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It's dandiya time in UAE !!!

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    It's dandiya time in UAE !!!

    'Tis the colourful season of the Dandiya. In the UAE, the occasion promises a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic experience ...
    Story by Surbhi Puri
    Art by Milcah Prince

    FOR Lalit Ramchandani, freshman at the American University of Dubai, October is a very special month. It's the time of the year when he grabs a pair of lacquered sticks and heads for Aweer, in Dubai, to dance away the night; he heads for home only in the early hours of the morning.

    Lalit hasn't missed this annual coalesce for the past four years and maintains proudly that he tries his utmost best to make it there every night; he hopes to do the same for the 1999 Navratri festival, starting in a few days time. (For the uninitiated, the Dandiya and, for that matter the Garba dance and the Lodi dance, are part of the festival, which lasts for nine nights, and which has its roots in Hindu mythology; also see box: Nine-night magic).

    Lalit is a Sindhi, from Jodhpur, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan; whereas the Dandiya is from the neighbouring state of Gujarat. But matters, like origin, are of little relevance to Lalit. He loves dancing the Dandiya because he loves dancing. Simple as that, really! "It's got nothing to do with the culture," he says. "Dandiya is not at all a part of my culture, but I go due to my passion for dancing. I love it! And what better place to practice and enjoy than the dandiya grounds?"

    Like Lalit, there are hundreds of people in the UAE who don't come from the state of the Dandiya and yet participate in the action, year after year. It's not just different states, but different creeds, countries -- the festival attracts Arabs as well as Americans. Dandiya in the UAE is a multicultural, multi-ethnic experience!

    The appeal is universal for several reasons. For Lalit, of course, it is love for dance; for Karuna Advani, a Class 11 student of The Indian High School, Dubai, it is a whole range of reasons. "It's a great excuse to deck up and an even greater excuse to stay up late!" says Karuna, a Sindhi from Bombay. "Nine whole nights do help you to improve your dancing act and, considering the fact that I love dancing, it's a big plus for me. The best part is socialising. You get to mingle with so many people which is a lot of fun." In the aftermath, Karuna confides, girls receive a lot of phone calls from admirers.

    The opportunity to deck oneself up in itself is a matter of excitement for some. Malvika Bhasin, a Class 8 student of The Indian High School, Dubai, finds decking up for the festival an enthralling experience. "It's fun," says Malvika, whose father is a Punjabi and mother a Sindhi. "You get to wear all these traditional clothes. It's a good excuse to wear chunky jewellery, too. I love getting new clothes for this occasion." Adds Aditi Ahuja, a Punjabi from Delhi, and a student at the University of Wollongong, Dubai: "Dandiya is one function I just cannot miss. And one has to look nice, if not sensational! It's basically a case of beg-borrowing from your friends and mix-matching their jewellery. I've always believed that you look better in somebody else's clothes and it makes attending the dance a whole lot more fun!"

    Fun for fun's sake is enough of a reason for some. It is so for Imran Noorani, a Class 11 student of St Mary's Catholic High School, Dubai. He soaks in everything. The only thing that irks him are the sticks for sale. "Not everyone has sticks," he says, "and each year, my sticks seem to be breaking and my fingers get all swollen. And then, they charge Dh10 for sticks. Now, that's a total rip off!"

    Food is another factor that pulls people of different backgrounds. They come in to soak in the whole atmosphere, not just the dances. And food is a major aspect of the atmosphere. Dandiya grounds have everything from chat (savoury items) to mithai (sweets). The dhoklas, which are as Gujarati as anything, can set the taste buds on a dance routine.

    The thing is, it's not just Gujarati food. The grounds have stalls that dish out food from other Indian states, as well, to cater for non-Gujaratis and Gujaratis alike. Indeed, idlis are as much part of the scene as dhoklas. The variety in itself is a reflection that dandiya in the UAE draws a multicultural gathering.

    Music is yet another factor. It is an accepted fact that music generates the energy in dandiya grounds.

