All about Festival of Navratri

The 9 nights festival of Navratri begins on the first day of Ashwina of the bright fortnight. Seeds are sown, sprouting is watched, the planets are consecrated, and on the 8th and 9th days, Goddess Durga, Vijayashtami and Mahanavami are worshipped.

The Devi Mahatmya and other texts invoking the Goddess who vanquished demons are cited.
The day after Navratri i.e. the 10th day after Ashwina, is Dussera which celebrates the victory of lord Rama over Ravana. Ravana is burnt in effigy, often giant dummies of Ravana stuffed with fireworks are shot with arrows until they blow up before a large, applauding audience.

The most characteristic dances of Gujarat during Navratri are the Rasa and Garba dances which are performed at all levels of society by men and women.
The origin of the Rasa is traced back to the legends connected with the life of Lord Krishna. It is essentially associated with the agricultural rites. The Rasa is performed in Gujarat India on Navaratra; and other important festivals associated with harvest and crops. The Rasa dances of Saurashtra are closely related to agricultural functions and are for the best part grain-ritual dances.
They are performed only by men and are often complex circular formations to represent designs of lotus and other designs considered magical religious and auspicious.
The choreographical pattern of the dance, the floor designs made by the dancers, is similar of the paintings seen on the walls of huts. Through these designs whether on the floor or walls, through paint and colour or through dance, ritual is held and spirits are invoked. This is another aspect of the fertility cult. is mother aspect of Navratri. A cloth called Mata ni Pachepi, where the adventures of the seven mothers, is painted. The mother, one of the seven archetypes, is painted in the centre and she is surrounded by her devotees and Bua, the magician-priest. At the end of the month the Bua wraps the cloth around him and sings and dances with Virgin girls carrying pots of sprouted corn finally, the pot at immersed in the waters of a river. In all cases, the object is always either burnt or consigned to the waters. The Rasa follows.

The most impressive artistry of the Rasa dances of Gujarat and Saurashtra is displayed in the Dandiya Rasa by men. It is a counterpart of the Garba of the women. The dancers use sticks at the end of which tiny bells (ghungrus) are tied so that they give off a clear jingling sound when they strike one another. This dance has a very complicated rhythm pattern and even though the dancers begin in a slow tempo, the dance develops in such manner that each person in the circle not only performs a solo dance with his own sticks, but also has a complex multiple relationship with both his partners on either side as also partners opposite him in the circles. The circle keeps breaking sometimes into two concentric circles and sometimes into three or four circles within the orbit of a larger circle.

The dancers of each concentric circle then weave patterns with each other and with members of the other circle. There is a great deal of freedom in the movements and sticks are beaten in standing, sitting or lying position. Occasionally, the men weave patterns of an intertwined rope in a circle; they lie on the floor with the two sticks being beaten above their heads and chests; sometimes instead of hands, the feet hold and strike the sticks. The Dandiya Rasa is obviously of ancient origin and of ritual significance. From what one can gather from Sanskrit dramas, it became in course of time a popular, and is mentioned in Rajshekhar's Karpur Manjari.

Each community has its distinctive dance patterns.

The Garba of Gujarat is the most popular women's folk dance of Gujarat. During Navratri, a pot is ceremoniously placed attractive designs are made on the pot and a light is placed inside. Village girls bearing pots (garbis) on their heads go from door to door and dance around the respective house.

The leader of the group sings the first line of the song while the rest repeat it in chorus, the beat being produced clapping hands or striking sticks in unison. At every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful sweeping gestures, up and down, left and right, each movement ending in clap.

The Garba is indeed a ceremony in which everyone can take part irrespective of caste or social position. The dances are accompanied by drums (dholak) and the vocal women. The songs of the Garba are often history and melodious and have been handed down through generations. The origins of the seem to be a tribal dance revolving around a hunt; later it was transformed into an agricultural ritual dedicated to the goddess Ambika. Today it is a social dance at all levels of society. In essence, it continues to be a fertility dance.

There are variations in the garba different regions communities and dancers have involved their own style and steps. In Gujarat, as in Rajasthan, tribal, rural and urban life is interlinked. While the tribes respond to the natural environment, the forest, the sea or the desert, the agricultural community moves around the mother-goddess. She is worshipped as an icon or painted image or painted scroll or as a symbol - an earthen pot (garbi) or a bamboo or wood structure mandavi. The ritual of the Navaratra of the sowing and sprouting of corn for nine days and the climax through a variety of dances links agricultural and urban societies. Today in the cities and town the dance is a social activity and entertainment rather than religious agricultural or fertility symbol.

Ahmedabad is one of the greatest places to enjoy Navratri. All kinds of Rasa-Garbas, Dandia ras etc. are practiced in this period, feasting and fasting are important cultural aspects of this day, and various rituals are performed at temples of the 9 Goddesses of Hinduism. The atmosphere is electric and revelry is in the air. The best places to enjoy the atmosphere of Navratri in Ahmedabad.

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