Navratri: Literally, ‘nine nights’ in Sanskrit. The name of a nine-day, Hindu festival devoted to the worship of a martial goddess. Among Gujaratis, Navratri is celebrated with dance parties known as the garba, which is also the name of the dance* performed at these parties. These days, garba involves whirling combined with a bit of Dandiya, a different dance form that has dancers wielding two batons.
Lova: Alternative term for “lover”, synonym for the words “love you”
Navratilova: Legendary tennis player.
Put ‘em altogether and you have…
No idea who came up with this, but they are genius.
So here’s what I find interesting about what’s danced at garba parties — the highlight of the Gujarati social calendar — these days. It’s a mix of garba and dandiya. Garba, with its Sufi-esque whirling, is not just a women’s dance traditionally but its actually a part of Shakti worship. Shakti is the Sanskrit term for power or energy and in the Hindu scheme of things, Shakti is feminine. The term “garba” comes from “garbha”, which means womb. Dandiya, on the other hand, is a manly affair. The batons you see Navratilova wielding over in the image are used almost martially with the two men’s sticks, ahem, banging against each other. (Yes, don’t worry, we’ve paged Dr. Freud.) The dandiya is a folk dance that’s actually from Vrindavan, in central India. I think it’s danced during Holi and Raas in particular.
Now Raas is one of those delightfully kinky Hindu festivals. Legend has it that all the milkmaids (ahem) of Vrindavan were insistent that they should be the ones to dance the night away (ahem) with Krishna on a particular full moon night. Krishna said yes to all of them, which begged the question of how he would manage this feat. Cue in miracle: all the milkmaidens thought they were dancing with Krishna. To commemorate this, every year, on that particular full moon night, men pick up them batons and do this clackety-clack dance. Which seems to be less dance and more of an attempt to, erm, cut the other men’s batons down to size and show off one’s masculinity.
I was going to make a snide statement about Indian machismo being expressed through two lightweight, brightly-coloured sticks that are good for little more than making a racket, but the fact of the matter is that traditional dancing is not kind to men anywhere in the world. I mean, just think of Scottish highland dancing. Snicker.
Anyway, coming back to the garba. So we have the dandiya, which is masculine and obssessed with sticks, meeting the essentially feminine nature of the garba. Fittingly, in this fusion form, sometimes the men lose the sticks of dandiya; sometimes, the women dance with their own pair of sticks and give it right back to the boys. From the perspective of garba being this Shakti-fertility ritual dance, it’s interesting that the Navratri garba has become something of a massive community hook-up. The running joke is that abortion clinics, gynaecologists and maternity wards should sponsor garba nights because of the amount of business they probably get within months of Navratri.
Right. That’s all folks. Now, to work.