Behrend celebrates Garba Night with traditional food and dance
Photo By: Mason Bennett / Behrend Beacon
Mason Bennett, S&T Editor
On Saturday, September 28th, Penn State Behrend’s South Asian Student Organization celebrated Garba Night. Celebrated all over the world, Garba Night is an energetic dancing festival that occurs in late September and early October. The activity held on campus included traditional dancing, known as Garba, and authentic food. Students were able to wear their traditional clothes and dance to Gujarati music. Members from the South Asian Student Organization were also there to teach attendees the basics of dancing Garba.
Originating in Gujarat, India, Garba dancing is a high-energy activity and lasts nine nights in most parts of India, though styles vary from place to place. The word “garba” comes from the Sanskrit word for “womb” and implies pregnancy and life. Garba songs typically revolve around the subjects of the nine goddesses in the Hindu religion. Garba is performed in a circle as a symbol of Hindu’s view of time. The dancers, usually standing in a ring, revolve in circles, as time in Hinduism is cyclical. As the cycle of time revolves, from birth to life to death and again to rebirth, the only thing that is constant is the Goddess, the single immovable symbol despite infinite movement of time. The dance symbolizes that God, represented in a feminine form in this case, is the only thing that remains unchanging in a constantly changing universe.
The traditional costume of a Garba dancer is red, pink, yellow, orange and other brightly colored tie-dyed clothing. Girls and women wear a three piece dress with a “choli,” which is an embroidered and colorful blouse, paired with a flared skirt-like bottom. The dresses are decorated with beads, shells, mirrors, stars, and intricate embroidery with a multitude of patterns. They also wear heavy jewelry, such as 2-3 necklaces, waist belts, and long earrings. On the other hand, men typically wear an ethnic “kedia” (pajama garb) also with a bracelet and necklace. Many times, dancers will choose to use wooden dandiya sticks, representing the sword of the Goddess. The dance is performed around a clay lantern with a light inside, called a Garbha Deep (directly translated to "womb lamp"). This lantern represents life, and the fetus in the womb in particular. The vessel itself is a symbol for the body, in which the Goddess resides. Garba is danced around this symbol to honor the fact that all humans have a divine energy of the Goddess within them.
Garba dancing is not only popular in India, however. More than 20 universities in the United States host Garba dance competitions every year with professional choreography. The art of Garba dancing is also very popular in the United Kingdom, where there are a number of communities who hold their own Garba nights. “This is a great way for us to share our great culture with everyone here. Even people who may not be familiar with it can participate, and it is very easy to learn,” said Arpan Yagnik, president of the South Asian Student Organization. Yagnik expressed his joy in being able to host this activity year after year and give the Behrend community a fun taste of Indian culture.