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The Indian Culture Association’s annual Garbā is an event that many people make sure not to miss. Every year, Mabee Hall is transformed from a drab, gray room into a whorl of colors, melodies, and the rhythm of wooden rods clacking against one another to the beat of the music.
The Garbā is a folk dance from the North Indian state of Gujarat. Garbā, which derives from the Sanskrit word garbha, meaning “womb” is held to celebrate the Hindu festival of Navarātrī, which stretches for “Nine Nights” and celebrates the creative potency of the Goddess Durgā or Śaktī, who is often referred to as the Cosmic Mother by Her devotees. Participants often dance around a lit lamp and/or image of the Goddess in a circle, an important symbol in the Hindu tradition, which conceives of Life, Death, Time, and the progression of ages as possessing a cyclical nature. The Goddess in the center is the only unchanging constant. Afterwards, people often take part in another folk dance, the Dāndīyā-Rās, in which participants make two rows which face each other and dance using wooden sticks (dāndīyās) which they hit against their partner’s, and, after a certain amount of steps, move to their left, getting a new partner. Here in the States, Garbā and Dāndīyā-Rās are very popular, particularly at universities with a large Hindu and Indian population, which often have competitive dance teams, such as our very own Kanga-Raas, who tour nationally to take part in dance competitions against Rās teams from other colleges.
Since last year, the ICA has held a Blacklight Garba, with glow sticks, and, obviously, black lights. Apart from the dance itself, the ICA arranged for a table with snacks- samosas- and a henna station for people who wanted their hands tattooed.
Before the actual dance began, though, the event was inaugurated with a prayer as per Hindu custom, which says that it is important to pay respects to the Divine before starting any auspicious thing. The prayer was led by the Hindu Students Association president, Nikhil Jaisinghani who chanted an ancient Vedic hymn and then led the āratī, a ritual where one venerates the deity using a lit lamp.
A wide variety of members of the student body were represented at this event, not just Hindus, Gujaratis, or Indians, but students from all walks of life. Many of them joined in the dancing with smiles and good sportsmanship, even if this might have been their first time at a Garbā. One of the students I spoke to said that even though he was an Indian Hindu, he had never met any Gujaratis before coming to this college, so this was a novel experience. Another student, a caucasian female, asked about the reason for the celebrations and about the ritual practices we did. All in all, 2016 Garbā seemed to be an educative event that helped people learn about one of the largest cultural groups in the world and expand our campus’ diversity.