Garba Raas in Champaign Urbana

Every year during the period of Navratri, the Indian Association at Urbana Champaign brings the festive vibe with Garba Raas and pooja. Garba is a form of dance that originated in the state of Gujarat, India.

Dancers performing Garba in Gujarat

Dancers performing Garba in Gujarat

It is usually performed for nine nights of Navratri around a centrally lit lamp or a picture or statue of goddess Durga, the feminine form of Divinity. Garba comes from the Sanskrit word Garbha that translates as womb, signifying ‘Source of Life’. Revolving dancers in concentric cycles represent the cycles of life, death, and rebirth with the only thing constant as the goddess, who represents the source of life.

The modern form of Garba is called Dandiya Raas which is traditionally performed by men using a pair of wooden sticks. Nowadays, Garba and Dandiya are merged together, creating a high energy dance form. The origin of the dance is traced back to the legendary myth of the fight between Goddess Durga and mighty demon king Mahishasura—the dance is an homage to their mythical fight. The dance sticks represent the sword and the dance form honors Durga’s victory over the demon.

Men, women and children wear traditional dresses with colorful embroidery and mirrors and dance to the music of the dhol, a type of double-headed drum, and Gujarati folk songs. The women and girls wear chaniya choli, a three piece dress with a colorful embroidered blouse decorated with mirrors, shells, beads and stars, a flared skirt and a long scarf wrapped around in the traditional way. They also adorn themselves with beautiful jewelry. Men wear a top called a kedia and pants known at pyjama, or a dhoti with an oxidized bracelet and a necklace.

The Indian Association of Urbana Champaign strives to provide a common identity for the local Indian community and facilitate cultural, social and educational services and opportunities for cultural integration for people of all ages. They also foster those activities that enhance mutual understanding and appreciation between the Indo-American community and the mainstream American community. They organize Garba and Dandiya Raas usually on the second weekend of Navratri. This year, it was at ‘Brookens Center Urbana Park District’ on Sep 22nd and 29th, Friday and Saturday. I was delighted to be part of the celebration this year. The event began with the opening prayer to Goddess Durga which included lighting the lamp and singing religious songs. The dancers began gathering around the statue of the goddess in concentric circles and started dancing to the Gujarati folk music played by the DJ. There were men, women, children and elderly people, all decked out in beautiful colors. With the soft beats, people started matching each other rhythms and following a pattern. It was amazing to see how they could sync with each other’s movements in an orderly way and generate a beautiful dynamic form.

Dancers forming a circle around the idol. People of all ages participated in the event.

Dancers forming a circle around the idol. People of all ages participated in the event.

 

Traditional Attire

Traditional Attire

Everyone was enjoying the dance form and participated with full spirit. Often women lead the men in the dance. They would clap their hands, step forward and backward, swirl around and move ahead repeating the pattern. Even the elderly were dancing passionately! Apart from the Indian families in attendance, there were a lot of U of I students that excitedly participated in Garba Raas. A lot of those students weren’t part of the Gujarati community, but had come to celebrate the auspicious time of Navratri and to experience the pleasure of this traditional dance form. Experts in Garba including both students and adults, were there to teach to the rhythms of Garba to the uninitiated. Even the newbies were merged into the circles and helped them grow larger and larger. I was keen on learning these fascinating dance steps and was guided well by friends who were skilled at it. Soon I could swing like other dancers and became a part of the concentric formations of dance.

The newbies trying to learn to dance

The newbies trying to learn to dance

After a while, the dancing switched from Garba to Dandiya where people started using sticks, holding one in each hand, and dancing around the idol. I was excited to try the colorful sticks for dancing. There were several smaller groups that began creating their own rhythm with sticks clashing against each other on the beats of the songs. I started dancing with 5 other people, forming pairs within the group and continuously switching partners while dancing with the music. The songs were mostly fast paced now, with swift movements and changing partners after every beat or two. Beads of sweat glistening on almost every dancer’s forehead, the enthusiasm was too high to tire them. Those small groups merged into one big circle that was creating a spiritual energy focused in the center of the hall towards goddess Durga.

Dancing with Dandiya

Dancing with Dandiya

There were refreshments too including lemonade, savory Indian snacks like samosa, and desserts like gulab jamun and kheer. Set up on a table in one corner, whenever the music would get a little low, people would take short breaks and refresh themselves with food, feeling all the more energetic for continuing their dance.

The whole dance session came to end with an elaborate worship ritual of the Goddess Durga by everyone. A priest, with a plate containing flowers, a fruit and an oil lamp offered the Goddess his and everyone else’s devotion and prayer. All of us sang the devotional songs in unison and thanked the goddess for the blissful life, family, friends, and a chance to celebrate these auspicious days with them.

