Blurs of colorfully patterned skirts spun fervently about the front of the room, embodying the excitement and enthusiasm tangible throughout the Student Activities Building. Both popular Bollywood and traditional songs played overhead, signaling choreography shifts to the rows of dancers as one ended and the next began — the Hindu Student Council at U.Va.’s annual Navratri celebration was well under way.
The HSC held this annual event Sunday afternoon to celebrate Navratri, the most celebrated Hindu festival with roots in the Indian subcontinent. Literally interpreted as “nine nights,” it is customarily held over the course of nine days, the latter representing the worship of the nine avatars of the Hindu goddess Durga.
HSC’s Garba Night was thrown for this celebration, as well as striving to individually let good reign over evil in reflection of the goddess Durga’s restoration of Dharma. The event was filled with catered vegetarian Indian food from Milan and plenty of dancing from the near 40 attendees. Dances in the distinct style of garba are traditionally found in the celebration of Navratri, and HSC named their own celebration on Grounds in lieu of this connection.
Garba, an Indian folk dance native to the subcontinent’s state of Gujarat, is traditionally performed during Navratri celebrations. HSC invited HooRaas — a competitive and co-ed garba dance team organized independently from the University — to showcase this style of dance in a unique performance, one of the highlights of Garba Night.
This past Sunday afternoon was third-year College student Subani Adhikari’s third consecutive time attending Garba Night. She spoke about how this event holds potential to provide an atmosphere reminiscent of home for certain attendees.
“Our main goal for this event is just to have people come here and feel like they're at home because I know that a lot of people celebrate [with] garba ...at home,” Adhikari said. “But when they come to U.Va., they don't get to do it as often, so I hope this will be like a home for them.”
The HooRaas’ celebrational performance was followed by open participation of garba by the event’s attendees. This was a time where students — all donned in various forms of traditional Indian dress — were either learning new dances or in some cases, experiencing garba for the first time.
Fourth-year Engineering student Revathi Mohan helped host Garba Night this year. She spoke on what this cultural immersion in garba was like for attendees at this point in the event.
“You see everyone start to look confused in the beginning because they're trying to learn the dance,” Mohan said. “But eventually … there'll be a line of people just doing this really cool dance, and you'll see them running across [together]. It's really fun.”
This inclusion — regardless of familiarity with Navratri — was what helped to make attendees like second-year College student Valencia Lagbo feel welcomed. The Hereford College resident advisor sought out multicultural events around Grounds this past weekend as a part of a multiculturalism-centered project. She was drawn towards Garba Night, which piqued her interest after learning more about it.
“I asked my friend about it, and she told me a little bit about the Hindu culture,” Lagbo said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to come and check it out and give my residents an opportunity to do the same.”
Although she doesn’t traditionally celebrate Navratri, Mohan conveyed the openness that the event offered to attendees in similar circumstances.
"Garba Night is an event that's been here since my older sister went to U.Va. back in 2007, and it’s overall … an event that has brought the community together through dance and music,” Mohan said. “So that's what we are trying to do here — give these attendees a chance to make great memories and have fun dancing."
HSC’s intention to provide a community for students wanting to celebrate Navratri — despite being away from those they are accustomed to celebrating amongst — is strong but not alone. There’s an undeniable element of inclusivity — a voluntary willingness to introduce and share the Hindu Navratri tradition with others here at the University.