The vibrant Gujarat’s Navratri Festival, is that circle of ecstasy that throbs non-stop for nine nights with millions of fantastically costumed devotees was celebrated while swaying in a fusion of dance and devotion. Although this festival is celebrated throughout India, nowhere is it performed with more panache and fervor than in Gujarat. The significance of Navratri is offering devotion to Goddess Amba (Durga), who is believed to exist in many forms. These Goddesses are believed to be known as "Shakti" as the tales narrate their power over killing of demons. Parvati, the wife of Shiva is said to have taken different forms of goddesses. Devotees perform the 'devi-sthaapna' in their homes wherein they invite the Goddess and perform 'pooja-path' for nine days with fasting.
Every year, Navratri festival brings in innovations in music, choreography, and costumes and has enthralled audience with its beauty and cultural tradition. Gujarat celebrates 'Navratri - Where Life is a Celebration' with tourists flowing to Gujarat to enjoy the traditional 9 days of Music and Dance. It reflects spiritual values of Gujarat. Navratri exhibits the rich culture and heritage of the State. Those who visit Navratri festival carry a message of vibrant Gujarat, spiritual Gujarat and holy Gujarat.
Navratri, meaning 'nine nights', is one of the most popular and widely celebrated Hindu festivals in many parts of India. Gujarat, however, is the only state that erupts into a nine-night dance festival, perhaps the longest in the world. Each night, all over the state, villages and cities alike, people gather in open spaces to celebrate feminine divinity, referred to as Shakti. The dance form known as ras garba also joined sometimes by dandiya, which uses small wooden sticks, comes from Lord Krishna's worship rather than Goddess worship, from the Gop culture of Saurashtra and Kutch. Stories of relationships between Krishna and the Gopis, and their emotions, also often make their way into the ras garba music.
Nevertheless, the focal point of every garba circle is the small Goddess shrine erected by each community to mark the beginning of the festival, on the first day of the Hindu month of Ashwin. The shrine includes a garbo, an earthenware pot, in which a betel nut, coconut, and silver coin are placed. Each night the village or urban neighborhood gathers to perform a puja to one of the nine forms of Goddess. The nine nights are also broken up into sections of three; the first is for Durga, the goddess who destroyed an evil force represented by the demon Mahishasura, and who destroys human impurities; the second is for Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity; the third is for Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and art. It is a time to celebrate fertility and the monsoon harvest, represented by a mound of fresh soil in which grains are sown. After the puja begins the music; it is unmistakable to those who are familiar with the style and irresistible to many. People begin to dance in a circle, whirling away till late into the night. It is not uncommon to find dancers with swords or lit flames and other spectacles. The traditional dance steps are simple, though over the years people have been inventing more complex steps. Similarly, the music was traditionally acoustic, principally composed of drums and singing, but most people now use amplified sound systems or a blend in the form of a live band with modern instruments. Vadodarais a good place to find the full range of these styles, traditional to modern, acoustic to amplified, simple to complicated, each one represented in its extreme somewhere in the city. The tenth day, Dushhera, is celebrated by doing a puja to bless one's vehicle, and is also the day to buy new vehicles, if necessary. It 's also celebrated, probably after getting up far later than usual, by unabashedly eating lots of fafda, a salty fried crunchy snack and jalebi, a sweet fried sticky snack. Religion and tradition aside, a garba circle can take on a surprising spiritual power. Women often give up certain eatables during these nights, which can be quite a purifying experience, if done right. It is a time for even the most traditional and housebound women to be out of the house and whirling, uninhibited, towards the divinity that hides within her own body. Many of the songs begin slow and gradually speed up, sending the dancers into a trance, especially when the music and dance is in its rawest form. When you come to a garba, wherever in Gujarat you may find yourself for Navratri, imagine this: A circle, or concentric circles, moving around the central representation of a universal creative force, the source of life; everybody performing the same step; a mandala of energetic potential; the Mother Goddess unleashed.
Garba happens at night in villages and neighborhoods all around Gujarat, so just step outside and follow the booming garba music. Vadodara is considered the cultural capital of Gujarat, and the most sought after location for celebrating Navratri. Try to visit at least one village garba too, for a range of experience. Religious pilgrimage during this festival focuses mainly in the Shakti Peethas: Ambaji, Pavagadh and Bahuchraji near Mehsana. There are also major celebrations in temples such as Ashapura Mata-no-Madh in Kutch, Khodiyar Mandir near Bhavnagar, and Chamunda Mata Mandir at Chotila on the Ahmedabad-Rajkot National Highway.
Among the several forms of Raas, the most popular one is "Dandiya Raas", which is performed during Navratri. In fact, it holds a significant place in Navratri celebrations. It is known for setting the festive mood. Dandiya Raas is the featured and most popular dance of Navratri evenings in Gujarat. The dance form is not just restricted to Gujarat. It is performed in many other states, during the festive season of Navratri. Dandiya Raas is performed in the honor of Goddess Durga. It is the dramatization of a mock fight between the Goddess and Mahishasura - the mighty demon-king. The sticks of the dance represent the sword of Durga. Women normally perform it in a graceful and rhythmic manner in a circle as they rotate around the 'mandvi'. Traditionally, Dandiya Raas is performed after aarti (ritual of worshipping the diety). Hence, Dandiya Rass is an important part of the merriment. The special characteristic of the dance is the colorful costume worn by the dancers and the colorful sticks carried by them. Both men and women love to be seen dressed in their best traditional attire. The women wear traditional dresses such as colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas glittering with mirror work and heavy jewellery, while men look very attractive in their traditional colorful kedias. The dresses for the dance were stitched in until sometime back, when readymade outfits started appearing in the shops, especially for Dandiya Raas. These legends and story are part of the history that surrounds the festival of Navratri and are going to be around as long as the festival continues.