The Gujarat government, after mandating police permissions last week for every collective puja pandal to be set up during the Navratri festival, took a U-turn on Friday and exempted residential societies and apartments from such police permissions. With the government banning the organisation of Garba, the traditional folk dance performed on all nine nights of Navratri, citizens across the state have come up with innovative solutions to celebrate the festival.
In Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued last week, the government had prohibited the organisation of any sort of Garba (public or “sheri” Garba) during Navratri celebrations in the state. However, it had allowed people to install idols or photographs of deities and offer aarti with a maximum of 200 attendees practising social distancing. For doing the same, police permission would be required, the government had said. On Friday, however, it said that such permissions would be required only to hold programmes in public places and at public roads.
On the eve of Navratri, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, in order to assuage people for not being able to celebrate the state’s biggest and most unique festival, took to social media to express how his government, “with a heavy heart”, had not given permission for holding Garba owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have to be careful to ensure that the hard work we have done till now to control Corona does not get washed away, and that is our priority… It is not prudent to risk our lives to celebrate festivals. I believe that all of you will agree with me and must understand the seriousness of the situation. The government has taken this difficult decision in the interest of all,” Rupani added.
With the merriment associated with Navratri — vibrant outfits, Garba performances in concentric circles and music at large open ground events — now suspended, devotees are trying to find creative ways to enjoy the nine nights with a smaller group of friends. Sejal Parmar, a resident of Vadodara, has decided to organise a get-together at her home and play Garba indoors. The homemaker said, “A group of family friends will come together for the aarti as we install the Garbha Deep (womb lamp) at our home for nine days. We will play Garba inside the house. It will not be the same, but it will make up for some of the missing fun. We are not buying new outfits this year and will reuse old ones. This pandemic has taught us that even Garba can turn into a house party, but we can’t wait to go back to the grounds next year.”
Youngsters have decided to host garba parties with their friends, with one of them hosting a group of 25. Yashika Patel, a commerce student in Vadodara, said, “We were dejected when the government called off Garba, but we do understand the reasons. My parents have consented to a small group of friends coming over to play Garba in our home lawn and terrace. Nine of us will host one day each. The nine nights of Navratri are all about dancing and enjoying and we are going to miss that. Other friends will hold their own celebrations and join us over video calls.”
With Garba being restricted at homes, virtual Garba contests are also being held this Navratri. A ‘Virtual Gharma Garba contest’ is being organised by the women empowerment wing of Lions Club in Ahmedabad. Open to all aged two years and above, participants are required to upload a video between two and four minutes of their Garba performances in traditional outfits. Participants may opt for either a solo performance or a couples’ performance.
“We wanted to come up with something wherein everyone can enjoy safely at home with their families. That is the reason there is no age or gender restriction; even a 100-year-old person is welcome to join this contest,” said Abha Jain, director of Lions Club’s women empowerment wing.
The organisers of the virtual contest are expecting a participation of at least 500 persons and the selected videos will be uploaded on Youtube and Facebook. With schools currently conducting half-yearly exams, the organisers have scheduled the events to begin on October 18. The event will go live on the last day of Garba, October 25, four days after the last day to send entries, October 21.
“We are organising different performances to keep everyone hooked, such as surprise games, a musical orchestra and selfie competitions, as part of the October 25 event, from 4.30 onwards,” Jain added.
Organisers have also planned a virtual cooking competition. Neha Gupta, a food blogger who is a part of the organising committee, said, “This virtual competition is only for women who will have to upload a video of cooking some Navratri food item. The criteria is the presentation and the recipe, since we cannot taste the food. We had organised similar competitions last month, so we now have an idea how to evaluate the participants.”
With the public Garba festivities cancelled in Surat, residential colonies have decided to gather on their terraces to join in group aartis as per Covid protocols. President of Bhaktidham society in Palanpur Patia area of Surat, Preetiben Joshi said, “During earlier Navratri festivals, all residents of 20 buildings used to gather at one place. We used to carry out a puja and play Garba on the society ground. This time, we all have decided that every building has to celebrate the festival independently. Puja with social distancing will be done on the terraces.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines