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It's Dandiya time again

The Gujaratis celebrate Navarathri with gusto. What adds charm to their festivities is the traditional Garba and Dandiya Raas. PRATIMA ASHER shares her exciting experience of this annual festival

ONE OF the major Gujarati festivals celebrated in Kochi is Navarathri or the festival of the `nine nights,' which culminates with `Vijayadashmi' which commemorates goddess Durga's triumph over the demon, Mahisasura.

Navarathri is celebrated all over India by different communities, but the Gujarati celebration acquires an added zest simply because it is associated with the Raas-Garba, which has become one of India's most well known and widely performed folk dances. Wherever there are Gujaratis you find them celebrating this festival with fervour.

According to knowledgable sources, Navarathri or `Norta' is associated not only with the triumph of Durga, but with the worship of the nine goddesses, and each day of the Navaratri is dedicated to one of them. The first day is for Kumari, the second for Trimurti, the third for Kalyani, the fourth for Rohini, the fifth for Kaali, the sixth for Chandika, the seventh for Shambhavi, the eight for Durga and the ninth for Subhadra.

The celebrations begin in the bright half of the month of Ashwin. In Gujarat, the famed shrines of the goddess who is represented in her local incarnations become the focal point of interest during Navarathri with the Garba dance performed with great enthusiasm. It is performed around an earthern pot with multi coloured designs or a metal one. The pot has holes pierced around its sides and contains a burning wick the light of which is visible through the holes. The Garba is the symbol of `Shakti' or Jagadamba and is also associated with fertility.

The Garba dance, according to legend, is associated with Lord Krishna's great granddaughter, Usha. Women generally dance, carrying the pot on their heads or around it in a circle, singing songs in praise of the goddess, or ballads narrating heroic deeds, folk tales, and stories of manners and modes.

The Gujarati community is supposed to have set up their homes in Kochi about 255 years ago. The Sorathiya Vaniyas are a distinct community cluster, and some of these Sorathiya Vaniyas brought the image of `Samudri Mata' or the goddess, considered the daughter of the Ocean, in a steamer and established it in a temple dedicated to her in 1904. This temple has been the focus of the Navarathri celebrations of the Gujarati community in Kochi to this day and the festival is observed with great enthusiasm.

In Gujarat, during Navarathri, every available bit of space is occupied for the Raas-Garba dances, but they are traditionally performed in a open `chowk' or courtyard. The Samudri Mata Temple has a large `chowk' specially built for the purpose within the temple and as Jeetendrabhai.N, manager of the temple observes, it is perhaps the only `chowk' in India where the Garba is performed right in front of the goddess.

Different colours are prescribed for every day of the festival and in Mattancherry all the women turn up for the programme dressed in pink or green or yellow depending on the colour of the day. Any woman can join the dance, whether young or old. Time is kept with a single clap or with three claps or with the feet. Often musical instruments such as the `dhol' are used as accompaniments. There are several variations of the Garba, one of them being the graceful Hinch. The Hinch can be performed with a pot as well.

While the Garba dances begin at 6.30 in the evening and go on till about 8.30. Then, late in the night, the men perform a ritual dance called Garbi, which is slower than the Garba and is also a form of worship to the goddess. Again songs in praise of the goddess are sung.

The Garba gives way often to the popular Raas, in which both men and women participate and in the `Dandiya Raas' the rhythm is achieved through the clash of sticks carried by the dancers.

The Raas is very popular during public Navarathri functions, specially at sponsored programmes, as it offers is a great deal of room for improvisation. The Raas is often played even after Navarathri is over, generally up to the full moon night of Sharad or `Sharad Poornima', at various venues.

However, Mr. Jeetendrabhai says that in spite of repeated requests the Samudri Mata Temple authorities allow only the traditional dances within the precincts of the temple, and, while modern trends may be introduced with lucky dip prizes and so on, the religious significance of Navarathri is never compromised.

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