In Gujarat, the basic essence remains the same, but Oh my God! The Evenings! It all starts innocuously enough. THere is the Goddess' statue/ painting in the center of a biggish ground, and women and children gather to sing to her, and pray. Then starts the music and before you know it, there are people all around, dancing away around the Godess.
THe dance is peculiar to Gujarat, and is known as "Garba". Another form of it is known as "Dandiya" where sticks are used...thats a couple dance, as in requires one to interact with the person next to him./her.
Everyone is decked out intraditional attire, Women in Shining, colourful Gragras (long skirts) with LOTS of cloth, and backless tops, and Chunnis on the side with mirrorwork and sparles to add to the zing. Then there are women who wear extensive headgear and lots of jewellery. Many men I know dont know where to look (or should I say not to look). Because you see, the women start preparing for this season more than a month in advance!!
Men here are no less. Wearing colourful clothes...to say the least, sometimes tempered down by white. Churidars (tight pants with creases near the ankle) covered by dark green/blue cloth like a lungi (sarong) and kurtas on top covered by Full skirted, high waisted cape-type, short tops, open in front. And of course the Turban!! The embellishments on this complex attire are a sight to been.
There are competitions on best dressed man/woman, and you should see them dress up for this coveted honour!!
Now to the dance itself. Garba in Gujarat! Imagine a big ground, with people dressed in every possible colour (red/green/yellow/white/black/blue..)and mirrors and spangles, standing in concentric circles...and then imagine each of these circles moving. Each in a different/ same direction. The movement itself is wavy...and surprisingly enough everyone moves up and down, back and front, in and out at the same pace...the speed as determined by the country singers, and their dhols. a huge mass of colourfully dressed people creating concentric circles of humanity, moving as one, up and down, with hands accentuating the movement, in simple gestures as they are raised above the head in front or kept loosely behind your back...in tandem with the drum beats as they go 1--2-2, 1--2-2....and then before you realis epicking up pace, slowly, slowly, till it is a mad, fast pace where everyone is doing the same complex series of 5 steps, making 2 circles on the spot yet moving forward still circling, hands going up and down, bodies making waves like waves formed by water when agitated...faster till it cant possibly be done by humans any more...and then the dance ends.
There are some semi circles, some complete circles,...yet all synchronised. All by people who have not met each other, not practised...nothing.
It is indeed like the planetary system, a central sun, people revolving around it, in the same pace, yet each person rotating on their own axis.
Like a dish of water being agitated by taps under it (the drum beats), making waves, faster and faster, till, just before the water spills out, the drums stop.
It looks simple enough intially from outside. And the spectator wonders why the people look so serious (some do smile)...after all, they are dancing! Then I moved in. Joined the crowds. and learnt the dance. Complex. 2.5 steps in hoppiong steps in front, 1/2 turn, 1.5 steps in the opposite direction, back to original direction with another turn, full circle to come back to original step. THis is the simplest step followed. Called "Dhaiya" or soemthing like it. Then the complex step where you move ahead, change direction, move ahead in opposite direction, move in towards center of circle, move out, back to original position, twirl (with a 2 and 2 half step) 2 times to come to step 1. (imagine this at 5 times the speed...say one full movement in 20seconds!)
Then I realised why they have serious faces. A little distraction, where you are not concentrating on your step and music, and you are out of turn, bumping into the person ahead/in front, becoming the meteor outside the path of the planets, the one boulder int he way of the snake. And the toughest part, is to get back into groove.
The whole dance is on your toes, and calves. Above torso there is very little movement, unless u are proficient in the dance.
And after two days of revelry, my toes definitely are sore!!! Performed barefoot on mud covered ground, it definitely is good fun!
As the pace became faster I was willing to give up when the guy in front of me egged me on..."Come on! follow me! Dont give up!" and I carried on :) Am I delighted or what!
Third Garba season of mine in Ahmedabad, and Im enjoying it the most. First year was a fiasco where I did dance a little, but since the ground was near my house, I had a headache with the drums all through the night (yes, this goes on till 3/4 am! again and again and again). Next year I tried, but ended up once in a ground (after getting the passes with great difficulty) where there were very few ppl, and next time in a happening ground, but was not allowed since I was not in the traditional dress.
This time I managed to get passes to CEPT. one of the most famous, and most traditional garbas in Ahmedabad. It is an institute where I go on normal days also, to pass time. Nice campus, with students given a free hand to be as creative as possible, it is a nice place int he middle of the city. What do student learn here? Architecture and Planning are just 2 of the main things. Infact it is (If Im not wrong) the only Planning Studies institute in Asia.
The environment here is nice, crowd genial, since passes are distributed by invite only...and cannot be bought. THe singers are absolutely traditional, and sing only the original folk songs, older than 1950's. Very Nice. I was continuously mistaken for a first yearer, during entrance, and then by my helper at the dance...:) I had a nice time teling them I was working as a manager...for more than 2 yrs :)
The other dance is dandiya, but more about that some other day. Initially it was more like a dance where couples could meet, but it is fun, with lost of injury sometomes where you hit your frnd on the hands instead of on his/her sticks.
All I can say is, try going to your nearest Garba grounds in this season, and look at the fun ppl are having. They do it for 9 nights, culminating on Dussehra (Dashami of bengalis), till late at night (Things are a little better for me this yr as mikes are banned after 12 in the night. At least I can sleep!) Also, try going to a ground with traditional music. It will draw you in!