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November 2006


Celebrating the Goddess within

- Priya Sundaravalli

It's way past sunset and the sky is inky-black. In stark contrast, the SAWCHU building is spilling out a golden light. A large group of people, mostly women, sit in a circle around the Garba, a filigreed mud pot placed upside-down over a burning lamp, singing odes to the Mother Goddess. Around them other women move in hypnotic whorls to the drumbeats from the dholak, dancing to an inner rhythm, faces dripping with sweat and concentration.

Krishna is a French Aurovilian but tonight, dressed in a flamboyant ghagra (wide skirt) and a mirror-studded choli (blouse), she looks a Gujarati belle through and through, straight out of a Bollywood movie set. She is not the only one. Around her are similarly dressed Aurovilian women, Indian and Western, who have donned sequinned skirts, blouses that reveal enticing backs, and costume jewellery – outfits that are only worn on festive occasions. All are singing, drumming or dancing together. The last two nights of Navaratri have burst upon the Auroville scene bringing an unusual riot of vibrancy and colour.

A swirling dancer celebrates Navaratri. Photo by Mario.

The nine nights of Navaratri that celebrate the battle of the Goddess Durga against the Asura Naraka before she slays him on the tenth day, Vijayadasami or ‘The Day of Victory', is celebrated in Hindu homes all over India . While each region has its own way of celebration, in two parts of the country (Tamil Nadu and Gujarat ) the festivities are uniquely feminine-centric. Both regions celebrate the Goddess within; during the nine days, the women dedicate their activities to the Goddess, specifically through cooking and offering the food to the Divine.

In the Dravidian South the women indulge in the bommai kolu, or doll exhibition. For the full nine days, terracotta figurines of goddesses, gods and auspicious symbols are displayed at a prominent place in the house. Women are invited to visit each other's homes and receive the Goddess' blessing and prasad.

In Gujarat , the celebrations are more social with Garba dancing (around the pot) and Dandiya dancing (with sticks). The latter represents the fight between the Goddess and the asura. And here the men join in.

It's now past 10 p.m. The women, after the strenuous garba, have refreshed themselves with power syrup and fruit salad, and are ready for the men to join in. The two groups form concentric circles, the women in the outer circle. Everyone has a pair of colourful dandiyas (sticks). The music begins and the groups start moving to the pulsating beat. The men move clockwise, the women counter-clockwise; this way, every man meets every woman. The men leap; their movements are vigorous and lively. The women skim lightly, with grace. Sticks click and clash. It is delightful to watch.
This is the third time that Aurovilian women from Gujarat and Maharashtra have organized the celebration of Navaratri in Auroville. Earlier, these were more modest gatherings beneath the peepul tree nearby the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium. But now the celebrations have blossomed into a richer gathering, celebrating one of India 's festivals with the Auroville family.


See also: Old and new traditions in Auroville

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