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Dance begins South Asian Awareness Week

By Nilanga S. Jayasinghe Special to the Daily Planet
Monday October 29, 2001

The folk sounds of the Indian state of Gujarat resonated in the room as dancers and audience members came together to celebrate the vibrant dance of Raas Garba. Saturday night’s dance held in Pauley Ballroom led South Asian Awareness week to a rhythm-filled start. 

In keeping with relaxed South Asian time, the event began 45 minutes following the scheduled starting time. The feel of South Asia was palpable in the room as the traditionally-attired students walked in and mingled with the handful of older audience members.  

A kaleidoscope of color infused the dance floor as women in bright traditional clothing moved to the sounds. Participants moved in a circle, stepping in one direction while their hands coordinated the three claps of Raas Garba’s basic movement. 

The relatively long songs began slowly and increased in pace as they came to an end, with dancers accelerating the pacing of their movements. Each dance also gathered participants as the song progressed, making the circle of dancers wider and layered as movements increased. 

Tired dancers regained expended energy when the singers on stage took their breaks between songs.  

An audience member, a South Asian American not from the campus community, said that this was her first experience participating in UC Berkeley’s South Asian Awareness week. 

“I brought my daughter along because I wanted her to see the traditional dances,” she said. 

She also explained that Raas Garba, associated with the festival of Navratri — which means nine days — is a joyous amalgamation of culture and religion. 

Raas Garba is a traditional dance of Gujarat, which has its roots in folk tradition. It is said that the people of Gujarat work hard during the year to take nine days rest.  

These nine days, called Navratri, are looked forward to by those of every generation, because that is when they can put aside their work and begin dancing. 

The variations in the dancing come either through clapping while stepping to the beat or the use of the dandiya, or sticks. 

The music and singing to which the dancers move are mostly in praise of Hindu deities. Significant is the depiction of the Hindu deity Krishna and the gopis, or shepherdesses, with whom he was associated.  

Traditionally, the participants in the assorted variations of Raas Garba differ in sex according to the dance. While women mostly perform the dances in praise of the Goddess Amba, the Raas, which praises Krishna, normally includes only men.  

Saturday’s variations of the dance involved the participation of both men and women.  

Age, race, and cultural barriers were broken as a variety of audience members joined each other in celebrating the pure joy and energy of the music. 

Cultural ties were reinforced for those of Indian origin, while others, both observing and participating, were taken into a new world of South Asian culture.  

Although Gujerati in origin, student and audience participation in the dance proved that it went beyond India to a general appreciation of South Asian culture.