Celebrating good over evil: After three years, Navratri returns to Burnaby
People will gather in Burnaby this Friday to celebrate Navratri, with a night of garba and dandiya—traditional Gujarati folk dances.
Drums will be sounding in the Metrotown area of Burnaby this week.
Monday signaled the start of the Hindu festival Navratri, a word which literally translates to “nine nights” and is celebrated to revere the Hindu goddess Durga Maa and her nine avatars. The festival runs from Sept. 26 until Oct. 5.
It’s popularly held as the beginning of the festive season for Hindus, with Diwali celebrated just ten days after the tenth day of Navratri.
And people will gather in Burnaby to mark the occasion this Friday, with a night of garba and dandiya—traditional folk dances from the northwestern state of Gujarat. While people from all over the South Asian subcontinent celebrate Navratri in their own unique way, it’s considered one of the most important festivals in the calendar for Gujarati Hindus.
“This festival is considered to be a symbol of victory of good over the evil. All communities across India have their own ways of celebrating this festival,” said Umang Mehta, who is involved with the Garba Night in Metrotown event being put on in Burnaby.
“Some observe fasting, some observe feasting and some would dance. People gather in large numbers and dance to the beats which is called garba. Garba is a unique form of dance originated in Gujarat.”
In the Gujarati language, one is said to “play” garba rather than dancing it—reflecting the dance form’s exuberant and energetic nature. Dancers play in concentric circles, all repeating the same pattern of folk steps. While some of the patterns are basic, dancers often come up with their own steps and formations and others pick it up as they’re dancing to join in their circle.
Another popular form of Gujarati folk dance played at garba nights is dandiya raas, where dance partners use sticks—or dandiyas—as props, hitting their dandiyas with their partners’, before moving on to the next person.
While Navratri is celebrated on an exponentially larger scale in India—with thousands of people streaming to hundreds of events every night of the festival—there are often events held here in the Lower Mainland on weekend nights, and sometimes smaller ones held on weekdays as well.
“This festival … is a good occasion for people to meet and greet in large numbers and worship the Goddess in the form of dance and music. Navratri events definitely give us an opportunity to reflect upon our culture and values,” Mehta said.
“People do find garba nights here are less celebrated compared to how it is celebrated in India. But groups like us are trying to fill the gap by organizing such garba nights.”
Many Gujaratis grow up playing these folk dances from a young age, and for those who grew up in India and have moved elsewhere, Navratri events are an opportunity to reconnect with home. Being the start of the festive season for Hindus, it’s often an event people wait for year-round.
Mehta said it has been a tough three years for the community since the pandemic began, not being able to meet and celebrate Navratri in person. The last time large scale Navratri events happened in the Lower Mainland was September 2019. But with events allowed again, he said people are ready to get back to dancing with “double the excitement”.
“Covid gave us an opportunity to understand how important these festivals and gatherings are,” Mehta said.
“People are slowly realizing the importance of such events of bringing people together, and [in giving] us a chance to reflect upon our culture and our values. People like to celebrate, meet and greet their loved ones on this festive occasion.”
While Navratri is a religious event, Mehta said anyone from any community or age group is welcome to attend and many people who aren’t Hindu often do.
We are more than happy to have you with us. Don’t hesitate to sway on the beats of garba. The dance form is simple and can be easily learnt by observing. It would be nice to put on colourful clothes,” Mehta said.
“And yes, good energy levels will surely help you.”
Garba Night in Metrotown, put on by Nine One Events, will be held on September 30 at Bonsor Recreation Centre from 8-11pm. The event will feature a live orchestra and band playing Gujarati folk tunes. Tickets are $20 and include traditional Gujarati refreshments from Burnaby restaurant Royal Paan. Bring your own dandiyas!