Garba dance originated as a popular Gujarati folk dance. This dance form is associated with Shakti-Puja and is thought to have originated in the worship of the goddess Jagdamba. It is performed by ladies in a circular form on the nine nights of the Navaratri festival, Sharad Purnima, Vasant Panchami, Holi, and other festive occasions, and it lasts until midnight. Garba is derived from the Hindi word ‘Garbha Deep’ (a lamp inside a perforated earthen pot). The light shining through the perforated earthen pot represents embryonic life.
This also represents the value of knowledge (light) as opposed to darkness (ignorance). It is said that, just as Lord Krishna popularised the Ras dance, Usha, Lord Krishna’s grand daughter-in-law, is credited with popularising Lasya Nritya, which is now known as the Garba dance.
Garba is a Gujarati dance form that is performed during Navratri, a nine-day festival honoring Goddess Durga. Garbi, Garbha, and Garbha Deep are other names for it. In ‘Garbha Deep,’ the word ‘Garbha’ refers to the womb in Sanskrit, and ‘Deep’ refers to small earthen lamps. It is usually done in a circle around a large lamp or a statue of the Goddess Shakti.
To the accompaniment of folk instruments, the women in this folk dance place the pot known as Garba with the lamp on their heads and move in a circular direction, singing and clapping at the same time or even snapping their fingers. A betel nut and a silver coin are placed within the Kumbh pot, which is then topped with coconut. Even in some Gujarati villages, the tradition of a “Light” (Deevo-Kodiyun) in an earthen pot with holes all around, placed in the center on a stool, and colorfully dressed ladies dancing around it by clapping their hands and singing Mataji’s songs can be found.
Modern Garba is also heavily influenced by Dandiya Raas, a male-dominated dance. The combination of these two dances resulted in the high-energy dance seen today.
When performing garba and dandiya, both men and women typically wear colorful costumes. The girls and women wear Chaniya Choli, a three-piece dress consisting of a choli, an embroidered and colorful blouse, a chaniya, a flared, skirt-like bottom with intricate work, and a dupatta, which is typically worn in the traditional Gujarati manner. Beads, shells, mirrors, stars, embroidery work, mati, and other embellishments adorn Chaniya Cholis.
Women traditionally wear jhumkas (large earrings), necklaces, bindis, bajubandh, chudas and kangans, kamarbandh, payal, and mojiris. Boys and men dress in kafni pyjamas with a Ghagra – a short round kurta – above the knees and pagadi on the head, as well as bandhani dupatta, kada, and mojiris. This male costume is known as ‘Kediyu’ in Gujarati. Garba’s popularity has grown steadily over the years. Garba has piqued the interest of India’s youth, particularly the Gujarati diaspora. This dance is traditionally performed in concentric circles, with the entire group performing one step in sync, with the beat beginning slowly and gradually picking up speed.
Garba is derived from the Sanskrit word for womb and thus implies gestation or pregnancy — life. Traditionally, the dance is performed around a Garbha Deep, which is a clay lantern with a light inside (“womb lamp”). This lantern represents life, specifically the foetus in the womb. Durga, the feminine form of divinity, is thus honoured by the dancers.
Garba is performed in a circle to represent the Hindu concept of time. The rings of dancers revolve in cycles, as time is cyclical in Hinduism. The only constant in the midst of all of this unending and infinite movement is the Goddess, that one unmoving symbol in the midst of all of this unending and infinite movement. The dance represents God, who is represented in feminine form in this case, as the only constant in an ever-changing universe (jagat).
The dance is performed in concentric circles with both male and female participants. These circles represent the circle of life, representing each stage of life from conception to rebirth. The main focus of the dance is an earthen lamp of a deep placed in front of the goddess Durga’s picture as a way of honoring her. It also implies that, while people and time pass, the goddess’s glories remain unaltered.
Garba as we know it today is a hybrid of Garba and Dandiya Raas. The film and media industries have modernised this traditional dance into a beautiful amalgamation that is now performed.
In a previous and earlier form of garba, people used to move in circles while chanting the name of the goddess, with a pot in the centre and a lamp on top of their heads.
Before the Garba dance begins, the rituals and aarti are performed, and the entire war between Mahishasura and Durga Mata is dramatised.