Dances of India - 2020


Dance Festivals and COVID-19

By Dr. Maha Gingrich

Festivals are the most important part of our cultural fabric and an opportunity to learn about our own culture or cultures of our co-existing communities. It would have been the time to celebrate major Indian festivals such as Dasara and Diwali or Vijaya Dashami and Deepavali or however you want to spell it or name it depending on the regions. It is also time for fun and family gatherings for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas and many major community events.

Going to these festivals is about the excitement of planning the times with your families and friends, with the anticipation and excitement building for months before the start of festivals. We can't forget the fun of picking out the perfect outfits and jewelry. Once you get there, spending time with your old and new friends, or meeting family and cousins certainly becomes a joyful event that keeps you energized and happy. It brings us all together, giving us an opportunity to forget about our problems.

This Pandemic put a halt to these joyful experiences. Many festivals in 2020 have been canceled or postponed. For dance lovers, it is “Garba" time. It would have been the time to just enjoy dancing until past midnight with pouring sweat and blisters on your feet for nine days or just enjoy watching others dance to the lively music.

In the past, many of these festivals were celebrated outdoors, a perfect setting for the current pandemic. I will share some information on a few of these dances and festivals. These were dedicated outdoor events to fit the crowds as large theaters are a newer concept in both social and dancing world.

The name Dasara is derived from Sanskrit Dasha-hara referring to Lord Rama's victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana. In most of northern India and some parts of Maharashtra, Dasha-Hara is celebrated in honor of Lord Rama known as Ram Lilas. Most of these dances are the outdoor dance dramas attracting thousands of people, which would be a perfect setting now with the pandemic crisis.

In South India, same outdoor dance dramas are called Pagati Veshalu. Kathakali dance style from Kerala also features Valmiki Ramayana with amazing costumes, props and make up using the temporarily built stages. Folk Dance of Karnataka State Yakshaganam is performed widely depicting the story of Lord Rama's victory over evil Ravana. In these unique dance dramas, the dancers must have a lot of stamina as they are also reciting dialogues and singing and dancing at the same time. I see it as an outdoor version of the Broadway show.

In Telangana, a joyful dance called Bathukamma is performed by all women. In Telugu, Bathukamma means “Mother Goddess come Alive." Bathukamma is a beautiful flower stack, arranged with different unique seasonal flowers, most of them with medicinal values, in seven concentric layers in the shape of a peak of a temple called Gopuram. As a young child in India, I remember creating my own artwork with flowers and dancing around the flowers joining elders in their singing and clapping while going around the Bathukammas in a huge circle blocking the neighborhood roads.

I do not want to miss mentioning Durga Puja and the ceremonial processional dances in Kolkata. I will never forget my trip to Kolkata as a young girl and then getting stuck in the traffic due to Vijaya Dashami celebrations. One can only say that Durga puja is the largest outdoor art festival on earth. The music, dancing, and art displayed and performed during the puja played an integral part in connecting the community in Bengal, and eventually across India and the world. I was so mesmerized by the size of celebration filled with live music, colorful clothing and impromptu high energy dance moves, that I never felt the two hours of being stuck in the car.

In Kuchipudi dance style repertoire, one of the most famous outdoor dance dramas is the Mahishasura Mardhini, the killing of the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Goddess fought with evil demon for nine nights and ten days. The name Vijayadashami is also derived from the Sanskrit words “Vijaya-Dashami" literally meaning the victory on the tenth day.

This is the unstoppable beauty of our Indian classical and folk dances. We figured out outdoor events and festivals thousands of years ago. You can use your devices and applications such as Zoom, Facetime, and Skype, but the festival feeling is inevitably missing when watching or participating in the events via our electronic devices. The energy we gain from social interaction is an essential part of being human. Enjoy your festivals, dance until your feet can't move and cherish your relationships by staying safe and healthy. Just remember to follow our ancient outdoor practices, now called social distancing.

----------
For questions or comments contact Maha via e-mail at: Gingrichmaha@gmail.com