By Aleksandra Sidorova
Club International hosted a celebration for the beginning of the Hindu festival of Navratri filled with music and dance Sunday, Oct. 15.
Navratri, meaning “nine nights” in Sanskrit, is a festival that spans nine nights and celebrates the nine forms of the goddess Durga, representing the divine feminine, referred to as Shakti. The tenth day represents the triumph of good over evil. Throughout the festival, it is customary to install a shrine to present offerings to the goddess, such as flowers, fruits, spices and sweets. Each day has a unique attribute, such as a color and a set of auspicious offerings, and observants usually fast in the days leading up to the festival.
Dhir Jain, president of Club International, said the club chose to celebrate this festival because of the campus’ large Hindu population. It was not just students who attended the Navratri celebration, but professors Assistant Professor of Marketing Priyanka Singh and Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Relations Priyanka Patel, too. While Navratri is celebrated by Hindus across the world in different ways, Gujarat is the only state that is taken over by nine nights filled with dancing, according to Gujarat Tourism.
The night began with Aarti, a prayer. To prepare, attendees took off their shoes by the entrance to the Warren Ballrooms of the Angell College Center. They then took turns holding a tray with a lit incense and a diya — a small lamp that Jain said represents the light in one’s life — rotating it clockwise while facing the shrine Club International set up. The food offerings signify plentiful food in life and the smoke from the incense represents all which has “faded” and “positive vibes.” Non-Hindu guests also participated. Due to SUNY Plattsburgh’s fire safety rules, the diya was artificial, and the incense was instantly extinguished.
“It feels like a fire, but it’s not fire,” Jain said.
After Aarti, it was time to dance. Club International Vice President Sumeet Vishwakarma and Charmi Asodariya danced garba together. Garba originates in Gujarat, where Vishwakarma and Asodariya are from, and it is traditionally performed during Navratri.
“The thing is that we come from the same state that we celebrate this festival,” Asodariya said. “So it’s a heritage for us, and it’s a pleasure to perform a traditional dance.”
Asodariya choreographed the performance, and she and Vishwakarma had less than two days to perfect it.
“We know some of the moves, because we have performed this since our childhood, so it’s in our roots,” Asodariya said.
Vishwakarma said the modifications Asodariya made to the original steps in order to perform it in a circle were challenging. Asodariya said she was so worried that Vishwakarma would forget some steps that she did, instead.
“It’s amazing,” Vishwakarma said. “We showed something, we performed something.”
Asodariya said the dance does not require any professional training and allows anyone to join or leave the dance circle at any time — and many guests did.
Following Asodariya and Vishwakarma’s performance, the dance floor opened to all guests — most of whom were dressed in traditional South Asian clothing. As a cold rain washed over Plattsburgh, the ballrooms were as hot as ever. Jain said the club played a selection of song usually played at Navratri celebrations, Gujarati songs and Bollywood hits that most guests were familiar with. The event also offered South Asian snacks, like onion bhajiya, which Jain compared to onion rings, samosas, vegetable dumplings and kheer, a sweet rice pudding.
The timing of the festival worked out perfectly: By that time, everyone’s midterms were over and their homework was done. Jain said club members contributed whatever time they could to bring this celebration to life.
“We have a huge group of volunteers and people from India and South Asian people — all the Desi people — we all worked together and collaborated according to our time schedules,” Jain said. “So everyone got enough time and they could collaborate and give their time to make the event successful.”
Asodariya and Vishwakarma both fasted in the nine days leading up to the celebration. Asodariya had one meal a day, and Vishwakarma did one full day of water fasting and the rest limiting his food intake. Everyone’s fasts are different, Vishwakarma said — some go all nine days on just water — but a strict vegetarian diet is a must.
“If you control yourself for the nine days, the rest of the year will be the best for you,” Vishwakarma said.
Despite limiting the food they consumed, fasting did not interfere with their studies.
“It gives you positive vibes. It gives you energy because this is the day that we are celebrating women empowerment,” Asodariya said. “There is no negativity.”