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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The Honduras Water Project

The University of Illinois provides its students with many opportunities to learn about different countries and cultures, engage in international work and also learn through service-learning. One exciting opportunity for students at UIUC is a course that has been offered for the past 3 years. Supported by the College of Engineering, the Honduras Water Project gives students an opportunity to apply classroom learning to real-life work.

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course -- Illinois-Span-Advising Website

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course — Illinois-Span-Advising Website

This course spans two semesters and includes the opportunity to travel to the Central American nation of Honduras. Working with a local NGO in country, students learn how to design a gravity-flow water distribution system while also learning how to ensure sustainability of the project. During the trip, students visit the specific community where the designed system will be implemented. They get to know the community as well as collect information to better meet the needs of its residents.

Ann-Perry Witmer, the course instructor, believes the Honduras Water Project is unique because of

The interdisciplinary nature of it. It’s a fabulous opportunity for engineering students to broaden their understanding while collaborating with other students. Everyone is able to learn from each other while expanding their own understanding of the world.”

Honduras is a Spanish-speaking country located in the north-central part of Central America. It has a population of over 8 million people and the capital city is Tegucigalpa, located in the south-central region of the country.

 "Map of Central America" by Cacahuate, amendments by Joelf - Own work based on the blank world map. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_Central_America.png#/media/File:Map_of_Central_America.png

“Map of Central America” by Cacahuate, amendments by Joelf – Own work based on the blank world map. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Honduras Water Project course focuses on working with rural communities in Honduras, along with the help and collaboration of a local Honduran non-governmental organization, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC). ADEC is based out of Marcala, Honduras, but works in many rural areas, thus fostering its ability to provide support to the Honduras Water Project courses throughout the years. This NGO assists UIUC students throughout the entirety of the course because of its experience in water, sanitation, health, and hygiene projects in rural areas of Honduras.

Picture of the ADEC sign in Marcala, Honduras - from a previous trip, posted on http://hwpillinois.weebly.com/

Picture of the ADEC sign in Marcala, Honduras – from a previous trip, posted on the course’s website

As mentioned above, the course is led by Ann-Perry Witmer, a practicing Civil Engineer and Teaching Associate with the College of Engineering at UIUC. Ann has worked on a number of international service projects and emphasizes the importance of understanding sociopolitical and cultural influences while working on contextual engineering designs of a project as well.

When asked what she would like the UIUC community to know about the course, Ann responded, “These opportunities exist to step outside your own comfort zone and learn from others while sharing your own knowledge.” Also, that because of this class “we’re redefining how international service is done, to make it more sustainable and more recipient-focused.” Furthermore, “At the root of courses like this is the focus of building respect for the developing world  – and appreciation for how large it is – and then how much we can learn from them.”

Group of UIUC students from a previous trip -- photo by Ann-Perry Witmer

Group of UIUC students from a previous trip — photo by Ann-Perry Witmer

This course is not reserved only for engineering students. Rather, it incorporates students from all departments and disciplines who then come together to work through every step in the process of understanding the problem, creating a contextual design, and working hand-in-hand with the community.

I am enrolled in the course and have had the great opportunity to work with students from all levels and all departments throughout the semester. Currently I am a second year graduate student in African Studies at UIUC. I have spent time working with an NGO in East Africa on a water project, installing shallow wells for clean drinking water in rural communities. With this experience, my passion for water was born. I realized how extremely important water is; that water is life. While pursuing my degree in African Studies here at UIUC, I have taken courses in health, urban planning, and engineering that have all complemented one another and helped to provide me with a more holistic view of international service projects. I am excited to have found a class that takes an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to an international service project and I’m glad that I can share my experience working in East Africa with everyone working on the project in Honduras.

This course is divided into two different semesters. The fall semester of the class is focused around preliminary design work and also how to incorporate a holistic view of the project, including emphasis on the technical, social, and political components of the project. The spring semester will be focused more on the finalization of the design as well as grant-writing to fund the project. We are currently continuing preparations for our trip to Cerro Verde, the community that we will be working on the design with.

A group of students and alumni mentors (students from previous years) will be traveling to Cerro Verde, Honduras from January 7-17, 2016. While there we will be doing a number of things, including household surveys, water-quality testing, health and hygiene education, and also on-site collaboration with ADEC, the community members, and the local water committee.

