Navaratri (नवरात्रि) which literally translates to nine (nava) nights (ratri) is an Indian folk dance festival that lasts for – you guessed it – nine nights, and celebrates Goddess Durga’s victory in the battle against the buffalo demon Mahishasuran. While it is observed all over India, it is especially celebrated with much fan fare in the state of Gujarat where I grew up!
In Gujarat, the folk dance style is called Raas-Garba and involves dancing in circles around a small shrine of Goddess Durga. The night starts with the “two-clap” Garba. Then progresses to “three-clap” Garba. And then ends on a high note with the Raas which involves dancing in pairs with sticks. These dance gatherings range from a few people (for a small neighborhood) to several thousands (held on fair grounds or other big public spaces).
This probably sounds too silly and simplistic but don’t let my poor explanation fool you. Navaratri is basically like running a marathon, but while dancing barefoot, and wearing heavy Indian clothes! It starts around 10pm and doesn’t end until 2 or 3 in the morning. It’s like a Gujarati Zumba class I suppose, that lasts for 4 or 5 hours! Above, my nephew Aashrai on the right also brought along a football to take a break from dancing and play with his friends.
I am a little embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been to the Navaratri festival in many many years mainly because I moved away form Charlotte, NC, and lost that circle of friends and family that made it so much fun. It was time to break this bad streak in 2018. So the kids and I drove down to Charlotte this past weekend, and all the while I kept telling them stories to prepare them for what was to come!
Weekend Navaratri in Charlotte is usually held at the basketball arena of a local community college called CPCC. It’s been like this since I was 16-years old, at least. It gets really crowded and loud here. So for Saturday night, I decided to leave the two boys home with one set of grandparents, while Asha came with me and hung out with the other set of grandparents in attendance. She didn’t dance because it was too intimidating and she fell asleep in my mom’s lap around 10:30pm.
I on the other hand, was on the dance floor the whole time with my cousins. I was singing along with the songs I hadn’t heard in a decade and dancing without missing a beat (mostly)! The idiom “like riding a bike”, could have easily been “like dancing garba” for me that night! The entire experience took me back to being a teenager. Until of course around 1:00am when I couldn’t stop yawning and decided to go home. The whole night was exactly as I had remembered it from all those years ago. And it’s crazy to think how in 20 years, the only thing that had changed was that there was a new set of 16-year-olds dancing and having fun!
The next day, Sunday, the Hindu Temple was hosting a Navaratri event just for kids starting at 4:00pm (which is infinitely better than a 10pm start). I was excited to have Asha, Arjun, and Ajay join their cousins who tend to go every year. Asha was happy to get dressed up but still a little shy to get on the dance floor. She finally did join her cousins and aunties and had a lot of fun. Ajay I think, was the most fearless as he walked around with his dandiya sticks poking people and things that got in the way. Arjun, my Cat-Boy, was definitely intrigued but wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, he wouldn’t even change out of his Star Wars “Dark Side” shirt which probably isn’t the best attire for an event at the temple! ha!
All in all, we have a fantastic time hanging out with friends and family. As a parent, I often struggle with the need to expose my kids to such things versus the time and effort spent in getting them there. And while driving to Charlotte alone with three kids was not easy, the payback was better than what I had expected. I can’t wait to do this again next year!