Growing up in a hardcore urban environment, my idea of Navratri celebrations revolved around the local communities hosting Garba-Dandiya nights where you get hold of your favourite dancing partner and sway to the tunes of Bollywood music. So it was, until I involuntarily landed in Vadodara to visit some distant cousins. And did I mention it was during Navratri?
A festival in its own right
While the rest of the country celebrates this nine-day festival as a victory of good over evil, welcoming Lord Ram back to Ayodhya and so on, the state of Gujarat goes a step beyond and turns it into this cultural extravaganza. I had travelled from Ahmedabad to Baroda by cab and was now looking forward to some rest. As soon as I entered the city, I saw that celebrations were in full swing and I could already see people painting the town a rainbow with their attires. The street-side shops looked like a flamboyant palette of colours. And that was just the beginning of what would be an eventful weekend.
I was strictly instructed by my cousins and their wives to comply with whatever plans they had drawn up for me. Apparently, no one sits at home in the evening during Navratri, at least not in Vadodara. I love solitude and quiet and I realised that the next few days in Baroda, I’ll be having none of that.
The best place to be
There are about three or four major public arenas where the dance and music events are held. And one would be surprised to discover that the festival is less about the Gujarati community and more about who is ‘best-dressed’ or the ‘best performer’.
The United Way of Baroda is one of the major venues for Navratri celebrations and attracts the largest number of people to participate and dance their heart away. From their choice of music to the trance-like ambiance, to exceptional singers, this place could give the grandest Bollywood dance sequence a run for the money! One of my cousins mentioned that about 30000 people turn up at the United Way for each day of Navratri, which is 100 times of the places I had ever been for Dandiya. With every visitor in their best ethnic ensemble, dancing to the rhythm and beats of live and electronic music, it was no short of a spectacle!
Soon it was time for us to join one of the ‘circles’ and match up to their moves and to the beats. I had to admit, the music did the magic for an amateur like me. From rock-Garba to traditional folk, Bollywood (of course) and EDM dandiya, to never-heard melodies improvised for the groovy crowd, they had some of the most eclectic music you can think of for garba and dandiya.
And to top it all, all the gala and grandeur turned out to be a fundraiser for a charitable cause.
The lovely weather, non-stop dancers, electrifying ambiance, wrapped me in an all-consuming euphoria, making me forget my love for solitude and hatred of dancing. Eventually, our little circle of cousins and friends turned out to be one of the top performers of the night, leading to a lot of appreciation from other participants. We had booked a taxi in Vadodara so we managed to go to quite a few of these venues and catch some of the other events and performances as well. Never before had I seen a live canvas of such motley colours and non-stop cheer spread across 9 whole days. Had I never visited Baroda and met my cousins, I would have hardly come to know of my hidden dancing talents!
Garba Celebrations in 2021
This year, the cities of Gujarat will witness the charm of the celebrations after two years. However, at a smaller scale. According to the guidelines by the government of Gujarat, housing societies can organise private events. The crowd at these events can’t exceed the number of 400. No huge Garba events are allowed this year. The officials have urged people to maintain COVID-related precautions.