Navratri is a nine day festival that is celebrated with dance and music, when Hindus worship Goddess Durga, the symbol of 'Shakti' or female expression of divine. On the 10th day, known as Dussehra, Hindus celeberate Lord Rama's victory over demon king Ravana, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. This year Navratri starts from Tuesday 9 October till 18th.
In West Bengal, a 5 day Durga puja carnival takes place from 14th, with streets decorated with festival lights and marquees (known as pandals) decorated with handicrafts, with craftsmen coming from as far as remote villages in Bengal. Bengal's Durga, an exhibition in London's Southbank stands witness to the festivities in West Bengal as a joint project by the Bengal Government and the British Council.
Originally the artisans sculpting the Durga idols in Kolkata's Kumortuli area were male for generations in family businesses. But the new age sculptors include gifted women such as Kakoli Pal, Mala Pal, who have taken over their father, brother or husband's business and studios to make idols as tall as 13 feet. They also give tutorials in schools, enriching children with fun way of creating something remarkably beautiful and original.
Asians in the UK celebrating Navratri gather in their nearby temples or halls hired by community organisations, to participate in traditional raas, garba and dandiya. Youngsters especially girls flaunt their new Indian wears, some in sarees, some in chaniya cholis, carefully handwoven by craftsmen in India.
Areas in London like Ealing Road, Wembley, Brent and Harrow or the Golden Mile in Leicester buzz with extra energy as family's elders go shopping for Indian groceries to stir up something special and Indian in their kitchen. Vegeterian restaurants get visits from large families in colourful clothes, having a quick meal before heading to a Navratri celebration nearby. Families tend to buy group tickets for garbas from before hand, to win that 'early bird' discounts.
Usually live band performs garba numbers, with everybody joining in circular motion of dances around the deity. As the music progressively becomes faster, you can find yourself whirling around the goddess in the centre, clapping your hands hard, and hitting your dandiya (sticks) at an alarming rate. With the increasing speed, often grandmothers, mothers and aunts sit back to chit chat, while the younger generation continues- boys and girls in traditional clothes, many times even engage in friendly raas garba competitions. The evenings end on a beautiful note – with arti and prashad- a true family experience for all.
If you're celebrating raas garba, feel free to send information to [email protected] to list in your event on our coming events page.