Worshipping the Goddess

Worshipping the Goddess

The celebration brought students, families and even non-native Indians together, irrespective of which part of India or the world are they from. No one identified there as a Gujarati, Bengali or Punjabi, but as someone who came to immerse himself/herself into the magnanimous aura of the Goddess Durga and the power-packed dance form. Many Indian students and family here miss their country, hometown, and families– most especially during Navratri and Diwali.  This is the third year that I am away from home for Navratri and Diwali celebration and this period always makes me wanting to go home but the celebration made me feel as if I have a family here as well that celebrates the festive spirit with such love and warmth. Events and celebrations like these bring us closer and let us form one big family here, away from home, rejoicing in our culture, traditions, and values no matter where we are in the world.

Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

 

References:

 

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Using Personal Connections to Motivate Language Learning

Me standing in wooden shoes at the Keukenhof, a flower park in the Netherlands, March 2015.

Learning a new language can be motivated by many factors and developed in different environments. While I have taken language courses in classroom settings, my most recent foray into a new language has been less structured, and more personal.

In April 2015, I visited the Netherlands at the end of a semester abroad in England. Much of my mother’s extended family still lives in the Netherlands, and she and I spent about five days meeting relatives and exploring areas like Amsterdam, Heerhugowaard, Volendam, and The Hague.

My relative and I took a canal boat tour in Amsterdam, March 2015.

While not universal, we were surprised by how many Dutch people spoke English, and spoke it well. Our family explained that English language is a required subject for most students, beginning at a young age. The proliferation of English media also helps them to learn not only the formal English of the classroom, but also the common phrases and expressions used in everyday conversation. My mother and I do not speak Dutch, so we relied heavily on our family when traveling, shopping, and communicating in general. The language barrier was not a significant challenge on our trip, however, as so many of the people we interacted with could speak at least some level of English, and many written texts were also available in English as well.

My relatives and I (center) in Chicago, October 2017.

In October this year, a few of these relatives had the opportunity to visit America for several weeks. They spent a weekend with my immediate family in Illinois before visiting other cousins in Indiana and then flying to Tampa, Florida, where a mini-reunion took place. My mother and I took them to Chicago for several days to see the city sights: the Shedd Aquarium, Millenium Park, Michigan Avenue, Chicago 360, and an architectural boat tour. While my mother and I still acted as guides, they could have functioned independently due to their fluency in English; they were able to read parking machines, store signs, menus, and ticket information on their own. Their language abilities afforded them comfort and agency even in a new place, and it allowed them to interact fully with their environment without needing much help outside help.

They later told me that they were not only fluent in English, but also had working knowledge in German, French, and Spanish as well. While this kind of language variety is impressive, it is not uncommon for the world at large. A European Commission report from 2012 found that 77% of people in the Netherlands have practical skills in at least two foreign languages (p. 13), and English is the foreign language most Europeans are able to speak at 38% (p. 19). In other regions of the world, such as those in Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East, it can be common to speak or learn more than one language. These additional languages are not always taught exclusively in a classroom environment – as is common in English-speaking countries – but instead learned more organically through exposure and everyday use.

A Pew Research Center article from 2015 details that only 25% of American adults reported speaking a language other than English in a 2006 survey, and only 43% of this group said they could speak the language very well. While these numbers may be changing, and these statistics are never exact, it is clear that Americans spend less time and effort learning foreign languages. A 2015 article from The Atlantic quoted Richard Brecht, head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, as saying, “It isn’t that people don’t think language education is important. It’s that they don’t think it’s possible.”

Language learning, especially later in life, is not easy. I studied Spanish in high school and Latin in undergrad, but I retain almost no functional or conversational skills in these languages. However, many online resources make language learning possible – and fun – after people have left the formal classroom environment. I am currently using Duolingo – an interactive phone app – to learn Dutch, in the hopes of one day being able to speak to my relatives in their native language.

If you are interested in learning a foreign language, there are many resources that are available to you, whether you are at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or not:

Rosetta Stone – for University of Illinois students and faculty, look under Quick Links on the Literatures and Languages Library homepage and login with your netID and password

Mango Languages – through the Urbana Free Library with your library barcode and Champaign Public Library with your library barcode. Many public libraries have Mango Languages subscriptions; check the online resources page.

Duolingo – freely available on iOS, android, and Windows devices

Ethnologue – This is not a language-learning tool, but it includes updated statistics about languages worldwide. Use a University of Illinois netID and password to log in.

Happy language learning!

Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sources

Devlin, K. (2015, July 13). Learning a foreign language a ‘must’ in Europe, not so in America. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/13/learning-a-foreign-language-a-must-in-europe-not-so-in-america/.

Friedman, A. (2015, May 10). America’s lacking language skills. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/05/filling-americas-language-education-potholes/392876/.

TNS Opinoin & Social, European Commission. (2012). Europeans and their languages. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/archives/eb_special_399_380_en.htm.

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Celebrate WTD: Travel Sustainably!

