Saturday, October 15, 2011

Navrang Raas Garba with Hemant Chauhan, or I haven't been up this late since Shivaratri!

Last night TiaS pinged me around 7:30 to ask if I had any interest dancing the Dandiya (a Gujarati dance with sticks celebrating the end of Navratri or the nine nights of the Divine Mother).

The dance started at 8. In Palatine.

And I was already halfway to dreamland, having taught 19 classes this week.

I tried to beg off, until I noticed that famous Gujarati folk singer Hemant Chauhan would be performing and that TiaS was offering to drive.

We put on outfits, bindis, bangles, spangles, makeup and ankle bracelets.

We felt like drag queens.

We went.

The massive college gymnasium was filled with Indian people of all ages, shapes and sizes.

All were dressed to the nines - some of the men even in the traditional Gujarati costume, and most of the women in ghagra cholis.

The majority of them were dancing.

We got some food, sat down in the bleachers, and watched for awhile.

The musicians were at one end of the gym, the food at the other. Hundreds of people were dancing the garba in between. A shrine was set up near us, featuring images of the goddess and candles (the event was sponsored by a local temple).

During a break, they started handing out the sticks ("Dandiya" comes from the same Sanskrit root as the first seated pose in the ashtanga primary series, "Dandasana" or stick/staff pose).

They ran out of sticks before we could get any.

The music started up, and everyone started dancing.

So we watched for awhile as Hemant and his party performed.

Everyone seemed to be having such fun. TiaS inquired about getting some sticks for us.

We were directed us towards the stage, where we watched the musicians - who were utterly amazing. Hemant, who has an amazing voice and is called the Pride of Gujarat, had an indescribable look of humility, sweetness, contentment and devotion on his face. And the drum crew (including dhol, tablas and an electronic drum) was spot-on, kicking out a rollicking, infectious beat that never let up. At one point, TiaS told me Hemant was singing his thanks to God in the form of Krisha, for coming down to earth. Not only was it devotional, but it had a good beat and you could dance to it!

We also watched the people dancing. The entire gym floor was filled with people.

Most were in lines, facing each other, hitting each others' sticks three times, and moving on to the next person.

Some of the teenagers had fashioned their own variations of the dance. Others were doing more of a line dance. One tiny little girl was really working it, doing spins and voguing. A man in full mirrored costume effortlessly twirled his sticks between taps. Some ladies were doing a graceful Garba dance (without sticks). A few older women were busting out traditional Bollywood moves, their faces lighting up so that they looked like young girls.

Finally, someone scored sticks for us.

TiaS gave me a quick lesson, and we played a bit.

After some time it finally clicked - I can be an incredibly slow learner, hence the obsession with yoga sequences - and we started doing it for real.

It was fun; hitting the sticks, hearing the sharp snap they made, feeling the vibration move through the hands and arms, watching TiaS' smiles and looks of delight. It became hypnotic. I smiled, too. It was fun *and* devotional, and it did not involve shutting out the rest of the world. Plus it was good exercise. Imagine!

We stayed on the floor for some time, dancing in our own circle in front of the stage (I was not quite ready to join the others just yet).

Meanwhile, the musicians moved seamlessly from one well-known Garba song to the next, as if it were one long, joyous, high-energy song. The singers would switch off. Each time, the drums would pick up speed and the song would be little faster. Everyone would whoop and dance a little faster. It reminded me of the seamless dance mixes they used to do late-night on B96. Only so much better. I was transported with joy.

The dance ended sometime around 12:30 or so. Prizes were awarded for the best dancers and costumes.

And then they did aarti (a light ceremony devoted to the goddess), led by Hemant.

Jai Ma!

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