ANNOUSHKA FERNANDES | NT BUZZ
The nine day festival of Navratri is celebrated all over the country with great fervour. Symbolising the victory of good over evil, it is celebrated during the month of Ashwin with people observing a fast and seeking blessings and offering prayers to Goddess Durga.
But Navratri is incomplete without the traditional and fun-filled dances of garba and dandiya. While garba is performed around a lamp or the image of the deity during ‘aarti’, dandiya is performed in a group comprising of two circles, one on the inside and one on the outside, with each person holding a pair of bamboo sticks. Dandiya is believed to be the dramatisation of the war between Goddess Durga and the demon king, Mahishasura, and the sticks represent the sword of the goddess.
A celebration of unity
While these dances originated in Gujarat, Goa is not far behind in catching up with these dance moves. In fact, with an increase in the number of dances being organised, people seek different workshops to learn these moves. In Goa too, such workshops are attended by locals irrespective of their religion. “I get a mixed crowd. These are mostly locals of different religions- Christians, Muslims, and other communities,” says dancer Hetal Gangani. Gangani has been conducting annual workshops for different age groups in different parts of Goa, prior to Navratri, called the Rhythm Garba and Dandiya Workshop, for over four years now.
Similarly, owner and co-founder of The Playce, Wilma Britto also conducted a garba and dandiya workshop with Vrinda Kannani recently. “People came in from all walks of life. It wasn’t only Hindus or people who are from that community. The wonderful thing about Indians is that they love celebrating each and every festival,” she says.
“Every community wants to enjoy garba. Dance has no religion, and garba is such a dance that is only filled with fun,” agrees proprietor, Kaleidoscope, Nayatara Ray, who conducts garba and dandiya workshops for children and this year started one for women only.
Keeping up with the times
And with the changing times and the influence of Bollywood, garba and dandiya have also evolved as most people do not prefer the basic and traditional styles. “People want to learn different things and so we have to stay up to date, I feel people don’t want to stick to the traditional dance,” says Ray.
Admitting that during their recent workshop they choreographed new and different steps and with modern music. Britto also admits that they choreograph moves as per the current trends. “There’s this new trend like power garba, etc. So we keep adding activities as and when it trends, especially during festival times because garba is something that people don’t do on a regular basis,” she says.
Gangani however believes that it is necessary to maintain the essence of garba and dandiya by sticking to the traditional styles. “There are people who teach salsa garba and zumba garba. I however prefer the traditional art form. Before my workshop, I explain to my students the significance of the dance while explaining the background of Navratri,” says Gangani, who was inspired to start this workshop after scrolling through social media. “I found a poster that said: ‘Navratri is coming, learn sexy moves’. Ever since I was a kid I loved garba and I felt that this poster was not spreading the right message. So I took this initiative,” says Gangani.
Coping with challenges
While the workshops around Goa have received positive responses there are a few challenges. Gangani for instance, admits that children are easier to teach as compared to the adults. “From my experience I’ve needed more patience with the adults. While the kids are easier to teach, the energy level and stamina of the adults vary, so it’s a bit difficult,” says Gangani, adding that through the years she has learned to deal with the challenges.
Britto meanwhile faces the challenge of finding an authentic garba instructor in Goa. “We have many people who are of Goan origin that conduct garba workshops. But when I decided to have a garba workshop, I wanted it to be authentic, so I searched for a Guajarati to conduct the workshop,” says Britto. And with so many of such workshops being conducted, they also had to contend with people’s preferences and timing, she adds.
The workshops are conducted for beginners as well as for advanced students. “When designing a course we have to take into consideration that there are always beginners coming in. That’s why we specifically did a beginners course and then moved up the level and the beginners picked it up well,” says Britto. “Every time I visit Gujarat I undertake a workshop there. I learn from those traditional classes and then I bring that here and teach it at my advanced class,” says Gangani.
The grand showdown
All these workshops do not go in vain as the organisers make sure that the participants get to showcase the moves learned at these workshops. In fact, Gangani plans her workshops so that they end a day before Navratri. “I have a celebration called ‘ratri’ just before Navratri where I ask everyone to come dressed up in the traditional costume and they perform garba and dandiya steps that they have learned at the workshop. I also organise a competition and give prizes to everyone to motivate them,” says Gangani.
Britto also organised a get-together for the participants recently after the workshop concluded. “Learning is fine but if you cannot use it anywhere there’s no point. Since we have our own venue we hosted a get-together where they showcased what they have learned,” says Britto.