For the final project of this semester, the Honduras Water Project class will be giving a conceptual design presentation to discuss what we have accomplished in the course this fall, as well as what our plans are for the trip in January. This presentation is open to the public, in the hopes of raising awareness of the project, and will take place on Tuesday, December 15th at 7pm in Deere Pavilion. All students, faculty, and community members are welcome to attend. 

Flyer for the Honduras Water Project Conceptual Design Presentation, December 15, 2015

Flyer for the Honduras Water Project Conceptual Design Presentation, December 15, 2015

I will also be doing a follow-up post this spring, detailing what was accomplished during the January trip, as well as how the design, funding search, and future implementation plans are going.

This is the third project in three years for Honduras Water Project. For more specific information about the past projects, visit the Honduras Water Project website.

When asked about the future of the course, Ann-Perry Witmer responded, 

“This is just the start. We have a course this spring that is building on Honduras Water Project by researching the impact that engineering design has on communities. I would like to see it to continue to grow on an understanding that any discipline involved in international development can benefit. An interdisciplinary approach needs to be more widespread. And it will only make engineers stronger.”

To get access to more posts like these, follow our Facebook page and be sure to check back in January to learn about my experience in Central America! 

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A Journey to Latin America through Films

LAFF posters

Image Credit: UIUC-CLACS: Latin American Film Festival/Art Theater Co-Op

As valuable as it is to study other countries’ histories and contemporary cultures through classes, academic books, and papers, it is equally important to approach them through their people’s own voices. This is always a critical task for building fair and inclusive views of the world. And there are a lot of voices still to be heard from contemporary Latin America’s artists, academics, and in general, from its people.

That is why, on this blog, we would like to celebrate spaces such as Champaign-Urbana’s annual Latin American Film Festival. This event allows us to see beyond the commonplace and to experience diverse views about realities that might be either familiar or unknown to us. Also, the International and Area Studies Library is excited to announce our recent acquisition of “Latin America in Video,” a large database of documentaries from independent producers throughout the region. This resource is available to the entire campus community.

L.A. in video2

Image: “Latin America in Video” database, provided by Alexander Street Press, LLC

Recently, between September 18th and 24th, the 8th Annual Latin American Film Festival took place. The event was organized by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), led by CLACS Associate Director Dr. Angelina Cotler, and hosted at the Art Theater Co-op in downtown Champaign.  From the 30 to 35 films that Dr. Cotler receives each year, 6 to 8 are selected for screening. This year’s Festival included 7 films originating from Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

Like every year, this year’s film selection opened the door to an immersive experience in  diverse social relationships, historical contexts, political situations, varied musical experiences, different landscapes, and of course, the people of the nations represented. The 2015 Festival included films tackling issues such as illegal migration and the altruistic mission depicted in the film Llévate Mis Amores (Mexico). Family violence, social inequities related to class and gender, educational issues in difficult social environments (Conducta and El Vestido de Novia, both from Cuba) were all at the fore. Also covered were critical approaches to past political authoritarianism (Zanahoria, from Uruguay); stories that reveal the complexities of modern urban life (Yo No Soy Lorena, from Chile), social status in rural settings (A Coleção Invisível, from Brazil); and humorous topics relating to the clichés of a pretentious filmmaker in Buenos Aires (El Crítico de Cine, Argentina).

If you would like to know more about contemporary film production in Latin America, here are some great books you can find in our library:

And these are just a few! Many more interesting books are available at different library locations.

As for this year’s Festival, Angelina Cotler’s recommendations were (Conducta, Cuba) and The Invisible Collection (A Coleção Invisível, Brazil). For her, “These are films of an extremely high quality and sophistication. They are the type of films that you start watching and cannot stop; that make you think, enjoy, laugh, and even cry.” (Watch the trailer of Conducta here). She also has recommendations for her all-times favorite Latin American and international films. What’s more, you can find most of them here, at the Undergraduate Library Media Collection! Some of her all-time favorites we invite you to watch are Amores Perros (Mexico), which is one of the most renowned Latin American films of all time, Fresa y Chocolate (Cuba/Spain/Mexico), La Historia Oficial (Argentina) and Lucia (Cuba).

