India Chapter 3: Garba In Mumbai

Navratri Festival – 23rd Sept – 2nd October ’06

I go to the Navratri festival every year in London – it’s a Hindu festival of dance and worship lasting 10 days. For 9 days, 9 goddesses are worshipped, and on the tenth day (Dussehra), an effigy of Ravana is burnt to celebrate the victory of good (Rama) over evil.

The actual dances that people take part in are called Garba. This year I was lucky enough to be in India during this time, so I took my camera along one night (only one because it’s hard to dance with a bulky camera!).

Meera + Me
Meera and myself (on the right), outside the grounds.

The stadium was more or less empty when we arrived.


The prepared stage:

Garba stage

This was the biggest Garba gathering in Mumbai (located at Gauregaon) where a famous Indian singer called Falguni Pathak sings the songs that people dance to. Since we’d arrived early we were able to watch her take part in the Aarti. The Aarti is a religious Hindu song which is meant to be sung to develop the highest love for God (I didn’t know that – yay for wikipedia). It was performed right at the start when hardly anyone was there. This was surprising – in London it’s performed at some point in the night between Garba dances when the most people will be present. Isn’t it ironic how this important religious aspect is carried out in India at a time when the least people are present?

Falguni Pathak just before the Aarti was performed:

Falguni Pathak

Note in the background you can see a little statue of a god – usually this is placed in the centre and everyone dances around it, but I suppose because of the scale of this particular event, that wasn’t very practical, so it was kept at the front.

Some of the people watching the Aarti:


As you can see, these girls are dressed traditionally, but many were not. This is another thing I found surprising – in the UK, everyone wears Indian outfits to Garba, but here in India it doesn’t really matter what you wear. Then again it’s so hot, that it’s definitely more practical to wear shorts for example, than traditional indian gear!

As the stadium began to fill up we ventured around the area. Meera wanted to go to the bathroom, and after being pointed in a vague direction, we finally found it.

Yes, that’s right – the ‘bathroom’ was on a shabby patch of grass, behind a plank of wood, guarded by two vicious dogs.

Meera quickly lost her desire to go.

Instead we went to explore the food area. I noticed they had one of my favourite Indian foods – pani puri! I was so excited I furiously started taking pictures, to the amusement of people around me. I think these guys thought I was seriously insane. I was squealing like a little girl.

Pani Puri

Mmmm :D

By this time the grounds had filled up with people and the dancing was about to commence.

This guy was fun to watch

The biggest venues for this event have competitions with prizes for the best dressed male/female, best dancers etc., so it’s an incentive for people to dance their best. There were also many people filming the event which is broadcast on television, so again people want to impress. My friend Sheetal said she saw me on TV for about 3 secs the next day taking pictures of people haha

This girl was dancing really well

This girl is holding what’s called a dandiya which is basically a stick that some people dance with. Dandiya dancing is very popular during Navratri in the UK, but not so much in India – I hardly saw any people using them.

This next shot doesn’t really depict the scale of the event. This is probably about a quarter of the crowd. It was like being in a huge mosh pit full of sweaty Indians, under the stars :) It was simply amazing.

These guys were dancing brilliantly. As you can see, groups dance around in their own circle, and people are free to join in, or watch. Usually when people are dancing like this, it’s safer to just stand back and watch, rather than get elbowed in the eye!

He fell over ;P

These two taught me some of the steps which was nice of them. In London I’m usually one of the better people at garba dancing but it’s nothing compared to how they dance over in India – I felt like I was rubbish!

The guy on the right won one of the awards that night.

This woman is a famous Indian news presenter who came over to our group.

Someone noticed my camera and asked me to go in the middle of the circle with her; he thought I was part of the news crew haha. I didn’t realise I looked that convincing as a pro ;)

What gorgeous eyes, eh?

I have heaps more pictures including some on Meera’s camera which I may upload later.

Garba in India was a breathtaking experience. Photographs can’t truly represent the electric atmosphere. It’s so different to the festival in the UK. People in the UK seem to treat it as a fashion parade and go mostly to check out members of the opposite sex. In India there’s a real feel of enthusiasm and passion for the actual dancing. It’s wonderful to see.

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