Garba Raas & Basmati Raas: A Brief History
The Garba Raas team at Stanford began in 2002, when a group of students led by Aalap Jani and Nirali Vora decided to take their dance moves to the next level. Having performed Garba Raas dances for Stanford's annual Indian cultural show for a few years, they were ready to take part in the West Coast's premier competition, Garba With Attitude. The rest is history, as Stanford's Basmati Raas (a pun involving the common Indian type of rice known as "Basmati Rice") has placed at a major competition every year for the past 5 years and has participated in the Best of the Best for three out of the four years this championship competition has been in existence. The reason for the success has been simple. By combining the traditional moves of Gujurat with contemporary dance forms under the veil of a complex storyline that is furthered by colorful costumes and intricate props, Basmati Raas tells an unforgettable story on stage every year.
The origins of the dance, itself, take us back many years and to the northwestern state of Gujarat. “Garba Raas” actually refers to two different, yet similar dance forms that are traditionally performed during the Hindu festival of Navratri, which literally means “nine nights.” During this festival, the dances are performed nightly in the worship of Hindu goddesses. During this holiday, up to tens of thousands of people come together in large fields or temples and dance together to celebrate the occasion, showing their respect for God and having fun with friends and family.
“Garba” originates from the word “garbo,” which is an earthen pot with holes
and a small candle inside. During Navratri, a garbo is placed in the center
of the dancing area along with idols of goddesses, and people dance around it
in concentric circles. The pot itself symbolizes the universe, while the light inside
represents God, which is the center of the universe, and by dancing around
the pot and idols, the dancers symbolize that God is also the center of their
lives. The circle formation itself also has additional significance. The
circle formed by dancers represents the cycle of life and its never-ending
nature, tenets of the Hindu belief of reincarnation. The dance form of Garba is
characterized by its fluidity, grace, flexibility, and synchronous clapping
of hands to supplement the music.
Raas, with similar elements to Garba, is different due to its use of dandiya (dancing sticks) that are twirled, tossed, and thrown in elaborate choreography. It has similar roots as it is also performed at Navratri, but also has deeper significance as it is representative of Lord Krishna, who was said to perform the dance with village girls, or gopis, to please them. While each gopi believed that Krishna was dancing with her alone, he was actually dancing with all of them as he is a metaphor for the omnipresent God, supporting the central Hindu principle that God exists within anything and everything in this world.
Although the dance has traditional and religious underpinnings, the dance form has evolved and become very popular in America as an event during religious/cultural holidays but as well as weddings and other social occasions. Furthermore, the Indian diaspora in America has contemporized the dance into a competitive form for college students. The beauty of competitive Garba Raas is found in the challenge of retaining and mastering the graceful intricacies of the dance form while also displaying energy and passion, making the performance a crowd-pleaser. And it is to this end, Basmati Raas takes the core elements of the folk dance and fuses it with elaborate and energetic choreography making the dance extremely up-beat, fun to watch, and even more enjoyable to perform.