock bands and the like leading the festivities and there men and women dance together. We’ve, however, retained the tradition set up by our grandfathers and keep it fairly simple with members of the association ourselves playing the dhol and singing the songs,” say Bhavesh. Many of the younger generation say that they’ve never been to Gujarat for Navaratri.

“That’s why functions like this are an important way to connect with our culture. We always make the most of festival time,” says Kushi.

Another highlight that the members – and visitors – say they look forward to is the prasad handed out after the final aarti.

“We all get homemade Gujarati sweets, namkeen, boondi laddo, bhujiya, and so on.” A sweet end to a fun night. Contact: 9495121887