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Garba is a traditional Indian dance devoted to a powerful goddess, Durga, and honoring female fertility and pregnancy. Nowadays, Garba is popular in all parts of the world. It unites Indians and provides foreigners with rich cultural knowledge, allowing them to participate in cultural events. Garba is an important part of Indian religious festivals held in various countries of the world. Beautiful costumes and energetic music contribute to the popularity of Garba. In this work, I examine different aspects of this dance.
The dance appeared many years ago in Gujarat, a north-western state of India. The inhabitants of the state believe that the dance dates back to the ancient times of Krishna. The word “Garba” originates from the name of an earthen pot (“garbo”) with a candle inside and holes on its surface. It symbolizes the human body with a radiant soul inside (Garba Raas & Basmati Raas: A brief history, 2011, par. 3).
The dance was originally meant to honor Durga, also known as Amba, a powerful Indian goddess who protects the universe in times of crisis and defeats demons, and also to celebrate women’s fertility with the movements that reflect symbolic related to embryo, womb, and pregnancy (Garba, 2016, par. 2).
It was danced almost exclusively by women and only in the mentioned state (Gujarat). Traditionally, the dance was performed only at night, most often at the festival of Navratri, a religious Hindu festival held to worship Durga and other goddesses. During Navratri, people gather in vast fields or large temples and perform Garba and other dances devoted to Durga, such as Raas. Garba is a unique dance: it honors women, their pride, and their fertility. Moreover, it honors a female divinity who is both womanly and strong.
As it was mentioned, Garba is a dance performed by women. Occasionally, men can participate in the performance along with women, but they cannot dance alone. Being a dance of the residents of one state, Garba spread all over India and then penetrated other countries. Nowadays, one can see it performed in literally any country of the world. The costumes are an integral part of the dance and cannot be changed. Female Garba dancers wear a colorful embroidered dress with a blouse decorated with gems, small mirrors, and shells. They also wear a lot of heavy and bright jewelry. Male dancers wear kafni pajamas (Koskoff, 2008, p. 1016).
The circle formed by dancers symbolize the never-ending life cycle (reincarnation). The movements are meant to remind viewers about embryonic development and female fertility (Sinha, 2006, p. 26).
Garba dance is accompanied by special music. One or two singers sing a refrain, and then the leaders sign a musical verse. Each line is somehow connected to the previous one. The lyrics honor Durga. The drums set the rhythm of dancing. The rhythmic density and speed increase gradually during the dance. At the beginning of the dance, dancers clap one time after each circle. As the speed progresses, they clap three or four times. Garba is not danced merely for fun. Special judges are appointed to evaluate the performance (Koskoff, 2008, p. 1016).
I have selected Garba for my research work because of its unique representation of women. I was attracted by the image of Durga, a strong goddess that guards the world, and was stunned to find out that the dance honors this female fighter and women’s fertility at the same time. I have chosen the song “Garba non-stop” by Falguni Pathak. Falguni Pathak is a famous Indian singer who performs folk songs.
The song provides a rhythm necessary for dancing the Garba, in addition to Falguni’s charming voice and flawless performance. I have a positive opinion on the style. I have seen the live performance of Garba at a Navratri festival; both the dance and music were performed by natives of India. Learning and choreographing was rather complicated since it is hard to adjust to the evolving speed and the changes that it brings (a different number of claps). It is also hard to get an entire ensemble used to these changes. Such were the challenges of the work. Nevertheless, I would not make any substantial changes if I were to create a piece in this style.
Surely enough, many changes occurred since ancient times when the dance emerged. The technique of the dance, the movements, the manner of performing music, the costumes, and, of course, the meaning have not changed. It is still performed according to the requirements established in the ancient times, still honors Durga and female fertility, and is not forgotten (conversely, it flourishes) in the state of Gujarat.
Changes occurred in the geography of the dance: it managed to cross the borders of its native state, capture entire India, and appear in such countries as the USA and the UAE. Not only do the Indian diasporas perform Garba, but foreigners are also active participants. For instance, the students of Stanford (California, USA) created the Garba Raas Team in 2002. In many American colleges, students form Garba teams and hold Garba competitions.
In Europe, Garba competitions are also held. Nowadays, the dance is performed not only at Navratri festivals but also at weddings, birthdays, and other feasts. Garba dancers now use modern technologies such as audiotapes for their work. They transmit knowledge about Garba all over the world via the Internet. Thanks do the latter fact, I believe, Garba will spread even further and become even more popular.
Because of the globalization process, many traditional cultural phenomena, such as dances, disappear, get modernized, or get mixed with different cultural elements, which make them lose the initial sense and appearance. To preserve the Garba dance, I would like to offer three measures:
- Education. To prevent Garba from being forgotten, misunderstood, and mixed with the elements of other traditional dances, it is necessary to educate people. Garba can be included in the curricula of educational institutions. It can also be privately taught.
- Music. It is also important to encourage the performance and recording of Garba music since it is an essential part of Garba. Garba singing and instrument performance can also be taught along with dancing.
- Evaluation. It is necessary to preserve the institution of the judges who evaluate Garba’s performance. Judges will make sure that the meaning of Garba is not forgotten and that the performers do not deform traditional Garba movements and change costumes.
In conclusion, I would like to mention my gratitude for the unique experience that learning about Garba has given me. My sincere wish is to contribute to the popularity and preservation of Garba in the contemporary world, particularly in our country. For this reason, I plan to continue working in this direction.
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Garba Raas & Basmati Raas: A brief history (2011). Web.
Garba. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Web.
Koskoff, E. (2008). The concise Garland encyclopedia of world music: The Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia. New York City, New York: Routledge.
Sinha, A. (2006). Let’s know dances of India. New Delhi, India: Star Publications.