Navaratri means Nine Nights – and during these nine nights Hindus gather together to take part in the social, celebratory dance form of Dandiya Raas as well as the folk dance Garba, in worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga.
Although dance (and prayer) is the main reason to attend the celebrations – it is also a huge social and community event. Friends and families come together in their united faith as well as their love of music and dance, and of course to socialise.
As a child, from the age of three, I would go to all the Navaratri celebrations, to begin with in the afternoons only and then as I grew older in the evenings as well. And for nine nights I would dance! I loved nothing better.
But it has been 23 years since I last celebrated Navaratri and so I was keen to give it a go this year! I happen to be in North London during this year’s celebrations and I decided to accompany my aunt to the first night of Navaratri on Sunday evening.
The Nairobi celebrations that we attended could be anything from 100 people to literally 1000s dancing in one hall around a shrine of the Goddess Durga (also known as Amba).
The gatherings in London have been a lot smaller and more intimate than the ones that I remember from Nairobi. But that has been lovely because I have really felt the warm welcome of small Hindu communities here. Also, I was used to people really dressing up in Nairobi – if you weren’t in the latest Indian outfit you felt out of place. Here I haven’t felt that pressure to dress up to the nines. I turn up in the outfit I have (bearing in mind that much of my stuff is in storage) and I haven’t felt out of place.
So far I have been to the first two nights and I will be going again tonight. And I’m loving it!
And now that I have got the Navaratri bug again I am keen to go one step further. Next year I plan to be in India – and this is where I want to be! India Navaratri.
So yes, true to my name – the Jhooming Nomad has begun her adventures by Jhooming (dancing) in London!
As an aside…
Dandiya Raas originates from the state of Gujarat – but can now be found all over the world wherever the Indian Diaspora has settled. The typical format is that of two circles of people – one going clockwise, and the other going anti-clockwise. People then “play dandiya” with the person in front of them, then move onto the next person. As a teenager I used to think of Dandiya Raas as a form of speed dating! If I fancied a boy in the opposite circle I would speak to him briefly (20 seconds) as we hit our sticks together and then move on to the next person. Then the next time he came round I would speak to him again and glean a bit more information about him. My first kiss was at a Navaratri celebration – with a boy from my school!
I’ll leave you with this – a favourite of mine. This Bollywood song tells a short story about the Lord Krishna and his consort Radha – and the use of Dandiya Sticks and storytelling in the routine make it a lovely one to watch. Click here.
Also do take a look at this clip showing some of the Just Jhoom! Instructors I trained doing our version of Dandiya Raas. Click here.