Friday, 26 October 2012

CS Ahmedabad's NAVRATRI event 2012

After the grand success of organizing the UTTARAYAN festival in January 2012, CS Ahmedabad and the CS'ers who organized it, decided to organize a CouchSurfing event for the world's longest night folk dancing festival :) .  Its called NAVRATRI means nine nights.  This year the festival commenced on 16th Oct. and ends on 23rd Oct. with 24th Oct. being celebrated as Dusshera (the day when Lord Rama killed the demon Ravana).  The dates for this festival falls as per Hindu Calendar.  This year the 3rd and 4th day of the festival got merged and hence it will be held for 8 days only.

There is a very famous legend of Navratri that relates it to the Hindu epic Ramayana.  It goes that Lord Rama worshipped Goddess Durga in nine aspects, for nine days in order to gather strength and power to kill the demon Ravana in the final battle to release his wife Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravana, who had abducted her.  Those nine nights became to be known as Navratri and the 10th day, on which Lord Rama killed Ravana, came to be called Dusshera or Vijayadashmi, signigying Rama's (good) triumph over Ravana (evil).

In entire India, Navratri festival is best celebrated in Ahmedabad with full enthusiasm and tradition.  The folk dance that's played during this nine nights of dance is called Raas & Garba.  While Garba is more popular this days, Raas is limited to a very few places.  Garba dance has evolved over the decades and the steps are mixed and modified every year to give it a new flavor.  While Raas is played with two sticks and with a partner.  Men, women and kids all dress up in traditional wear which are extremely diverse and beautiful.

The organizers of our CS event Rahul, Piyush, Amit and myself after brainstorming for few days on facebook group chat decided to make it a 2 day event for Sunday 21st and Monday 22nd.   Since last few years the Gandhinagar Cultural Forum has been organizing one of the best and Piyush being in its organizing committee, Gandhinagar - the capital of Gujarat was decided as the venue to play Raas-Garba.  Also for all those CS'ers coming for the event we kept a one day city tour of Ahmedabad outskirts, instead of the old city (which is nominated for
UNESCO's world heritage city).  

We decided to take the CS'ers for a visit to Mahatma Gandhi Ashram, Step well of Adalaj and Sarkhej Roza (tomb & mosque of Ahmad Khattu, a sufi saint).  For the evening the plan was to take them to the Navratri traditional dress market and end up with traditional Gujarati dinner.  Gujarat being very famous all over India for its variety and delicious vegetarian food. So each and every festival or celebration is never completed without including the different delicacies.  If you meet up any traveler who has traveled to Gujarat, ask them and you shall every time get just one answer, be it the street food or the authentic Gujarati dish, the food is just awesome over here... ;)

Finally on the evening of Monday all CS’ers gathered on S.G. Highway at 19:00 and started for Gandhinagar with Gandhinagar Cultural Forum Garba being the venue for the night.  Everyone came wearing traditional gujarati dress which many had purchased at the last moment and were all excited and geared up to play garba.  Whether they knew how to play or not, but everyone was willing to give it a shot.  The CS’ers from Germany, Greenland & Hungary bought the traditional dress just for this event and I’m sure they might never wear them again back in their country.  But they were looking absolutely amazing in the gujarati traditional wear.  
We entered the playing ground at GCF after buying the tickets.  Every day the rounds of garba commences after a prayer and offering to the Goddess Durga.  The orchestra started off with melodious & slow garba songs and soon the people dancing, were matching the steps with the rhythm.   The venue had more than 2000 people dancing in the centre with more than 5000 people watching them from the outside.  People were dancing with different steps and styles and they kept on changing.  More and more people kept pouring in the venue.  Our CouchSurfing group was joined by others and everyone was having a ball of a time dancing to the garba songs.  We were all drenched in sweat, some had blisters under their toe but the mood was so high and the energy levels not coming down the dancing went on for couple of hours.  Every face was smiling and people from different nationalities who had come at the venue all were mixing with the local people and danced their hearts out.  Our CouchSurfing group was even photographed by the local media and few of the traveler’s photos got printed even in the local newspaper.  
Must watch video of the Maha-aarti with 15000 oil lamps

After the garba got over over it was time for the Maha-Aarti (Grand prayer) which is a major attraction of this venue.  All the approx. 2000 people inside the playing arena were given candles, lights of the entire venue was switched off and the maha-aarti was offered to the Goddess Durga after lighting the candles.  It was a mesmerizing experience.  A formation was made of an oil lamp and with the singers singing the prayer and getting support from the crowd, made the whole atmosphere extremely spiritual.  The garba finally got over with the end of the maha-aarti.  We all gathered once again for some pictures and to say goodbye to everyone.  We the organizers were extremely content to get the appreciation from the guests and were more than happy to see that everyone had a great time and an unique experience.  This is what CouchSurfing does with CS travelers and the local CS’ers.  Many friendships may have formed in all such events which actually spread’s the spirit of CouchSurfing.  

It was good to have help from Ahmedabad CS'ers but personally I cherished a lot those moments when Rahul, Amit, Piyush, Palak, Virag and myself were online on FB group chat everyday to discuss the arrangements for hosting so many guests, their transportation and also what to show them in Ahmedabad that they would like in this non-touristic city.  But the appreciation showed by the guests and the smiles and joy on their faces while they were dancing showed that our event was a success.  

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