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Dancing with the Goddess: Ras-Garba Traditions of

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Dancing with the Goddess: Ras-Garba Traditions of

Gordon R. Thompson reviews Dancing with the Goddess: Ras-Garba Traditions of Gujarat, directed by Purnima Shah (2011, 72 minutes)

Mother goddess worship pervades the cultures of Gujarati-speaking Western India and the global Gujarati diaspora, reflecting a deep-seated respect for power of fertility and the fundamental importance of the feminine creative force in the South Asian subconscious. No matter how technologically modern or foreign the context, Gujaratis celebrate goddesses with song and dance at weddings and other important lifecycle events, but these performances are particularly elaborate during the nine-night autumnal goddess festival Navaratri. The numerous and diverse communities of Gujarat have articulated unique amalgams of music, choreography, and costume, some of which Purnima Shah documents in this film. In the words of the narrator, the film provides “a survey of Navaratri performances in different regions of Gujarat.”

Garbā and rās present the two most important choreomusical forms encountered during Gujarat’s Navaratri celebrations. Garbā (a combination of dance and song) offers the most common form of public mother goddess worship, the word deriving from “garbhā” (“womb”) and most often represented in performances by a perforated ceramic pot (garbo) with a lamp inside (“garbhā dīpā”), a symbol for the miracle of life. The song texts praise the mother goddesses prevalent in Gujarat, sometimes naming them specifically (or by epithets) and, at other times, broadly referring to them as though a single entity.

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