Garba - A Traditional Indian Folk Dance

Garba is a dance form native to the west Indian state of Gujarat, performed in October to honour the Hindu Deity of Divinity, Goddess Durga. Though Garba is mainly an event for Navaratri celebrations, this joyful folk dance is performed on almost every special occasion in Gujarat as a sacred tradition. Even though men participate in some of these dances, Garba performers are typically women and young girls. 

Acclaimed worldwide in recent times, Garba empowers people by preaching the presence of divine energy within every human being. Hundreds of people come together to one place and perform in groups with stunning pomp and ceremony. While visiting West India during the festive season of October, you can watch the beautiful dance and even take part in it with locals.

Garba Events in Gujarat
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Origin of Garba

The term “Garba” comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “womb” or “deep” and bears a deep symbolic interpretation. Originating in Gujarat, this folk dance was first held in Vadodara, a city which is now regarded as the culture capital of Gujarat due to its robust religious influence. Garba is also known as Garbha, Garbha Deep and Garbhi, varying with local dialects of language. The dance celebrates fertility and is performed as a tribute to womanhood.

Significance of Garba in Hinduism

Worshipping Goddess Durga in Navratri
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The Garba dance is performed around a lantern, a vessel which represents the human body carrying the soul within. As dancers revolve around it in concentric circles, just how Hinduism depicts that time is a cycle, Garba showcases the infinite nature of birth, death and reincarnation. While the entire universe evolves and changes, Goddess Durga and her power within the souls of the dancers is eternal. 

Garba in Indian Mythology

In Hindu mythology, when Goddess Durga defeated Evil, Navaratri was celebrated to commemorate her victory and Garba was an integral part of expressing the deity’s power. In the destruction she has caused on her venture for peace, her sword was the most propitious weapon in wielding rage onto the demons. Dandiya sticks used in Garba signify the goddess’ sword and invincibility.

Garba in Navratri Festival

Men and Women Participating in Garba
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Navratri is a Hindu festival, literally meaning “nine nights”. While this festival is celebrated in various ways across India, Gujarat follows the prime tradition of performing Garba dance for nine nights as a symbol of respect to the goddess. The dances commence late in the evening and go on till midnight. As per religious faith, men and women observe special diets throughout the nine days and nights of Navratri and consume restricted foods. Apart from Navratri, Garba is also performed during Holi, the spring festival, weddings, parties and social events.

Types of Garba Dance

Garba Dance During Navratri
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The folk dance events of Garba consist of different Gujarati dance forms unified to create a snap, clap, twirl style. According to the Gujarati language, taali Garba and tran taali Garba are the two types of the dance forms meaning 2-clap Garba and 3-clap Garba respectively. It is mandatory to perform Garba barefoot and dancers do it on all kinds of surfaces. Hindus believe that this connects you with mother earth and the Goddess.

Moving counterclockwise, participants form concentric circles and each circle moves in opposite directions. Dancers begin with slow steps, gradually increasing the tempo while everybody’s feet merge into a trancelike sync. Not only is this mesmerizing to watch, but each form has extremely easy steps meant for people of all skill levels, age and abilities. Garba is quite a rigorous workout too!

Music in Garba Dance

Instrumentalists in Garba
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In contrast to popular belief, Garba is not just about the dance. From ethnic Dandiya songs like Kanhaiya and O Gori to contemporary Bollywood Garba music, Gujarat introduces you to an array of upbeat music styles belonging to both urban and rural cultures. Dandiya sticks, commonly made from wood can be seen in pairs in the hands of all dancers, who wave the dandiya to choreography and create a rhythmic tempo. 

Professional artists play the dhol, drum and double-reed organs or shehnai, which are all Indian percussion instruments considered to be auspicious for the event. With modernization in the early 21st century, bongos, synthesizers, harmoniums and octapads are also easy to spot. 

Traditional Costumes of Garba

Ghagra Choli
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While the dance is definitely the main focus, dressing up beautifully for it is also equally important. Garba introduces you to some of India’s most exquisite ethnic attires. The traditional costume for males is kediyu which consists of a kafni pajama, a round kurta and a turban embellished with sequins for the head. 

Traditional Garba Costumes
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Women wear chaniya choli which is a three-piece dress with an intricately embroidered blouse with beads, tiny mirrors and shells, and a flared, long skirt with similar decoration. The dupatta or chuniya is an ornate piece of cloth draped around the head and chest by women. Little girls can be seen wearing Ghagra choli. Both men and women adorn themselves with heavy silver-plated jewellery, sparkling waist belts, maang tika, chunky metal bracelets and jhumkas or hanging earrings. Bold eyeliner or kajal and bindis are equally important parts of the Garba look.

Popular Beliefs and Notions

Rass Garba in Australia
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  • One of the most confused notions is the difference between Garba dance and Dandiya dance. 
  • While both originate from Gujarat, they are performed on varied occasions. Dandiya is performed in praise of Lord Krishna in Vrindavan Gardens. 
  • Dandiya is also performed with colourful sticks while Garba involves more hand motions, clapping and circular dance formations. 
  • Garba is not only a festival confined to Gujarat but is prevalent across other Indian states and foreign countries like Canada, USA and Netherlands.
When the weather starts to get cool in October, it is time for Garba dance, elaborate fairs and India’s biggest festivals. Get ready to groove with fellow Indians and visit this picturesquely lit country for the nine days of Navratri. If you have further queries, let us know in the comments below.

This post was published by Koushiki Kundu

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