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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“Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897 – 1921”

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“The black flag of anarchism . . . expresses one’s solidarity with those most abused by the state, by capital, and by religion. . . . ‘Boricua’ . . . [is] more about a collective identity of resistance – in short, a distinct form of antiauthoritarianism rooted in the island people’s collective nationality against colonialism” (Shaffer, 15 &17). “Black Flag Boricuas”

When people think of anarchism, the most common generalizations consist of youth destroying private property, disregard for authority, and a world burning in chaos. Yet, in spite of these misunderstandings, the general public forgets that anarchism stemmed from the struggles of marginalized communities throughout the world.  In “Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897 – 1921,” by Kirwin R. Shaffer, the author explores the role of anarchism in the Caribbean and its interrelationship with other Puerto Ricans and other activist groups in Cuba, Florida, and New York. This book also serves to unite readers under a black flag that evokes the humanity of people affected by authoritarian forms of government.

Spanish colonialism, U.S. invasion, poor living conditions and low wages are some of the ingredients that led to the dissemination of radical consciousness and change in Puerto Rico. Anarchist thought was facilitated by the arrival of Spanish migrant workers to the island in the late 19th century. Their message resonated with the tobacco industries of Caguas, Bayamon, and San Juan, Puerto Rico which had “most of the leading anarchist writers and activists” (Shaffer, 3). Places like Havana, Tampa, and New York were also known tobacco cities; destinations that provided Puerto Rican migrants with more opportunities for income and for networking and mobilizing with fellow comrades. In order to build solidarity with and learn from transnational anarchists, anarchists in the island began to publish newspapers and write articles for American and Cuban periodicals “which helped to internationalize the movement wherever they went and to discuss international topics” (Shaffer, 5). These are just a few of the examples of dissidence that represent Puerto Ricans’ struggle for autonomy from foreign and domestic exploitation and social injustice.

“Black Flag Boricuas” provides a breadth of information and is a good introduction to the history of anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th century Puerto Rico.

If you are interested in learning more about anarchism around the world, you can check out “Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Dharma of Uchiyama Gudo” from the International and Area Studies Library. It is a collection of translated essays by a Zen Buddhist priest and anarcho-socialist activist that provide an interesting insight into Buddhist history in Japan.

Also, the main library has a book titled “Anarchism & The Mexican Working Class, 1860 – 1931” which looks at the impact of anarchism on the Mexican working class. Moreover, the main library has a collection of English periodicals, “Anarchy,” that focus on issues of unemployment, racism, gender discrimination, poverty, militarization, and other related issues within Europe and beyond. For something less broad, you might also be interested in learning about anarcho-feminism from “Anarcho-Feminism: From Siren and Black Rose, Two Statements.”

Finally, another recommended book which you can check out through I-Share is “Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria,” about Algerian and French anarchists during the Algerian revolution. Furthermore, check out one of our oldest bibliographies on this subject “Bibliographie de l’anarchie” by Max Nettalu.

Happy Reading & Power to the Reader.

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“The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture”

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The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture,” edited by Christopher Malone and George Martinez, Jr., is a compilation of essays that explore the ways in which hip hop culture serves as an “organic globalizer.” In the opening chapter, Malone and Martinez define organic globalizer as a movement which “builds a network of grassroots institutions geared toward social justice and political participation both locally and globally” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 5). Hip hop developed during the early 1970s “among African Americans and immigrant populations in the urban United States” (Flaherty, 131) and has ever since traveled throughout the world, giving other marginalized communities a voice to raise social awareness and promote change.

The authors explore hip hop as a “means of expression for groups that are historically marginalized and outside of traditional political, institutional access to power” (Flaherty, 131-32) from America’s inner-cities and industrial prison complex to the colonized lands of Palestine, Australia, Africa, and Latin America. From the socio-economic disparities and injustices endured by these transnational communities, the authors propose that “hip hop, rooted in a movement culture, has been an artistic medium used to foster awareness, build and transform social institutions, and/or encourage political activism in local communities that have largely found themselves marginalized” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 15). Therefore, hip hop unites the struggles of international peoples and serves as a force for political engagement, cultural awareness, and social justice on a global scale.

In May 16, 2001, the United Nations sponsored and recognized hip hop as an international culture through the Hip Hop Declaration of Peace. This declaration lists 18 principles which “seek to maintain the dignity and respect of individuals, cultures, tribes, and peoples of the globe . . . [and to promote hip hop] as a veritable source of conflict resolution” (Malone and Martinez, Jr., 11). To honor the message of “The Organic Globalizer” and the forthcoming Hip Hop Awareness Week, I encourage you to visit the International and Area Studies Library to check out “The Organic Globalizer” and the rest of our collection and resources. And, make sure you watch the following videos by artists I consider organic globalizers: Aisha Fukushima, DAM, and Nomadic Massive.