Image Credit: sahaymaniceet.wordpress.com

Image Credit: Popcorn and Balderdash

And that is not all!  We invite you to take a look at the great collection of Latin American Films covering a wide range of topics and genres, such as the Argentinian contemporary dramas El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Anita, and XXY; Mexican films about soccer and rivalry like Rudo y Cursi; and renowned films from that country such as Como Agua para Chocolate and Y Tu Mamá También; Chilean films about that country’s political history like Missing; or love stories based on famous novels such as Cachimba. Other films about Cuba include the fictional Guantanamera and documentaries about women and literacy such as Maestra. Films about armed conflict in Colombia that stretch beyond the usual approaches include Los Colores de la Montaña; others deal with urban settings in that country, like Karen Llora en un Bus. There is even a collection of silent films!

If you have questions about Latin American films, history, or any other research interest about this region, you may contact our Latin American & Caribbean Studies Librarian,  Professor Antonio Sotomayor, Ph.D.

You may also find many more Latin American and other international films at the Undergraduate Media Collection. Here you can find international films at the Local U of I Catalog, where you can filter the search by the region, language, and topic of your interest using the menu in the column on the right side of the screen. Also, here are some instructions about how you can search films at the Undergraduate Media Collection in the Classic Catalog. Also, there are a variety of specialized area films, as the Korean Film Collection, and the Africana Film Database.

Don’t miss the Latin American Film Festival next year! In the meantime, visit the library, pick up some great movies, and have a pleasant, eye-opening journey!

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How international is the library at the U of I?

bookmark

A compilation of various book covers. Prepared by Graduate Hourly Sonal Modi

Friday afternoon, April 10, the International and Area Studies Library (IAS) hosted “Embracing Internationalization at the University Library:  Global Impact of Collections, Services and Expertise.” The event aimed to recognize the ways in which several members of and units in the University Library system support and create opportunities to serve an increasingly globalized patronage. Dean of Libraries and University Librarian John Wilkin opened the gathering by introducing the guest of honor, Dr. Reitumetse (ray-too-met-see) Obakeng Mabokela, the university’s Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Studies. In her opening remarks, Dr. Mabokela shared that her experience as an international student began on the University of Illinois campus some two decades ago. She is originally from South Africa, and having worked in higher education for more than 15 years, she emphasized the importance of grooming graduates who are globally minded and can work both comfortably and competently all over the world. This goal became even more compelling in light of the fact that the U of I enrolls nearly 10,000 international students per year, a figure among the highest in the nation.

panel

Guest of honor and panelists. Photo Credit: Robert Sarwark

Following Dr. Mabokela’s remarks, the audience, which was comprised of various workers from the library system, heard from a select panel whose work and current projects meet the library’s mission to further internationalize U of I collections, collaborations and curricula. Head of the International and Area Studies Library Steve Witt highlighted the U of I’s Slavic Reference Service that is active and highly valued both domestically and abroad, receiving 3,000 reference questions per year. William Mischo, the Head of the Grainger Engineering Library, spoke of the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) which aims to facilitate technology transfer across the globe. The Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in History Dr. John Randolph promoted the strong tradition of interdisciplinarity supported on campus as demonstrated by the Summer Research Laboratory. Assistant Director of the Mortenson Center Susan Schnuer described the center’s signature Associates’ Program which annually invites librarians from all corners of the world to meet, train and network together. And Global Studies Librarian Lynn Rudasill introduced the audience to the World Sustainable Development Web Archive, an initiative that aims to allow users to examine websites that may no longer be live.

Desafinados

Desafinado band performs at reception. Photo Credit: Robert Sarwark

After the panelists’ remarks, the meeting was followed by a warm and lively reception in the IAS Library which allowed for all in attendance to discuss their projects and to casually commune. Popular Brazilian covers were played by local band Desafinado and lead singer Elis Artz who works for the university’s Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies. Caterers served authentic Brazilian hors d’oeuvres including marinated hearts of palm, pão de queijo (a Brazilian cheese bread) and chocolate truffles. Ultimately, the event effectively showcased the University Library’s commitment to embracing internationalization and how we support the collective mission of serving an increasingly globalized public. For more events and updates like these, follow us on the IAS Facebook page and visit us in the Main Library Room 321.

Three ladies

From left to right, South Asian Librarian Mara Thacker, IAS Graduate Hourly Katrina Spencer and Cataloger Qiang Jin. Photo Credit: Robert Sarwark

 

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