Thakur Ranjit Singh
Navratri (or Navratam, as some Indo-Fijians called it) for us in rural Fiji was time for Devi pooja –and that was it –just Durga pooja. We never knew about celebrating Navratri through Garba dance. This was confined to Gujarati business community of Fiji, largely settled in urban centres only. The only Garba we knew was what we saw in the movies.
|The dance teacher, Sonar Chand Ngangom, with ladies elegantly dressed for Garba.|
The other was relatively richer free-settler Gujarati business community who came to Fiji to establish businesses from Gujarat, India. There was very limited social interactions, with Gujarati families being very highly stratified, with strong caste system, while girmitiya descendants had discarded this trait through suffering and sacrifices of their Girmitiya forebears in the cane fields. (That is story by FIJI PUNDIT for another day.)
Hence as a child or adult, I never got exposed to Garba. When my family migrated to Auckland in 2004, we were in more liberal and somewhat “westernised” Indian community where there was greater interaction with all classes and types of Indians, because of our limited population in a “foreign land”. Our festivals started being celebrated on community basis when Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) formed by Girmitiya descendants from Fiji initiated Diwali in 2000 and then Holi five years later. Today this has been emulated by others and we have huge multiple religious and social festivals. WIA also tried to expose us to Garba some years ago. However, due to lack of interest, this was discontinued.
|MOTHER-DAUGHTER: Ragni Singh Chand, with mother Shashi Kala Singh.|
|Sunita Sharma, with her mother|
|Kashmin Kumar with daughter, Pooja Kumar|
|HUSBAND -WIFE TEAM-in action|
Three years since its inception, Ram Mandir has been holding Navratri and associated Garba dance, and progressively escalated its celebration, and encouraged us to embrace something different. They took a very commendable step of teaching the steps of Garba to those for whom it was foreign. I, with my wife, were such people, who leant the steps of this very graceful way of worshipping Devi in this entertaining form of dances. It also was a good excuse for exercising.
We are thankful to maestro of cultural dances and dance teacher, Sonar Chand Ngangom, who has been present over the years on hand to teach us steps, and now I am quite comfortable with what was taught. Combining those steps with Bollywood Garba-oriented songs make very enjoyable Navratri celebrations. This teaching continues till today, every day of the festival. Increasingly the descendants of Girmitiyas from Fiji have learnt the art of celebrating Navratri in Gujarati style, with Garba dance.\
|The Mumbai Raas Garbha group: From left: Sandeep More (Dhol), Managing Trustee of Shri Ram Mandir, Pravin Kumar, Lead Singer, Bhavesh Mehta, female vocalist, Rini Dadheech and Milind More - (extreme right, on organ)|
Our people are slowly coming forward to celebrate what had been foreign for us. At times yours truly, Thakur becomes the only Krishan Kanhaiya, (male) with all female Gopis dancing, as there are few men dancing. Hope in time to come, more menfolk will join us to grace the floors of the Mandir to happily and gracefully celebrate Navratri-Gujarati-style. We are thankful to Shri Ram Mandir for initiating this rich cultural and religious enlightenment to the descendants of Girmitiyas from Fiji.
[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, a media commentator and journalist. He runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT, and lives in Auckland]