Garba & Dandiya – Inspirational Cultural Dance of Gujarat, India

Garba-Dance
Garba Dance – dpbirds via Flickr

Garba and Dandiya are two sister dance forms belonging to the state of Gujarat, India. These are two very energetic dance forms performed to commemorate the nine-day long festival of Navratri.  Navratri is an Indian festival celebrated throughout the country to worship the nine forms of the goddess Durga. This festival not only marks the triumph of good over evil (victory of Indian Goddess Durga over the demonic king Mahishasur) but also celebrates the spirit of unity in Indian Culture.

While Dandiya is performed using special bamboo sticks, Garba is performed using coordinated movements of hands and feet. Both these dance forms have their own religious significance and are performed as a part of the rituals during the nine-day long festival. Men and women perform these dances on all nine days of the festival. Such dance forms bring in immense joy and set the festive mood throughout the country.

The Tradition

During the festival of Navratri, Garba is performed before offering prayers to the deity and performing rituals as a devotional dance. The word Garba is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘garbha’ meaning womb or embryonic life. Traditionally, this dance form is performed by both men and women who move in graceful and rhythmic steps around in concentric circles and an illuminated earthen pot or lantern is placed in the centre. The dancers clap and sing while dancing in circular movements around the lantern. The lantern represents the divine power. Amidst the circle of life i.e., the dancing circle, lays the divine power that remains constant.

Gujarati Traditional Dance Dandiya
Dandiya Dance – Brian Glanz Via Flickr

Dandiya, on the other hand is performed after the rituals and originated as a devotional Garba dance form. It essentially represents the fight between goddess Durga and the demonic king Mahishasur hence depicting the victory of good over evil. Bamboo sticks used to perform this dance are symbolic representation of swords of goddess Durga, and hence, this dance is also known as ‘the sword dance.’ The dancers move in rhythmic manner around in circles and the circular movements in this dance form are much more complex than Garba.

These dance forms are performed in honour of goddess Durga. Usually percussion instruments such as dholaka and tabla are used.

The Dance and Celebration

While these dance forms belong to the state of Gujarat, they have become immensely popular throughout the country and Navratri celebrations are thus incomplete without Garba and Dandiya!

Special arrangements are made during Navratri, wherein thousands of people gather in huge grounds and dance their way to joy! The enthusiasm and energy involved in this dance form is contagious and allows everyone to tap their feet to the sounds of music. Together, they sing and clap and beat their sticks in praise of goddess Durga.

Gujarati Traditional Dance
Gujarati Traditional Dress – Restless mind via Flickr

Women and men not only offer prayers, but also dress up beautifully to participate in the festival. Well of course, it is the time of celebration and who doesn’t want to look good? While women wear the traditional three-piece ghaghra-choli (Indian-style blouse and skirt) adorned with lovely embroidery and pieces of mirror complimented with magnificent jewellery, men are dressed up in ethnic and colourful pieces of kurtas and pyjamas with dazzling mirror craft. Even the bamboo sticks used in Dandiya are vibrantly colourful! In some forms of the Garba dance, women are required to hold ornate earthen pots over their heads. This makes the dance forms even more lively and colourful!

The dance forms have undergone evolution with the changing times. While the basic tradition and rituals are still followed, the dance forms that once were used to educate people about the Hindu festivals of India, have now been commercialised for the purpose of entertainment. Special Dandiya and Garba nights are held at various places throughout the country and these have become major glam events. Such events are also popular internationally. Canada hosts one of the largest Navratri festivals, every year.

Nevertheless, these dance forms allow devotees and non-devotees to come together from different regions and indulge themselves in the celebrations. These festivals spread the message of oneness. Such is the beauty of Indian culture.

Author Bio:

Rohit Agarwal is an architect by profession and travel-freak by passion. He is also a blogger at TransIndiaTravels.com where he writes on travel destinations in India. He loves to write especially on Indian culture and its various aspects. He has written variety of articles on Indian culture, travel and other interesting topics.