    Music in the grounds is traditional Gujarati folksongs. It also means the contemporary film kind that the Bombay film industry dishes out. Although many people cannot comprehend the folksongs, they enjoy them all the same. Only festivities matter, language doesn't.

    Each year, various bands sing during the festival. They add to the excitement, simply because they are live. "The bands are just excellent," says Purvi. "It feels great to dance to their music."

    If Dandiya attracts people from other cultures, creeds and nationalities, it also poses challenges to them. Dandiya is intricately tied with certain dance steps; and so is the Garba. The steps are pretty difficult to get the hang of at one go, and often require hours of practice. But the compulsion to have a good time is so strong, many work hard to learn them. Durga Desai, a Class 12 student of The Indian High School, Dubai, and a Maharashtrian from Bombay, belongs to the undaunted crowd. "Of course, you have to learn the steps from regular-goers, mostly Gujaratis, to get the hang of it," she says, but I don't see any point in practicing alone at home. It's much more fun when you're doing it along with other people at the grounds, and it's a much more effective way to learn, too."

    Time itself could be a challenge to those not familiar or accustomed to the tradition of dancing all through the night. In India, most of the dances start in the early evening and finish off by midnight. In Dubai, the whole affair starts at eleven in the night and goes on till the early hours of the morning. As a result, schools witness an awful lot of absentees during the nine days. And even if the students go to school, they're groggy-eyed -- they look like close relatives of Droopy!!! But complaints don't figure in the scene. Minal Ashar, a Sindhi from Bombay, sums up the mood when she says: "The timings are no problem at all! This celebration comes only once a year, and I think, staying up the whole night is most definitely worth it."

    Nine-night magic
    By Pratibha Umashankar
    DANDIYA is a folk dance form which has its roots in Gujarat. Like all folk art forms, it is steeped in tradition and culture. It is a composite art form which incorporates music -- vocal and instrumental, graceful movements and dextrous footwork.

    The dance form of Dandiya originated in Gujarat as a part of the Navratri festival. Navratri, literally translated, means nine-nights. The celebrations and festivities last for nine days and nights as the name denotes. Dussehra, the tenth day, marks the culmination of the nine-days of festivities. Navratri usually falls during the months of September and October. In Gujarat, the nine festive days are dedicated to Durga, the deity of strength and power. This deity also embodies the deities of wealth and knowledge. The celebration culminates on the tenth day, which is called Dussehra. The tenth day has symbolic significance. It marks the killing of the mythical demon, Mahishasura by the deity of power. It symbolises the destruction of evil and aggressive forces by a superior power. It marks the triumph of good over evil.

    The village folk of Gujarat evolved this dance form not only as a part of festivity but also as a means of social and cultural interaction. Thus, people from all walks of life and of all age groups participate in this lively folk dance. The dancers sway in rhythmic movements, usually in a circular formation, holding a pair of lacquered sticks. (At this juncture, it is interesting to note that traditionally, the dance form is called Raas. Since it is performed with dandiya (sticks), it has over the years come to be popularly known as Dandiya.)

    The dancers are accompanied by singers who sing folk songs in praise of the deity. A percussion instrument, called the dholak, and a tambourine, called the kanjari, add vigour to the songs.

    The songs are simple and reflect the simplicity of life of the village folks -- their simple pleasures of life. Traditionally, the music is a live performance which changes its rhythm and beat in tune with the mood of the dancers. The two sticks are stuck against each other adding to the beat of the song. Sometimes, the themes of the songs have a storyline. Dandiya though rooted in culture, has evolved into a leisure time activity which starts late at night. Menfolk and womenfolk fulfil their daily obligations. And then, they meet in communal groups of 50-100 and dance the night away. The women's dandiya is characterised by slow movements while the menfolk add vigour and dynamism to the dance. There is often an interaction with the musicians, dancers and the audience. They keep time with the chorus leader and drummer in the middle. A good drummer receives on the spot cash rewards, as the fun-filled night advances. Good dancers are also rewarded in kind; the reward is called laani.

