October and November in India are festival months, and the last few weeks have been packed full of exciting events. Between the 16th and 24th October, we celebrated the festival of Navratri (Sanskrit for Nine Nights) and Dussehra (Tenth Day). Navratri is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga, and signifies the start of the winter season. In western states such as Gujarat, this festival is seen as particularly important, and each night of Navratri the traditional dance of ‘Garba’ is performed. Large areas are closed off and completely taken over by the celebrations, which continue late into the night.
This year we first attended one of the Garbas organised by Balsena, Shaishav’s children’s collective. This was fairly tame but good fun, and gave us an opportunity to try a bit of traditional dancing. We were then taken around some of the celebrations by a friend from the office. We first visited one of the large roundabouts or ‘circles’ in Bhavnagar, which in daytime is constantly in use. That night though, the entire circle was roped off. Being foreign, and being in provincial Bhavnagar, we were allowed straight in while most other people had to stay on the other side of the rope. The entire circle was lit up with lights. There was a live band in the centre, which was surrounded by hundreds of women and girls dancing the Garba, slowly moving anti-clockwise around the roundabout.
We watched the dancing there for over an hour, and then moved on to one of the large ‘party plots’. This was where being foreign went from being a useful tool to making everything completely insane. We weren’t sure we would be allowed in without a ticket, but Alpesh just walked up to the gate and explained that he had two foreigners with him who wanted to come inside. We were given the complete ‘visiting dignitary’ treatment; ushered in, given seats in the VIP seating area, and then pulled up onto the stage, where, in front of thousands of people we had our photos taken with the organisers, various officials and the band. We were then dragged from once dancing area to the next, stopping for just a few seconds in time to shake a few peoples hands before moving onto the next space. After about 30 minutes it was time to go. The whole thing was very weird, but definitely an unforgettable experience.
Next month is Diwali, one of the most important festivals in the Indian calendar. This is immediately followed (in some states at least) by New Year, meaning that many people take a holiday or go home to their families at this time. This year I’ll be spending it in Goa, perhaps not the best place to see traditional Diwali celebrations, but I’m sure that it will be fantastic all the same.