With the Full Moon night of this lunar month, the season of festivals begins in India.
The festival phase of the year coincide with the lean activity phases in farming – so the community enjoyment does not interfere with the primary income generating work in the fields.
Because festivals in India – no matter what the economic group – are BIG.
Food takes centre stage. The Indian community already loves the food spectrum and views food preparation as a domestic folk art practiced in every home. For example the two main meals in a middle class household consist of DBRS – Daal Bhaat Rotli Shaak : Bread, Rice, Veggies & Lentils. This is in addition to the breakfast and the afternoon snack. This implies that at least one person’s complete attention is devoted to the kitchen or ‘chauka bartan’ activities.
During festivals this activity doubles or triples as guests must be planned for and interesting rare items must be prepared to WOW them.
And therefore it is important that these festival celebrations are held when no one is needed elsewhere for income generating activities.
Beginning with Raksha Bandhan that usually falls in August, festivals continue until Holi, usually in March-April.
Each festival is fun and noteworthy.
But the funnest of all is Navratri.
It is the festival of folk dance in Gujarat. Men & women young and old participate in the circle folk dance for 9 nights in their own neighbourhoods. After dinner, everyone sets out and gathers together at a predetermined spot. As always, festivals have a religious symbolism or reason, which in this case is connected to the story of Amba – the Goddess of strength. And so every night the gathering first conducts an arti or flame worship ritual of an installation of the Goddess and hymns are sung with great energy. This sets the mood for the evening and the dancing begins.
Traditionally, one of the women sings and this song is repeated by the other dancers. There may be a drummer but that is not necessary. The group assembles in a circle and with rhythmic clapping and singing the circle goes around gracefully.
Songs are handed down from generation to generation and most are old traditional songs.
When clapping is the only hand movement used, the dance is called the Garba. Traditionally these were women only dances.
There are other fast paced dances that are danced by men alone called the Garbi.
And then there are the dances with the sticks that require two concentric rings of people facing each other, one moving clockwise and the other moving anticlockwise and tapping their sticks as they pass each other. This is the Dandiya Raas dance.
In the olden days Navratri was magical because it was possibly the only time when socialising took place in the dark of the night. There was the magic of getting to know people in the neighbourhood. There was bonding of one family with another and the community knit itself closer through all the dance steps and the fun had together.
Great grandmas and young children, everyone was together. In those days there never was any premium attached to being younger. On the contrary being older earned you respect and many privileges. It was a wonderful time for all!
Today a lot of that magic is lost with commercialisation of Navratri and Bollywood music blaring through speakers, larger crowd in cricket fields instead of personal neighbourhood dances.
But maybe, in rural Gujarat life is still beautiful. Maybe the soul of Navratri is still preserved there.