Do you enjoy seeing the world?  Exploring your country?  Maybe just visiting the next town over?  No matter if you prefer traveling on or off the beaten path, you have reason to celebrate…

Just this past year, over 1.2 billion travelers made their way across international borders in search of adventure, with that number expected to grow by more than 600 million over the next three years. (Rifai, Official Messages on World Tourism Day, 2017)   It’s no surprise, then, that we find tourism sitting pretty as the world’s 3rd-largest industry (Rifai, 2017), nor that big of a stretch to guess that you, or someone you know, thoroughly enjoys traveling.

But what does it mean to travel?

I’ve been lucky enough to study abroad in both Cuernavaca and Barcelona; to explore with my family a swath of Western Europe (Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy); to present at a conference in Finland; and even to spend nearly a year living and working on my own in Buenos Aires.  Each trip I took was motivated by a unique mix of goals and desires, and I’ve no doubt that the same goes for anyone else who has found themselves on a journey abroad:

 

 

Sometimes we travel to study, to immerse ourselves in a fascinating culture and language.

 

 

 

 

 

Other times we travel to learn about ourselves, find our limits and step outside our comfort zones.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe we travel for the adventure, the thrill of encountering the unfamiliar and reveling in its newness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we travel to escape, to get away from it all and relax for a while.

 

 

 

All too often, however, travelers focus solely on what they will get from a trip abroad, forgetting that they, too, have an impact on the places they visit—travel and tourism is not a one-way street, after all. With this in mind, and in celebration of #WTD2017, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has released a variety of resources to help travelers be sure that their impact is a positive one.  Click on the pictures below to check them out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately, if we can remember to TRAVEL, ENJOY, and RESPECT, we can be sure that we are having a positive impact on the economy, environment, and, most importantly, the people of the places our travels take us.

 

Resources

Rifai, T. (2017, September 27). Official Messages on World Tourism Day. Retrieved from World Tourism Day | World Tourism Organization: http://wtd.unwto.org/official-messages-world-tourism-day

UNWTO. (2017, September 27). Tips for a Responsible Traveler. Retrieved from World Tourism Day | World Tourism Organization: http://wtd.unwto.org/official-messages-world-tourism-day

UNWTO. (2001). Global Code of Ethics for Tourism: For Responsible Tourism. Retrieved from Global Code of Ethics for Tourism: http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/docpdf/gcetbrochureglobalcodeen.pdf

UNWTO. (2017). World Tourism Day Homepage. Retrieved from World Tourism Day | World Tourism Organization: http://wtd.unwto.org/

*All photos unrelated to the UNWTO and World Tourism Day are the personal property of the author.

 

 

Erin Shores

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Welcome to IAS: Striving for a Global Perspective

As this academic year begins, the University of Illinois community, the nation, and the world continue to strive toward diversity, respect, and inclusivity. Recent events like the January travel ban and the discontinuation of DACA have motivated the University to reaffirm its commitment to serving a diverse population of students. The various departments across the University Library support our school’s mission to “be proactive in supporting all of our students, faculty, staff and visiting scholars, whether domestic or international” and to “build a campus culture of inclusion,” as stated in a campus-wide email from Chancellor Robert Jones on September 9.

As a student, these events and topics can sometimes feel overwhelming. With so much information and media available, how do we begin to understand these complex issues? How can we find reliable information and context on these topics? How can we celebrate and respect diverse perspectives and experiences?

In addition to participating in a variety of campus initiatives, individuals on campus can make an effort to learn about changing policies and social climates, cultural histories, national identities, and individual experiences. The commitment to value and support diversity enlightens us about people and places different from ourselves, while simultaneously creating safe, creative, and respectful environments.

Campus Resources and Support

The University of Illinois offers many resources for students wanting to learn more about these topics or who are looking for help navigating these experiences. These include, among others:

Open Illinois: http://open.illinois.edu/support-daca-students/

Illinois International: http://international.illinois.edu/students/support.html

International Student and Scholar Services: http://www.isss.illinois.edu/

Counseling Center: https://counselingcenter.illinois.edu/

International and Area Studies Library

The subject librarians and the collections at the International and Area Studies Library are fantastic resources for insight and primary sources on global topics.

The International and Area Studies Library serves the campus community by providing information about specific regions across the world. As detailed on the about page, IAS is committed to “connecting students and scholars to the knowledge crucial to developing global competencies through the study of distinct nations and regions, as well as transnational issues and global concerns.” IAS strives to increase awareness of international histories and current events through its collections, staff, and activities.

Contact IAS

Visit the International and Area Studies Library: Room 321, Main library; 1408 W. Gregory Dr.; Urbana IL, (217) 333-1501; Email: internationalref@library.illinois.edu

IAS Event Calendar – Keep an eye on the calendar; we will be adding more events, such as lectures and exhibits, as the semester continues.

International Reference Services – Contact regional librarians for research assistance. Subject librarians can provide expertise on certain topics and suggestions for research tools and materials. You can also complete the Reference Information Request Form to ask a specific question.

How to use the library – guides on the IAS homepage provide library guidance in a variety of languages.

We at the International and Area Studies Library hope to see you this year!

 

Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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