India could well be called the land of festivals. The amalgamation of difference cultures, languages and religions ensures that there is a festival being celebrated in some part of India almost every week. One of the more popular festivals which is celebrated all over Gujarat is Navratri. It is one the most colourful festival of Gujarat. In Gujarat, people eagerly wait for the 9 nights (Navratri) when they worship goddess Durga/Amba Mata through the traditional dance of Garba.
Navratri (the word literally means “nine nights”) is one of the holy festivals of Hinduism. It is a festival of nine nights, during which we worship goddess of Shakti. Navratri festival is observed twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra and then in Aswayuja. It lasts for nine days in honour of the nine manifestations of Durga. During Navratri devotees of Durga observe a fast. Brahmins are fed and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. The nine nights festival of Navratri begins on the first day of Ashwina of the bright fortnight. The festival of nine nights in October, preceding the Dussera is a special feature of Gujarat when people assemble in village squares, temple compounds and sing and dance till the wee hours in the morning.
They worship the mother goddess and her numerous manifestations during the festival. The three aspects viz. Durga, Lakshmi or Saraswati of the Divine Mother are worshipped during Devi Navratri puja, the nine nights. She is also known as in her destructive, protective, and knowledge giving roles respectively. The Navratri festival is closely followed by the Sharad Purnima, the full moon night in the Ashvina month, when under the moon light people partake of prasad rice and milk. Durga/Amba mata or the destructive aspect of the divine mother is worshipped during the first three nights. On the succeeding three nights, her protective aspect of Lakshmi and on the last three nights, her knowledge aspect or Saraswati are worshipped.
The most characteristic dances of Gujarat during Navratri are the Rasa and Garba dances which are performed at all levels of society by men and women. The leader of the group sings the first line of the song while the rest repeat it in chorus, the beat being produced clapping hands or striking sticks in unison. The origin of the Rasa is traced back to the legends connected with the life of Lord Krishna. The Rasa is performed in Gujarat on Navaratra; and other important festivals associated with harvest and crops.
The most impressive artistry of the Rasa dances of Gujarat and Saurashtra is displayed in the Dandiya Rasa by men. It is a counterpart of the Garba of the women. In Garba, at every step they gracefully bend sideways, the arms coming together in beautiful sweeping gestures, up and down, left and right, each movement ending in clap.
While in Raas, the dancers use sticks at the end of which tiny bells (ghungrus) are tied so that they give off a clear jingling sound when they strike one another. This dance has a very complicated rhythm pattern and even though the dancers begin in a slow tempo, the dance develops in such manner that each person in the circle not only performs a solo dance with his own sticks, but also has a complex multiple relationship with both his partners on either side as also partners opposite him in the circles.