Aisha Fukushima

Vocalist, speaker, RAPtivist, instructor and international artist Aisha Fukushima hails from Seattle, Washington/ Yokohama, Japan. She navigates and explores the intersections between hip hop and social justice through her project RAPtivism, public performances, and speeches. The following video further elaborates on her accomplishments and the work that she has done.

“Hip Hop Lives–Raptivism Around the World: Aisha Fukushima at TEDxSitka”

DAM

Da Arabian MC’s (Suhell Nafar, Tamer Nafar, Mahmoud Jreri) are known as the first Palestinian hip hop group from a neighborhood called Lyd/Lod. Their work speaks to the struggles of the Palestinian people living under occupation, challenging ethnic and cultural stereotypes, and raising social awareness. Recently, DAM added a new member to the group, Maysa Daw, and they have worked on a new project through a joint effort with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which addresses the oppression of patriarchal structures. Here is the group’s new video for their single “Who R You?”:

“#Who_You_R (Official Video)”

Nomadic Massive

Nomadic Massive a Montreal-based hip hop group composed of 8 members: Vox Sambou, Nantali Indongo, Lou Piensa, Waahli, Ali Sepu, Meryem Saci, Rawgged MC, and Butta Beats. This super, multicultural and multilingual group of artists conveys their messages in French, English, Creole, Arabic, and Spanish. They have given workshops and worked with international communities, like Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, etc. The following video speaks about the origins of the group and their work to empower and build sustainable communities through hip hop culture.

“TEDxConcordia – Nomadic Massive”

If you are interested in learning more, the following links will direct you to University of Illinois professors, and their curriculum vitas (CVs), for a list of interdisciplinary presentations and publications on hip hop culture.

Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown

Dr. Karen Flynn

Dr. Adam J. Kruse

Dr. Samir Meghelli

Love. Peace. & Hip Hop.

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Occupation Libraries: Libraries speak

Occupation libraries are temporarily built street libraries during protest activities. Protestors or the general public can stop at the library in the street to read as a way to show their support to these events. Some of the first occupation libraries were built during the Fall 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in New York[i] This practice has been adopted by protestors in Turkey.

Occupy Library 2

Occupy library in New York street [ii]

The protest in Turkey started in Gezi Park on May 28, 2013. It was triggered by the government selling out the Taksim Gezi Park, Istabul’s last public space, to real estate developers for commercial use. This protest later turned into a large scale civil rights event to pursue freedom of expression and other civil rights.[iii] The occupation library was initially built in the park with a box of abandoned books. Later more than 10 Turkish publishers donated books to the library to support their protest. These donated books cover a variety of topics, including political issues, religions, history, philosophy, etc. Some popular readers’ picks on the shelves cover: The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Carnus, Leaf Storm by Vabriel Garcia Marquez, Old Garden- Old Love by Tezer Ozlu, When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin David, and Resurrection Gallipoli 1915 by Turgut Ozakman.[iv] People are invited to read at the protest site, preferably in front of police officers to support this activity.[v]

Both makeshift libraries share some common features. First, all books in occupation libraries are donated by individuals or institutions. They are open for the public use. Second, because of their special nature, these libraries operate under strict government rules. This causes challenges to preserving books. Some of the first group books in the People’s library in Occupy Wall Street campaign were flooded in a rain because the police did not allow librarians to cover them.Taksim Square Book Club

People are reading at the Occupy library in Istanbul[vi]

Occupation libraries extend libraries’ missions in social life from circulating materials and sharing information to expressing people’s attitudes. Occupation libraries also mark a new development of civil rights activities. Despite protesters’ dissatisfaction with the government, these libraries avoided violent confrontations in the protests.  Instead, they invite people to stop and read at the library as a way to say they care and support the activities. No matter which side these libraries stand with, they should be respected for expressing the public’s opinions on social issues and discussing disputes in an open and peaceful way.


[i] Christian Zabriskie (2013). A Library Occupies the Heart of Occupy Movement. http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/article/library-occupies-heart-occupy-movement.

[iii] Wikipedia: 2013 Protest in Turkey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_protests_in_Turkey.

[iv] George Henton (2013). In Pictures: The Taksim Square Book Club: Protesters stand silently and read books in central Istanbul, in stark contrast with scenes of violence. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2013/06/2013624105477515.html.

[v] Ariel Bogle (2013). Turkish publishing houses unite in Gezi Park to distribute books. http://www.mhpbooks.com/turkish-publishing-houses-unite-in-gezi-park-to-distribute-books/

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