Staff Writer Khushi Chhaya attended the HSO’s Garba event, a traditional form of dance performed during the nine-night festival.

From Sunday, October 15 to Tuesday, October 24, Hindus celebrated the festival of Navaratri. As part of the festivities, the Columbia Hindu Student Organization (HSO) organized a Garba, where students from all religious backgrounds could join in the celebrations and learn about the holiday.

Navaratri is derived from two Sanskrit words—‘nava’ meaning nine and ‘ratri’ meaning night. Over the course of nine nights, Hindus celebrate this festival in a variety of ways to honor the goddess Durga, among other deities. Although there are many regional stories, prayers, and practices that accompany the holiday, a primary message throughout all of them is the triumph of good over evil.

Garba is a dance form originating in the state of Gujarat, in Western India. During Navaratri, it is performed in concentric circles, usually around a central altar or statue of the goddess. At the HSO event, students arrived in traditional Indian clothing for an evening of dancing. Garba is traditionally how Gujaratis celebrate the festival, but it has spread across India and the world to become a fun, inclusive event attended by many.

Columbia Raas, a dance team that competes in Garba and Raas dance, gave a demonstration with some basic steps. Everyone was then free to step into one of the circles and try doing the steps themselves. 

As an annual Garba-goer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m used to going to much bigger, city-wide events, but I was pleasantly surprised and ended up having a great time! Everyone was willing and eager to participate and learn, whether they had been attending Garba for many years or this was their first time. 

The second type of dance is called Dandiya Raas. The dance is usually performed with each person having two wooden sticks, or Dandiya, and a partner. Partners line up across from each other forming two lines and hit each other’s sticks before the lines shift and each person has a new partner. Similar to Garba, the dance form originated in the state of Gujarat. For both Garba and Raas, the music traditionally starts very slow and speeds up with time. 

After a few rounds, people got the hang of it and the lines began to move more smoothly. Some groups even broke off from the longer lines to do more complex steps in pairs or groups of four. I, along with many of my friends, forgot to watch out for my fingers and got brutally hit by my partners’ Dandiya. No matter how many times I go, I never learn. I consider it a Raas rite of passage. 

Along with the dancing, the HSO also led the group in an Arti, or prayer ritual, to the goddess Durga, among other deities, whose statues sat at the front of the room. Arti also refers to the song sung during this practice.

Of course, the night couldn’t end without some classic Bollywood hits, different from traditional Garba-Raas music. Everyone danced and sang to familiar songs from “Sheila Ki Jawani” to “O Saki Saki.”

Navaratri is by no means restricted to Gujarati practices, and how people observe the festival varies greatly by region. In North India, for example, many observe fasts or abstain from certain foods. In South India, families create a Gollu, which is an exhibition of dolls and figurines that can depict various religious stories.

Although not everyone celebrates Navaratri in the same way, if at all, the HSO Garba was a nice way for Hindus to connect with our culture while being away from home. For non-Hindu students, it was a chance to learn about Navaratri, eat some good food, and have a lot of fun. 

Image via Khushi Chhaya