    Garba, an essentially feminine folk dance form goes hand in hand with dandiya. It is performed along with dandiya. It has its origin in dances of gopikas, or milkmaids, who used to carry pots of milk and curds. Garba actually means a pot. A ritualistic pot is placed in the centre. Womenfolk form a circle around it and move slowly, singing, clapping their hands and, sometimes, snapping their fingers to keep time with the songs.

    The dancers, both in Dandiya and Garba, are dressed in colourful traditional costumes. Women wear ghagra choli, a long bright pleated and flared skirt with a tight-fitting blouse. The costumes themselves are a work of art. Intricate embroidery, bright patch work, and brocade designs or mirror work, called abla, is done on the costumes. Traditionally, menfolk wear lehenga -- similar to breeches -- and a choini, which is a tight-fitting top. They complement it with a colourful head gear. Now-a-days, many prefer casual loose-fitting pyjamas to the lehenga.

    Dandiya has a universal appeal. This is the reason why it has stood the test of time. Its appeal has crossed regional and national boundaries. It has evolved into a favourite form of entertainment at social gatherings.

    The dance has kept pace with the changing times. It has adapted and adopted new techniques. Music cassettes have taken the place of a live band of folk musicians. Sophisticated and high-tech special effects have given rise to an audio-visual treat. Folk music has fused with modern strains. Sound and light have combined to make it a dance for the young at heart. The westernised version of dandiya has in fact earned itself the name, Disco Dandiya.

    Though dandiya is a seasonal festive dance, it has gradually become an integral and indispensable part of any festivity. No longer is it a small community affair but a form of ethnic entertainment with modern overtones. During any dandiya entertainment night, the number of dancers and spectators swells to thousands. Special halls with sophisticated sound and light system are hired for the purpose. The simple folk art form has now moved from its rural confines and has spilled over to thrill the hearts of urbanites.

    Dressing up for dandiya
    WHILE choosing clothes for the occasion, make sure they are flashy and colourful! That's the general guideline.
    Here's what you could wear at the grounds ...


    It's basically a case of who has the most colourful ghagra! Ghagra cholis are very popular during the season; and the duppattas are tied up Gujarati style. Bold prints, which are typically Gujarati, are popular. The prints come in colours of red, green, yellow and black.

    Never mind the age, saris are in. Those that come with bold prints look phenomenal at night time.

    If you want comfort rather than style, go for a shalwar kameez, which looks equally as cute as a ghagra choli. But the latter is most definitely regulation dandiya dress.

    Okay, let's turn our attention to jewellery and accessories, in general ...

    A lot of chunky jewellery is considered cool. During dandiya, the word, overdressed, finds few takers. Jewellery is mostly oxidized silver or copper coloured.

    Some people, who believe in simple dressing, may just wear small knickknacks. But whatever your taste, some jhumkas and some chudis are essential.

    A small, designed bindi would add to the overall effect. Speaking of which, go for light make-up; you don't want to overdo it. If you have to put make-up, a dark shade of lipstick will do wonders for you. Generally speaking, apply make-up only to the extent that it defines your features.

    Shoes are important accessories. Yes, they need to look nice and complement your colourful dress, but don't discard safety and comfort for the sake of glamour. Remember, you'll be dancing all night long. So, get something that is comfortable and won't hurt your feet.

    Also, ignore high-heels. You really don't want broken ankles to spoil your fun. Go for more comfortable sandals or shoes in which you know you'll survive Lodi and Garba!


    Simple is the keyword!

    Kurta and pyjamas or kurta and dhoti would be the male equivalent of the ghagra choli. Innovations are okay, such as a kurta and jeans with a red, yellow or green dupatta tied around the waist.

    Make-up and shoes are non-issues anyway at any time of the year. And so is jewellery, though a thin gold chain slung around the neck is quite okay.

    Simplicity is it! --SP