The lights at the venue, Rutumbara College in Juhu, are bright as the sun sets, and reflect in flashes off the sequins on chaniya cholis of every colour. Women catch up with each other as they wait for the music to get the evening of garba started, amid the palpable spirit of festivity. As Navaratri has arrived, so has the much-awaited Gujarati tradition of playing garba and dandiya. People dance and swirl to the beat tirelessly, from about 7 in the evening until 10 pm.
“Garba is the best thing about Navaratri. I have been attending garba events for as long as I remember. Now, my daughter is six years old, and she copies my dance steps!” said Ankita Shah, a resident of Bandra who specially conducted garba classes for her non-Gujarati friends this year. Ankita, for whom garba is an annual family event, takes efforts to make sure her outfit is special. “Our entire family gets our chaniya cholis tailored from Gujarat. I like my outfit to be authentic. I’ve never bought it from a store in Mumbai,” she added.
“Along with the chaniya cholis, we buy accessories for the festival from Gujarat too, but mostly I make my own. This year, I’ve made a wool kamarpatta with colourful pompoms, and bangles for myself,” she said. The live band would start playing and soon enough, the 500-strong people form their groups and dance to the traditional popular Gujarati songs. “Live bands bring a different excitement, you feel like dancing on and on. DJs tend to stop just as you’re starting to enjoy,” said Shah. They start with the Gujarati favourites like “Sanedo, sanedo”, and then move on to Bollywood.
“I always hope for the traditional songs to be played more often, obviously, but even for Bollywood, I prefer the songs which have good beats, no EDM,” she added. As a few people head to the refreshments’ table, the many groups still dancing would switch between various styles of garba. “Garba is of different styles – classical, freestyle and even Indo-Western! Traditional Gujju styles, like ‘dodhiyu’, are extremely popular,” she said. “I prefer garba over dandiya because with garba, you can make your own steps, and create your own style. With dandiya, the dance is restricted,” she explained.
In Gujarat, she said people are more traditional than in Mumbai. “A trend that has gained popularity in Gujarat is dancing with patch-work, sequined umbrellas. That is a beautiful sight with all colours swirling together. In Mumbai, people wear jeans with bandhini dupattas, or skirts instead of ghagras,” she said. But with the music stopping after few hours, the groups dancing would disperse and leave every dancer a happy mood. “Garba is always fun. Always, a new experience every evening!” Shah exclaimed.