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

 

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An Evening of Carnatic Violin Music

Mark your calendars folks, for “An Evening of Carnatic Violin Music.” This event will take place on April 1st, at 5 P.M. in the International and Area Studies Library (IASL). The library will be hosting violinists Dr. M. Lalitha and M. Nandini who will be accompanied by mrindangam player Padmanabha Puthige.

Violin esignage

First things first, what exactly is Carnatic violin music? Carnatic music is mostly associated with South India, usually performed by an ensemble of performers. In this style of music the violin renders the melodic form and the mridangam renders the rhythmic form to the performance. Violinists Dr. M. Lalitha and M. Nandini come from a long line of musicians. Kalaimamani Dr. M. Lalitha and Kalaimamani M. Nandini are the fourth generation of musicians in their family. Music critic Sabbudu has said, “Music runs in their blood, they must have played music even when they were in their mother’s womb.”

Having been called the “Queens of Violin,” they are also known as the “Violin Sisters.” They have “enthralled the audiences with their spell binding music and have been highly acclaimed throughout the world.”  Dr. M Lalitha and M. Nandini are the only female duo in Asia to perform World music, South Indian Classical, Fusion and Western Classical music. Lalitha and Nandini have been recipients of the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship from the United States, and the Charles Wallace Fellowship from the United Kingdom in performing arts.

If the fabulous music isn’t enough, there will also be a reception with free Indian snacks from Aroma Curry House. We think this is going to be a popular event and seating is limited so we recommend arriving a little bit early to secure a good spot.

For more information about the event check out the Facebook invite! The Music and Performing Arts Library has also put together a subject guide to introduce you to this musical style, available here. The subject guide even includes a video of the “Queens of Violin” performing in India, so you can have a taste of what’s to come. We hope to see you on April 1st!

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An Evening of Romanian Folk Music

Are you a lover of folk music? Interested in the culture of East-Central Europe? Or perhaps just someone who wants free tea and cookies?

If you fall into any of these three categories you are invited to attend: An Evening of Romanian Folk Music.

This event is cosponsored by the International & Area Studies Library and the Music & Performing Arts Library in honor of International Week. Running from April 8th to April 14th, International Week is a campus wide initiative that seeks to provide a series of educational, cultural, and recreational events around campus that are designed to foster interest in our global community.  For more information about campus events in honor of International Week visit the International Week 2013 page.

Elena Negruta, an accomplished folk singer studying for her masters at UIUC, will be the evening’s performer.

The event will feature Elena Negruta who is from Moldova, part of the former USSR. She began singing as a folk artist and at 14, and  won 1st place at the Golden Stork international youth talent festival in Nikolayev, Ukraine. She successfully participated in numerous national contests, where she variously won first, second, and third place prizes. She studied at the Academy of Music, Theater and Arts in Chişinău where she won the only folk music scholarship in the country. She participated in the choral ensemble “Gloria” as a soloist, with which she performed in France, Spain, and Poland. Switching to classical singing after immigrating to the U.S., she won 3rd place at the NATS competition in North Carolina in 2011. Currently she is studying with Sylvia Stone for her Masters in Vocal Performance at the UIUC School of Music.

Elena will be accompanied by Daniel Dig a guitarist who is currently a Research Assistant Professor in UIUC’s Department of Computer Science.

Event Details:

When: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 from 5PM – 7 PM

Where: Main Library Room 321

Hope To See You There!

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The Spring Since 2010: Conflicts, Demonstrations, and Civil Wars in Arab World

Often taking as an allegory to the “Springtime of the People” or the Prague Spring in 1968, the term “Arab Spring” was “unintentionally coined in a January 6, 2011 article” by Marc Lynch. From the end of 2010 to the present, the calls for revolution from the Arab world only grew stronger. Demonstrations, protests, and even wars have broken out in countries such as Tunsia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and lately, Iraq. More seem to be following in many parts of the world.

Often attributed to the dissatisfaction of local governmental rule, the Arab Spring has been a point of interest to both academics and the populous – a movement that is both reaffirming and changing history. Although the waves of protests are not a new phenomenon, through the movement, this revolution has been turned towards the problems within the Arab society, rather than ending the liberation from colonial rule.

Continuing demonstration on Monday, January 28th captured via a camera phone. (Mostafa El Shemy/AP)

Internationally, various countries and people have reacted differently to Arab Spring. Overall, the protests have attracted support from the international community while the governmental responses were met with condemnation. Moreover, the Arab Spring has, over the past few years, been an inspiration to social movements in other countries, including the Occupy Movement across the world. Marking the continuation of Arab Spring, the escalation of protests continues even today.

Curious about the progression of Arab Spring for these past two years? From February 4th to the 28th, the International and Areas Study Library and the Middle East and North African area specialist will be showcasing the major players and events that brought forth the movement, as well as related library resources in the Marshall Gallery on the 1st floor of the Main Library. And, for more information and readings regarding Arab Spring, there is a guide maintained by the UIUC library as well as multitudes of resources maintained by collaborating scholars across the field.

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