Garba – A Lively Traditional Dance Form of Gujarat

The high octane energetic dance form that has fans all over the world is a wonderful mix of tradition and culture. Garba, the dance form that originates from Gujarat comes from the Sanskrit word ‘garbha’ meaning the womb. This dance is performed in circular motions with a lamp or statue/picture of the Goddess Shakti, also called Amba, in the middle. Garba is the main highlight during the nine day Navaratri celebrations, though it is also performed on other social occasions. 

History and tradition

Image – Sudhamshu Hebbar via Flickr

Garba is almost the synonym for Gujarat’s cultural heritage. Though the dance is fast paced and extremely vibrant it has a deep symbolic root. It is believed that the lamp, around which the dance is conducted, represents life, particularly a fetus inside the womb. The circular dance motions are in sync with the Hindu belief of a cyclic rotation, namely, birth, life, death and rebirth again. The forms change, however, what remains constant is the lamp or the Goddess in the center signifying that the universe represented in the form a feminine divine remains unchanged at all times. 

Another interpretation is that the lamp is a symbol of divinity. The same holds true for people, where divinity resides in the core of their being and it only needs to be recognized and sustained through time. 

Cultural significance 

garba dance importance
Image – Restless mind via Flickr

Garbha, however, has a huge cultural significance. The costumes, songs and the coming together of people highlight its true merits and popularity. Women wear a chaniya choli accompanied by a dupatta usually worn in the Gujarati style. The colors of the clothes are usually red, orange, yellow or bright vivid colors with mirror work that is one of the main embroideries of the state. The women adorn themselves with heavy jewelry, such as jhumkas, payal, chudas, bajubandh and many other traditional accessories. The men also are dressed in traditional clothes, such as pajama and ghagra and a pagdi, usually from Bandini fabrics and shoes called mojris. The dressings during garba are its main cultural stronghold, finding and maintaining its roots in its state of origin. 

The songs also mostly are in the Gujarati language and in spite of its many modern influences it is difficult not to associate the Garba with its traditional roots. With remixes and Bollywood influences, as well as mass appeal globally the essential idea and execution of the traditional dance form has not drastically changed due to foreign influences. 

Modern Inputs

Garba Modern Inputs
Image – Donald Judge via Flickr

The Garba of today is many a time mixed with Dandiya Raas, another folk dance of Gujarat. The main difference between Garba and Dandiya Raas, is that in Dandiya Raas sticks are used in both hands while dancing. Most of the modern Garba dances are influenced with Dandiya Raas as well and hence the line between the two folk dances is usually blurred to create a sort of fusion that incorporates both the dance forms together. The costumes remain same, so do the songs and the vibrancy of the dance. 

Since a lot many people from the Gujarati community have migrated to the US and Canada, the Garba is a popular community event in these nations too. In the US every year, Garba dance competitions are held by more than 20 universities at a grand scale. 

The Fun and Frolic

The Fun and Frolic of Garba
Image – amazingarfa via Flickr

The biggest value of Garba lies in its fun factor. The social mingling along with the super energy and extreme enthusiasm make it one of the most loved dance forms of India. No matter from which part of the world you hail from, it is hard to not find yourself soaked in the whirlpool of frenzy and action while a garba performance is unfolding. It is equally hard to not find yourself foot tapping and your body swaying to the beats of a language or music that you may never really understand. It is the coming together of life which is vibrant, happy and in so many ways circular. There are the happy times, sad times, worrying times. There is joy, sorrow, confusion, anger and all of it moves around in cycles. The symbolism of garba is thus about living the moment, letting your inhibitions take a back seat and enjoying the aliveness and absolute spiritedness of life.

Tasneem Sariya
"An avid writer, I write for different blogs related to travel, culture and parenting. With a degree in Geography and work experience at Google India, I find writing about people, cultures, traditions and places a blissful way of exploring the unexplored and discovering the little joys of new ideas and perspectives."