All this week British Hindu’s have been celebrating the festival of Navratri. It ends this Saturday. Wikipedia outlines the proceedings:
The Navratri commences on the first day (pratipada) of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwin. The festival is celebrated for nine nights once every year during the beginning of October, although as the dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar, the festival may be held for a day more or a day less.A friend of mine took part this year, and showing me the video of the night, I was enchanted by the energy, colour and synchronicity of the dancing.
Having seen that amazing video, I couldn’t help quickly asking her a few questions…
Blackdown: So you were out dancing last night, what's the name of the festival?
rt: Navratri, It literally meaning 'nine nights' It’s celebrated by Hindus, mainly Gujaratis. It is to symbolise good over evil.
Blackdown: So what's it like to attend?
rt: It’s tiring, that’s the only bad thing. Otherwise its exciting, fun to get dressed up and enjoy yourself, good to focus on the religious part so well for nine days, and it’s something everyone always waits for every year once it ends, people almost miss it, because you've got so used to going there every night for the past week
Blackdown: And who goes?
rt: Everyone, literally all ages, boys and girls...the elder men and women will mainly sit and watch the youngsters form the majority of the people who actually take part in the dancing generally, there are more girls then boys
Blackdown: So is the nine-day festival dedicated to one god?
The goddess that is worshipped is called ‘Durga’ and her each of her nine forms are worshipped on each day. Durga is the supreme Goddess. I don’t know what each form is called, but am familiar with Amba Maa (maa means mother), she is the mother of everything, the whole world and universe. Also, Maa Kaali. She is a significant figure; she is responsible for destroying all evil, killing demons. If you look up any pictures of her, she is always portrayed in a very angry and scary way with her tongue sticking out.
She is the only one like that; all other goddesses are always shown as pretty, kind and very lady looking…if that makes sense.
Blackdown: Can you explain, to someone who's not been, what happens throughout the evening? What's the structure?
rt: It will usually start around 7:30 or 8. The whole evening consists of a variety of dances, with 5-10 minute intervals in between. The first dance is called 'tran taadi' (meaning three claps), where people dance around in a huge circle and the step involve three claps and then repeat it again.
Once that is over, after a break, they'll announce the start of another type of dance which may be ‘tran taadi’ again or be ‘taadi (two claps).’ In the middle of the evening, they have 'aarti' which is where everyone sings a prayer to the goddess. Once that’s over, the evening will finish with the 'daandiya raas' (the stick dance) that will go on for about 45 mins.
At the end, people leave and collect 'prasad' which is basically fruit or nuts that have been offered to the gods then shared out amongst the people
Blackdown: It looks so energetic and well co-ordinated. How do the people who attend go about learning the steps?
rt: People just pick it up if they've been going every year since they were young or otherwise, people teach each other and the steps are really simple so they're picked up quickly.
Blackdown: Isn't it tiring?
rt: Yeah it is but its so fun, and only happens every year so you want to make the most of it and you end up with a lot of blisters on your feet!
Blackdown: so is the festival more religious or fun these days?
rt: it’s more fun now I think even though people will take part in the prayers during the middle, I’m sure its the dancing they truly come for...which is true in my case too
Blackdown: go on, admit it, how much flirting goes on?
rt: lots of flirting goes on... that’s what some of the people must come for. The most fun part of the evening is the stick dance at the end, so not everyone will bother coming into the hall until then... so the guys and girls who hang about in the corridors just end up messing around and flirting I guess
Blackdown: tell me about what everyone wears, is it colourful?
rt: yeah, really colourful. Girls wear saris or another type of dress which includes a flowly skirt and top with a veil (called a 'sharara' or 'ghaghara choli' - ghaghara is the skirt, choli is the top). Guys can come in normal jeans and tops but now more and more guys come in traditional 'sherwani' suits. Which is a long top with embroidery or some sort of design and trousers.