For those of us who are still inept at the art of grooving to the beats of Garba and Dandiya, the mere colors and gorgeous costumes can entice us into trying again. Because, it is that time of year when we get the chance to re-connect with our family, friends, acquaintances and, most importantly, our playful side!

Why Garba and Dandiya are performed during Navratri

If you look at the history of these two dance forms – Garba and Dandiya, both originated in Gujarat, and are performed during Navratri. Why during Navratri, you may ask. The reason is that these dance forms are a dramatization (sort of like a mock-fight) of the nine-day battle between Goddess Durga and the demon king Mahishasura, in which the Goddess emerged victoriously.

This is what Navratri symbolizes as well – the triumph of good over evil, even if that evil stems from our own cluttered and undisciplined mind. These nine days give us a chance to purify negative thoughts and start afresh.

The Garba dance

Traditionally, Garba is performed around an earthen pot (garbo) with a lamp inside, which is called a ‘Garbha Deep.’ This representation is symbolic. The lantern symbolizes life – the fetus in the womb, in particular. The pot itself is a symbol of the body, within which divinity resides.

Dancers move around in circles, making circular movements with their hands and feet around this earthen pot. This gesture symbolizes the circle of life, which moves from life to death to rebirth, leaving only the Mother Divine unmoved, unchanging and invincible.

The Garba costume consists of a three-piece – the choli or blouse, chaniya or long skirt and an embellished dupatta. Embroidery and mirrorwork may be found on the multihued attire, making the atmosphere vibrant and lively. The men wear a kediyu  (a full-sleeved kurta that is tight at the chest and flares like a frock at the waist) with kafni pajamas (a multi-pleated pant that tapers towards the bottom) and a pagdi or turban.

The Dandiya dance

In this dance, both men and women energetically dance with colorful and decorated bamboo sticks, striking them to the beats of instruments like the dholak and tabla. The dance is a beautiful way of re-creating the battle that took place between the Devi and the demon.

The colorful sticks used during Dandiya represent the sword of Goddess Durga, which is why this dance form is also known as ‘The Sword Dance.’ The sounds of the instruments playing are reminiscent of the metallic clangs that may be heard on the battlefield.

Women wear ghagra (long skirt), the choli (blouse) and odhni (shawl). Men wear traditional dhotis and kurtas. Mirrorwork is, again, a signature design of these costumes.

The costumes of both the Garba and the Dandiya highlight the vibrant colors of Navratri.

Garba vs. Dandiya

Garba has a more devotional appeal, as it is performed to bhajans and chants, praising the many divine forms of the Goddess. It is done before the aarti is performed. On the other hand, Dandiya is usually played during the late evening, as part of the merriment, after the aarti is done.

Even though it is interesting to know why we perform these dance forms every year, the real essence lies in the warmth and togetherness we feel when we gather around our family and friends for nine days; a time filled with joy, love, and devotion.  

The devotion is directed to the Goddess and is also a manifestation of the gratitude we feel in being alive and blessed with so much abundance. Navratri would be incomplete without these resplendent dances and this art form!

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