Exactly 9 days earlier, I woke up in the morning and went to the gym, blurry-eyed and sleepy. I prepped myself for the aerobics, expecting the usual gym music to start. But that day was different. Dholida, Chhogada and Sanedo started blaring out of the speakers. I looked around trying to figure out what was going on.
‘We will be doing our cardio on garbas for the next 9 days’, told our group class trainer, already tapping his feet. The Gujju in me smiled, ‘Of course’, I thought. ‘How can I forget? It is that time of the year!’ 😀
I came home and habitually said, ‘Good morning Alexa’. She replied with 10 times her usual energy (which is a LOT), ‘Good morning!! Today is the first day of the 9 magical days! Sing, dance and say – Bhaaii Bhaaii!’
’Hahaha Alexa, you too?!’, I laughed.
‘Sorry. I don’t know that one.’
Everyone in the house was operating at a different excitement frequency that day. There were garba songs playing on our radio, and on the neighbors’ radios. I smiled widely, totally loving how the day had started! I wanted the next 9 days to crawl, not wanting them to pass away. As cliché as it might sound, it was the time of the BEST festival of Gujju land, NAVRATRI!!
Navratri, which translates to ‘9 Nights’, is the festivity of victory over evil; something I believe deserves a celebration today more than ever. This victory is celebrated differently in diverse parts of India. Gujarat, though, is famously known to enjoy Navratri by dancing on garbas (the Gujaratri dance form) around Maa Durga on all 9 nights.
We LOVE (all CAPS still makes it an understatement) our garbas and we live up to the stereotype shamelessly :D. A gujju is known to be well-versed with dancing on garbas even before he/she is born :D. We do not need a festival to dance on garbas. We can dance to the favorite garba beats in wedding baarats and sangeet, after cricket victories, in any happy family occasion, and *proudly saying* even in college fresher’s and farewell discotheque parties (something to make up for Gujarat being a dry state, I guess :P)!
A month before Navratri, you can see the welcome already. Garba classes make up for the best cardio and they earn bucketfuls. The aunty who apparently cannot go to the gym because of impending arthritis can totally jump and dance and sweat for an hour in Garba classes and go again the next day 😀 ! We get an unknown source of energy as soon as we hear the Garba beats. One would have difficulty remembering Math formulas but can rock 4 steps, 6 steps, 8 steps, 16 steps, 32 steps, 64 steps…. of garba!
1st rule of the cool Navratri club – you CANNOT repeat your chaniya cholis, the colorful and blingy lehengas, in the same season. So you need to own/rent greater than or equal to 9 chaniya cholis of the latest trends. You can see ‘Chaniya Cholis on rent’ signs in every other lane with every color lehengas on display! People go all out to buy expensive designer cholis and jewelry.
As the festival gets closer, wooden dance stages with idols of Durga Maa in the centre gets built in every street crossing. There are lights and divas everywhere! All open grounds of the city get transformed into Navratri night events. You can buy daily or season passes to enter those and dance the night off. There are amazing singers singing live garbas with extended bands and the loudest speakers.
Early plans are made with friends to buy passes and go dancing on all 9 nights. Surprisingly, Gujarati parents lift the home-at-10PM rule during Navratris! So this is the most awesome time to stay out late with friends, dance till you drop, have ice creams and then come home on your time. For some ‘opportunistic’ young people, Navratri is the best time to ‘mingle’ and make ‘friends’! You get to dance with a lot of people and nothing is considered suspicious :P. It is said that if you are single even on the 9th day of Navratri, you have sincerely danced on garba. 😀
All these latest trends are fun, but school days waali Navratri occupies a special place in my heart! Those 9 days every year were full of innocent excitement and true friendships. Our highly disciplined Convent school, which used to call even a speck on the shoe a disciplinary rule break, used to allow us dry hair and mehendi for these 9 days!! That shouted another level of freedom for us; I cannot even begin to explainJ. Everyone would be seen tired and sleepy in the class because of late nights, but who cared?
My housing society, like most others then, used to arrange its own little Garba night in the society grounds. A month before Navratri, all kids of the society used to be divided into A, B, C, D groups by age. Every evening used to be dedicated to practicing garbas or Gujarati folk songs that we were going to perform during the 9 Navratri nights. We used to rush home after school, gulp down lunch, somehow finish homework and then run to the society ground at 6PM for the practice.
Those practices and the stage meant the world to us! I used to absolutely love dancing to the garbas that we had been singing/listening to every Navratri since we were small. The familiarity of the garba beats and the simplicity of the steps make one addicted to this folk dance.
When Navratri finally used to dawn on us, there used to be this never-diminishing excitement in the air! Every evening, moms would keep a new pair of chaniya choli ready to be worn that night. All the kids used to have early dinners and then get started on the best part – getting all decked up for the night! I remember my mom going mad while getting me and my sister ready. Dupattas, colorful cholis, hardly-matching lipstick, dark pink blush, long braid, mandatory chaniya choli photographs, a quick revision of that night’s garba steps – and we were ready to rock and roll!
Performing on that makeshift wooden stage in front of aunties and uncles of the society was SUCH a big deal for us! 😀 I remember getting performance anxieties when it was our group’s turn to go on the stage. But then we used to look at each other, give an encouraging smile and get on the stage to perform on ‘Tara Vina Shyam’ and other amazing garbas. At the end of the night, the proud performers used to receive lunch boxes and pencils and ice creams and chocolates and we used to happily go home, sleep and get ready for the next night…. sigh! What days were those!
On the last night, we used to have a talent show for which all kids used to practice for months together. After all, every mom wanted their child to be an example of ‘Sharma ji ka beta kya sahi dance karta hai’!
Navratri is not a festival. It is an emotion.
So many Navratri traditions might have changed over years, but some things like the evening Jai Aadhya Shakti aarti and garbas sung every year by mom and dadi, and our prayers to Maa Durga for blessing us with strength to fight against evil remain the same. As this year’s Navratri nears to an end, let us join hands and pray for shakti! Happy Navratri you all and enjoy the garba. 🙂
More to say, laters! 🙂