Dandiya Dance Celebration in Navratri

Navratri gets celebrated with great devotion throughout India. It is the worship of the goddess as primordial feminine divinity. She is present in almost all mythologies and date back to the Neolithic, if not even the Paleolithic.

How vain had been the attempt to capture the vitality of the moment. I could feel the joy of the people and sit there for a long time. While I got inspired by the music and the ease of the atmosphere, I fell into a daydream.

The day before, I was sitting on a bench in front of the temple, watching the multitude of people. They turned around each other in a peculiar manner. Men and women in colorful clothes gave themselves to a playful and enchanting dance. My camera tried in vain to capture what it could still grasp in a dim light. It froze the same motion into a static image in a moment, while the circle continued to move.

Today, after I had finished my light evening meal, I walked past the temple again. I turn right after a little hesitation. I cross the wrought-iron arch to the forecourt and then sit down on the simple bench. I try again to take a picture with the camera and come close to the steps, which lead to the covered dance floor.

When an older man grabbed me by my hand, I have already lost any possibility to save myself from this situation. He squeezes two colorful wooden sticks called Dandiya Sticks. He then pulls me into the living circle.

So I dance from one end to the other part of the Dandiya Raas. It is on the occasion of the nine-day celebration of the Navratri festival. Although popular all over India, Dandiya celebration originated from Gujarat.

I learn the movement and subordinate myself to the rhythm of the group. In time with the music, I strike the left stick in a backhand movement to the left. and then with the right hand to the right on the stick of the counter. As my whole body moves in rhythm around my hips, I strike my two sticks to my right. And then to the two sticks of my counterpart, by pulling out to the upper left.

Dandiya Dance Celebration in Navratri

After each stride, I walk a step forward and play the game with a new man or a new woman. Since these are two opposing circles, I meet new people. Sometimes I exchange embarrassed or resolute looks with them. I bend down to the young children and then set me up again, to honor an elderly lady in the sari. The men are dynamic, suggesting blows and play with full energy. While the women are less energetic, but dance with the same joy.

Before I take a pause, an older man drags me to exchange a last hesitant stick strike with me.

The ninth and last day is also known as Mahanavami. I go once more to the temple in the evening after dark and sit down again on a bench. After ten minutes, a young man immersed in the dance recognizes me again. It implies that I should come and he greets me with his broad smile.

With the Dandiya sticks in my hand, I start to dance and move, exchanging smiles while moving from one man to the next. Today the young women in their Anarkali suits look more charming. I dance for a good hour and share the real joy that comes to me here with all those present. Small children in an innocent manner bounce their sticks, so I get to be careful not to hit on the fingers.

The evening ends with a puja in honor of the goddess Durga. Oil lamps get kindled. The crowd begins to sing a religious song accompanied by a loud drum and rhythmic clapping as I set off to taste some Navratri delicacies.
Kalyan Panja