Dancing Garba and Dandiya

My Dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,

With the commencement of autumn I always look forward to the dancing season. For the gujarati in me, it is the navratri festival that excites me and these days ‘Strictly Come Dancing‘ also makes me want to start dancing lessons. I really have no excuse for not learning ballroom dancing as there are plenty of dance schools in Zürich to join. Dad and I did accompany our friends Lily and Rumi to some tango classes but decided eventually that we should start with an easier dance form first. Tango is so precise. Also perhaps go with friends who are our level and not such brilliant dancers as Lily and Rumi! For the moment I will keep to my garba and dandiya that I have grown up with.

As such there are five navratri festivals in India but the one that we gujaratis celebrate most is the Maha or Sharad navratri (navratri-nine nights, નવરાત્રી) which also denotes the beginning of winter. As the Hindu dates are based on the lunar calendar, navratri dates can fall anytime between September and November. This year the festival was between the 1st and 9th of October. The 10th day is Dasera. During the nine days many Gujaratis fast and many dance garba and dandiya wearing highly colourful costumes and jewelry. The festival is dedicated to the goddess Ambamata and as is the norm in Hinduism, Ambamata has many titles such as  Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Shakti or Parvati. This is a celebration of the victory of good over evil and the advancement of positivity over negativity.

In Jinja the largest garba celebrations happened at the main temple (motu mandir મોટુ મંદિર) and my kaka, Motakaka was the main organiser and the compere.

Motakaka’s given name was Bhagubhai, and in the gujarati language the eldest is always referred to as ‘mota’ or ‘moti’ (મોટા or મોટી) depending on respect and gender. There was one year when the navratri was held in Ripon Garden, right opposite our house.

You all know how important navratri is to me, I  have already mentioned garbas numerous times in my last few letters. A high percentage of the community and therefore my school companions were gujaratis in Jinja. The prevalent culture therefore was gujarati and hence the importance of navratri.

Performing at Selhurst High School
Performing at Selhurst High School

End of year school celebrations included garba and dandiya competitions and I always took part. Moving to the UK did not stop me as I got involved in performing indian dances for the school AND the university year-end festivities.

Dandiya performance for the university ball
Dandiya performance for the university ball

I have attended navratri in Norwood, Battersea, Mitcham, Hammersmith, Streatham, and Harrow, to name just  a few.

Do you all remember how I used to drag you to garbas during navratri? That young boy in the  black and white photo above could quite easily be you Amar! It used to be super fun when us four teamed together to play dandiya in North Harrow.

When Komal came over to Pune for navratri, we flew over to Ahmedabad (Amdavad, અમદાવાદ) to get the true flavour of garbas. What a great unbelievable experience. We were able to stay with a very hospitable family acquaintance, who not only housed and fed us but also took us to three different garba events. One of them was in the open grounds of the Law University, dancing on a huge sandy arena with live musicians playing traditional instruments. There must have been at least 500 people dancing. The cherry on the cake was when our host sisters took us to eat the traditional gujarati thali at the famous outdoor restaurant ‘Vishalla‘. Besides the tasty food, going to Vishalla is an experience of the village life of Gujarat. Do you remember Komal the fun we had going there? Riding piggy-back with Rajeshwari and Rupal on their ‘two wheeler’. Instead of using hard helmets , we had our heads wrapped up bandit-like with a long scarf to protect us from the horrible dust of Amdavad!

bandit style head gear
bandit style head gear

For me , the bike ride itself was a first. The rugged roads, the undisciplined heavy traffic  and the head gear, all felt like we were on a movie set! I guess it came naturally to you Komal!

I know you all use the excuse of being too busy to go to navrati these days, so I am glad that the tradition of garba has now been incorporated into the wedding celebrations. At least you get to practice your movements some time! Unfortunately for Komal, when Atishmama and Preetimami had their wedding garba, you earned yourself (and so did I) some negative points. The whole evening got delayed as I spent ages chasing Komal who did not want to put on the customary chanya choli (ચણ્યા ચોળી). Thankfully Komal, you are not so averse to wearing Indian outfits these days!

I have compiled a playlist of some Bollywood garbas and some clips of navratri from all over the world including a couple from Zürich. Revive your memories of garbas and hopefully ignite the desire to participate.

Also in preparation for Amar cooking for himself for a couple of weeks in the near future, I have inserted a recipe for ‘Variety of Vegetable Currys‘ with this letter. Do please ‘bother’ to cook, you will be your sole critique! Komal and Anjli, if you do use that recipe, let me know how you get on. I hope you have discovered that the recipes can be printed off the blog and also the ingredient amounts will proportionally change when you change the number of the portions. I know maths comes easy to you but this is easier on the brain for doing the shopping.

Keep a look out for a page on the variety of flours used in gujarati cooking.

My primary object of this blog was to get you three cooking? How far am I (or are you?) from my objective?

Until the next time, with all my love, hugs and kisses,



8 thoughts on “Dancing Garba and Dandiya”

  1. Eleven more months to the next navratri then! Re..Kiritkumar and Nalini: I mentioned their first introduction in my tribute to Kiritkumar: in my letter ‘Passing of an Era’

  2. hi Vish
    those Garba night were the best, in fact one of them led to me meeting up properly with Priti. Mooniben met Kiritkumar at Stanley Halls, I think it was also the first time they had met.

  3. LOVE these amazing photos mum, keep them coming!! I do remember going to garbas at Nower Hill school’s gym! Although I reluctantly went, I always ended up really enjoying it! I have to admit, haven’t been in a while. I’m jealous you and Komal got to experience navratri in Gujarat, and you had amazing thhali!!

    I didn’t realize that about the recipes automatically adjusting ingredients (don’t have a printer at home lol), that’s great! I need to make more effort to cook on weekends, as weekdays is pretty much out of the question 🙁 I will make that veg curry and let you know how it goes!

    Looking forward to seeing you (and eating your yummy food) at Christmas!


  4. Hi mum, yes unfortunately I do tend to be “too busy” to go to Navratri in London, it always seems to pass me by. I do love to do garba at weddings, and yes, these days I enjoy wearing Indian clothes, as long as you’re there to dress me! I have a friends wedding coming up soon and I’m struggling to figure out how I will wear my various chaniya choli’s for the events!!

    Great pics, and although garba is not my go to style- I definitely got the dancing bug from you mum- I love to dance- but to very different music and circumstances!!

    Ps. Planning to make your Pav bhaji soon! Have already made the daal.

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