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Cultural celebration

October 9 - 15, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Cultural celebration

The Indian Hindu expat community in Bahrain marked Sharada Navratri, the 10-day autumn festival celebrated annually, with nightly Garba and Dandiya dances.

‘Sharada Navratri’ is the fall iteration of the Navratri festival. Navratri in Sanskrit translates to nine nights which runs over 10 days and nine nights. The festival has a unique cultural and religious significance for each community in the Indosphere.

The Gujarati community, which has deep historical and economic ties with Bahrain, commemorates every evening of the festival with a dandiya and garba dance, lavish affairs with music and traditional clothing like the choli worn by some of the women and kedia, worn by some men.

Renu Yadav, first Secretary at the India Embassy, was the chief guest along with guest of honour Shirley Yateem and special guest Lynne Alwazzan, who kicked off the evening by lighting the inaugural lamp.

Kalpana Patil, the president of the Indian Ladies Association, said: “The garba dance is done by clapping your hands to the rhythm of the music, as we move in concentric circles around an image of the Goddess Durga. The dandiya, however, is ‘played’ between pairs of people who have painted wooden sticks, which they lightly strike against their partner’s stick. The music and dance are to invoke the goddess Durga. Every day attendees are traditionally supposed to wear a different colour. For example, on Thursday we wore yellow, corresponding to the form of Durga being commemorated that day.”

The dance may be simple in itself but it leaves ample room for personal flair. Some people squeezed in Bollywood moves and mini-dance numbers between claps; the key however is to remain in step with the other dancers.

The GulfWeekly team headed to two of these celebrations, the daily Garba/Dandiya event held at the Shri Krishna temple in Manama and the annual dandiya evening organised by the Indian Ladies Association (ILA).

The ILA’s evening was a colourful social affair, involving several local vendors of Indian wares, that aims to raise money for Sneha, the ILA’s flagship project started in 1987 to provide a safe haven for children with special needs.

Kalpana added: “We have raised BD6,000 – BD8,000 through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships for Sneha to help fund activities for gifted children, including outdoor picnics, educational tours as well as the day-to-day activities of the children and volunteers.”

Held at the Wyndham Grand hotel, the raucous event attracted 1,200 attendees spanning the cultural and age spectrum. The evening kicked off with the ILA’s ladies dance troupe performing a choreographed dandiya dance to the rhythm of neo-traditional Navratri songs. This was followed by a children’s performance, which stole the hearts of all the attendees, who clapped on the side-lines and recorded the moment with dozens of smartphone videos.

Then the evening gradually evolved into a mass dance party as various circles formed around the Bateel ballroom, each composed of groups of friends who giggled, danced and clapped to the tunes of  dynamic DJ Francis.

Kalpana remarked: “There is a deep cultural history behind the event, and for many of the attendees, it is an opportunity to reconnect with friends. We are grateful to the authorities and the sponsors who have helped this event become a success every year.”

The GulfWeekly also attended the nightly garba dance at the Shri Krishna Temple, organised by the Gujarati Samaj Bahrain (GSB). The free-for-all annual event has attracted people of all nationalities and religious beliefs for an evening of frolicking and flavours as people dance in large concentric circles around the culturally significant statue of Durga.

Bhaskar Shantilal, 62, president of the GSB, said: “This event started 47 years ago, when I was 15. Every year, we open it up to anyone who wants to join. Yesterday we had a number of women from Jordan join in the festivities. Since the dance is simple, anyone can join in.”

Navratri, the over-arching festival around the dandiya and garba events, intends to celebrate the belief around nine forms of the feminine goddess Durga. The 10th day culminates in Durga Puja, “Rama Lila” Dussehra and the victory of Rama or the goddess Saraswati, depending on the Indo-community celebrating the festival. In all cases, the common theme is the battle and victory of good over evil based on a regionally famous epic or legend.

The garba dance intends to summon Durga for this battle, even though most dancers we talked to were there for the music, fun and community.

Sunil Sagar, 44, secretary of the GSB, added: “It’s all about togetherness. That’s why everyone dances in large concentric circles. You have to maintain step with each other and the music. The Samaj, which includes almost all the goldsmiths in this area, covers the costs. We are just happy to see the community come together.”

The fall festival is celebrated typically in September or October and involves stage decorations, recital of the legend, enacting of the story and more, typically also aligning with the harvest of the summer growing season.

The festival also starts the preparation for one of the most important and widely celebrated holidays, Diwali, the festival of lights, which is celebrated 20 days after Dussehra which means the 10th day in Sanskrit.

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