By Emma Livingston, Co-Editor
You don’t have to travel all the way to India to get a taste of India’s famous festival culture. Last Friday, a group of about 20 T-Birds carpooled to Moon Valley High School in Glendale, dressed in their Indian finery, to take part in the Gujarati Cultural Association’s celebration of Navratri, the 9-night 10-day Hindu festival celebrating the nine incarnations of the goddess Shakti.
Once we removed our shoes and paid the small fee to enter the gymnasium, Glendale was left behind, transformed into the Indian state of Gujarat and the sacred space of Durga, Goddess of Destruction.
The gym was filled with hundreds of people dressed in bold, beautiful colors, dancing and spinning counter-clockwise around the statue of Durga riding a tiger. MBA student Brad Ruetschi (USA) was impressed by the scene. “One of the most memorable things about the festival was walking into the gym and seeing a massive crowd filling up the gym floor and dancing in unison around the goddess shrine. I had not expected such a large turnout, nor did I expect so many people dancing in a circular movement around the room. Pretty amazing to see.”
Harsh Naik (MBA ’15, India), organizer of the T-Bird presence at the event, explained why Navratri and the dances are so important to him: “I really like Navratri because I never used to know how to dance it growing up. When I went to college, my friends helped me learn the dance. And they were the most excited group I’ve ever seen for Navratri. Due to them, I learned this dance and I performed it in my college. I so loved it, that afterwards it became a ritual to go there every year and do the dancing. I admire the goddess, and I do it for her, but it’s also about liking to dance. And that dance is something that comes naturally. It helps me connect to my culture because the dance is something that is very ancient. Even for modern people living in the cities, the dance is a way to connect to the ancient stories. I feel that as an Indian, and as person from Gujarat, I need to know this dance. That’s why I do it, and I’ll keep on doing it. and I’ll teach my future generation to do it as well.”
The dancing went on until one in the morning with just a few breaks to pray to the goddess and to eat prasad (sacred food blessed by prayer: in this case taking the form of trail mix and bananas).
There were two types of dances: garba which involves intricate spinning, and dandiya raas, where the dancers carry two colorful sticks and strike them against the sticks of the other dancers. “Dandiya is my favorite thing about Navratri,” says Chaitra Somasundar (MAGAM ’16, India). “It’s so much fun with vibrant sticks clicking after each step!” MBA student David Roman (MBA ’16, USA) said, “The best part for me was the at times bewildering variety of dance steps. Everyone had their own way of dancing. It wasn’t like an improv so much as a rich confluence of varied tradition centered on a vibrant, shared ceremony.” While experts in the dance showed off some very complicated moves, the dance was extremely communal and beginners were welcomed and encouraged to join the circle. The T-Birds danced and danced to the hypnotizing music of Jaydeep Swadia and his band from Gujarat until they could dance no more and had to rest:
The band finally stopped playing, the high school gym emptied, and the people gathered up their shoes and returned tired but happy to the Thunderbird campus. Sindhuja Kodivalasa (MBA ’15, India) summed it up best when she said: “It was a fun night. I love dancing and it was nice to get in touch with some traditional roots. The best part was being there with so many T-Birds, people from so many different cultures, everyone together having fun. That is the best part of Thunderbird – being able to enjoy and appreciate various cultures.”
Today is Navami, the last day of Navratri, when Hindus celebrate Lord Rama rescuing his wife Sita and killing the demon Ravana. However, the GCA is not finished celebrating. This Friday and Saturday, there will be two more days of dancing at Moon Valley High School. I encourage everyone who is interested in culture or loves to dance to stay in Glendale for a change this weekend and experience the beauty and excitement of Navratri with the Gujarati Culture Association.