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Tradition with a twist

Friday, October 05, 2018
Pic courtesy: Gujrat Tourism.com

The enthusiasm for Navratri and its nine nights of dancing has grown tremendously in recent times, says Tanmaya Vyas

“I make it a point to stick to ethnic songs even if I perform or present Bollywood songs. My playlist has songs like Nagada sang dhol from Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela or folk-based songs.”

 - Parthiv Gohil

Each state in India has a varied legend for Navratri but the two states that celebrate it most fervently are West Bengal and Gujarat. Mumbai has its own take on Navratri, and given Gujarat’s proximity to Maharashtra and the dense Gujarati population in the city, Navratri is celebrated with immense enthusiasm. The scale, however, has shifted from household events to large-scale events.

After the ten-day celebrations of the Ganesh Festival comes a fortnight’s break of Pitrupaksha, which is followed by nine days of Navratri to eulogise the feminine power of divinity. The nine days are considered to be very holy, and many devotees observe a nine-day fast, including our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Apart from the spiritual side of this festival, there is a fun and vibrant aspect too. While the Bengalis start their festivities mainly from the Shashti or the sixth day, Gujaratis start it from day one. Bengalis have music and Dhunuchi dance, while Gujaratis enjoy Garba and Dandiya. Garba, derived from the Sanskrit word Garbha (Womb), is a form of dance done primarily by women dancing in concentric circles around a perforated earthen clay pot, which symbolises the womb and fertility of the female species being worshipped. Dandiya, on the other hand, is a dance that requires a partner, each of whom holds two sticks. Starting October 10, women gaily dressed in Chania Choli in Bandhini fabric with glass work (known as Abhala) and men too dressed for the occasion might be a common sight in the city.

Today, big corporates and hip clubs sponsor and organise Garba and Dandiya nights- a useful marketing tool because Navratri Utsavs, whether in housing societies, or at larger venues, have mammoth footfalls by youngsters. The prices are marked separately for a season pass (for all nine nights) and single night entry and range from a meagre `100 to a few thousands, depending on the location and offerings. The biggest exhibition centre in Mumbai, NESCO, is hosting a Dandiya night called Rangilo Re with the singer/artiste Parthiv Gohil. Parthiv, a famous Bollywood singer and a Gujarati himself, shares his insights. “The journey of Rass Garba and Dandiya from household events to these large-scale events have been in the last 25 years. The demand for Dandiya and Garba has grown over the years.”

While the traditional religious view of this festival is the worship of the goddess (Amba), most youngsters see it as an opportunity to party.  What is actually a religious festival has, in fact, brought together many communities and even people from different faiths, a much-needed factor in today’s times. Parthiv shares an interesting story. “In New York a few years ago, I was asked to perform for a Bengali community programme. It became more interesting as they requested me to perform on some Bengali tunes too, so it was a fusion between Bengali and Gujarati music. Last year, I performed with the Nashik Dhol and this year I have some Rajasthani folk tunes in my performance itinerary.”

Today, there are several classes teaching Garba and Dandiya. Here too, there is integration often with foreign dance forms fusing with Garba and Dandiya. Salsa-Garba, Zumba-Garba have been there for a while. Another incredible fusion done is the Middle-Eastern dance form Belly-Dance fused with Garba. Pioneer of this fusion form and also the first to have an institute of Belly Dance in Mumbai, Ritambhara Sahni, owner of Belly Dance Institute Mumbai said, “I started the institute to teach Belly-Dance in 2005 and five years later just as an experiment, I started with Belly-Dance and Garba fusion and it worked out really well. Any form of dance can be blended with other form if done aesthetically. And both these forms are so graceful. Some traditional moves of Garba and Belly-Dance go really well together. Like Popat goes really well with snake arms and Shimmy goes really well with traan tali and bey tali. Other popular steps of belly dance that we merge are figure 8' s, hip locks, drops, hits among many more. ”

Purists may believe that the true sentiment behind Garba is lost and that commercialisation has taken over, considering such fusions are happening, but Prianca Sheth, a student of Ritambhara’s Institute and a Marwari herself says, “I belong to a Marwari family, a community which is known to be conservative, but when I saw this form of Belly-Dance and Garba fusion, I knew I had to learn it and so I convinced my family. Last year, at a Garba night in Radio Club, Cuffe Parade, when I and friends from the Institute, danced on these moves, people there were amazed and were taking videos. It was a great feeling.”

One of the biggest stars to shine predominantly during these nine days is singer/performer Falguni Pathak. “Due credit for the popularity of this form of dance and music goes to Falguni Pathak,” says Parthiv. He also attributes Falguni’s efforts to retain traditional form of music and in fact introducing traditional form of Dakala, a very powerful form of music performed to evoke the divine power, to non-Gujarati masses.

Traditionally, Garba and Dandiya are danced to the tunes of folk or devotional songs. However, considering the effect of Bollywood on youth, the music today is often the popular and mainstream songs, played on Dolby systems. Parthiv says, “I make it a point to stick to ethnic songs even if I perform or present Bollywood songs. My playlist has songs like Nagada Sang Dhol from Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela or folk-based songs.”

Purists clearly do not like this but it is loved by youngsters. Ritambhara shares her experience, “I have never faced any criticism for this fusion form. In fact, I faced far more criticism when I opened a Belly-Dance Institute, as there is a stigma about that dance form in India. I personally think, Gujaratis as a community are extremely enthusiastic and open for new ideas. However, when I play songs like Chogada from Loveratri, there is a wide smile of the faces of Gujaratis. The response has been good, however, as Garba is seasonal, as soon as the festival is approaching members start asking classes teaching this fusion form.”

Like Ganpati, Navratri is also celebrated under the surveillance of the law and outdoor events are restricted to 10 p.m. However, closed-door events continue post 10 p.m. too. What counts is that the zest and interest for the festival has not only been constant every year, it has, in fact, grown by leaps and bounds.

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