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A&E, Events

Garba: Dancing to Their Own Beat (Spotlight on the Hindu Students’ Association)


– Amba Ramgoolam, January 24th, 2010

Stick Dancing Raas Garba. Photo by Noah Hawthorn

In the sea of overachieving students in über-competitive programs, fighting tooth and nail to boost their GPAs and pack their resumes, there is a secret lurking deep within U of T St. George. On a campus known more for its academics than its school spirit, the Hindu Student’s Council has been hosting Dhol Baaje, one of the largest student run Garbas in Ontario, for years. Every January, the posters begin to pop up and students across the St. George campus trade in their pens and pencils for dandiyas and take part in a piece of South Asian culture that transcends religion. On January 21st the Great Hall in Hart House was transformed by more than a hundred spinning, twirling, dancing students decked out in colourful traditional outfits. From 7 until midnight students took part in garba dancing and raas before tearing up the floor to the biggest bollywood and bhangra hits spun by DJ Arun.

So what exactly is “Garba”? Garba is a folk dance from Gujarat, a state in India. Garba is a dance traditionally used to celebrate the female aspect of god in Hindu tradition during Navratri- a nine night festival for the Hindu goddesses. Garba comes from the Sanskrit word “garbha,” meaning womb; a fun if unusual aspect to pay homage to during a festival. However, Garba has evolved to be a part of Guajarati weddings and celebrations outside of Navratri, and at U of T, it’s an excuse for everyone to enjoy a piece of Indian culture.

The event involves many different dances, from the main garba, dancing in a circle around an altar or an image of Durga, the supreme goddess; to many styles of Dandiya Raas, a dance performed with two sticks (dandiyas) and a partner. Spinning, hopping, and striking each other’s dandiyas, the raas is a crowd pleaser at the HSC event every year.

The group has its own collection of dandiyas which disappear every year as student after student rent them for the night. The event’s name strikes a chord with bollywood movie buffs; ‘Dholi taro dhol baaje’ was a hit song from a favourite movie with some amazing garba dance moves, ‘Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam,’ and means quite literally, the drums beat.

This year the Hindu Student’s Council outdid themselves; from the beautiful balloon archway framing the stage area of the Great Hall and the balloon wall greeting new arrivals, to the complimentary coat check and water service all night, this year’s event went above and beyond expectations. The event began with a garba workshop to teach anyone who wanted to learn the dance or simply needed a refresher course. Then a prayer took place to show respect for the religious nature of garba, before the dancing began in earnest. The party went until midnight, and the dance floor was full for every moment of it. Now that the event is over, the campus may have returned to its usual studious hum drum self, but lurking just below the surface is a legion of dancers waiting, counting the days, until next year’s garba.

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