Bright lights, drapes of varied hues, the soft sounds of folk music in the background are a common occurrence in Gujarat - also, a plausible scenario during the time of festivals. But as it goes from dawn to dusk, Gujarat too, takes on a new façade - one that quickly moves from sly deception to outward extravagance - leaving you in a tizzy. What begins as a faint sound of a group of anklets lurking in the background at the beginning of the night turns into blaring vibrations of folk music perfectly mixed with the tunes of today. While all of India celebrates Navratris with much enthusiasm, nothing beats the fervour of Gujarat during the nine-day festival. Night after night, people from this state gather around in different cities to celebrate the feminine divinity referred to as ‘Shakti.’ Along they bring a palette of unimaginable colours and a heart so full of festive excitement; it can bring anything to life.
The spirit of the festival overpowers Gujarat in such a way that it makes it impossible for someone to not blend in with the quintessence of the state to worship and celebrate the power of one-true-Goddess in her nine avatars.
Where it all began
The celebrations of Navratri in Gujarat go beyond the excitement of Ras Garba. The festival comes from a place of great devotion for the Almighty, which is evident from the enthralling myths and legends associated with the festival.
Per mythology, the demon Mahishasur was offered a blessing by the immortal Lord Agni that no weapon will be able to kill the demon. Overwhelmed by his power and ignorant thereof, he started causing destruction and terrorized those he considered weak. The Gods, unable to deal with this situation sought out Lord Shiva for help, who in turn advised the invocation of Goddess Shakti. All the Lords got together to form Adhya Shakti who birthed from the divine lustre that sprang out of God Shiva’s heart. Equipped with ornaments, arms and a lion as her vehicle, she fought Mahishasur for nine days and nine nights, finally beheading him on the 10th day, observed as Vijayadashmi.
Also, signifying a time of soil fertility and monsoon harvest, a mound of fresh soil with grains sown is kept in every house that worships the Goddess and it is well-watered till the very last day of the festival.
A festival that initially began as a token to honour the greatness of the Adhya Shakti has today metamorphosed into an event of outrageous proportions with thousands of people coming together to sing, dance, and make merry. The Goddess is worshipped in different forms in the nine-day long festival, which is also one of the world’s longest and most celebrated dance festivals.
A roadmap to the best cities in Gujarat to celebrate the festival
Begin your journey at the cultural capital of Gujarat, Vadodara. The United Way of Garba, one of the most-well known Ras Garba events in the country, takes place here and witnesses as many as 30,000 people (at least) every night for nine nights. The cheeriness of the crowd at this event is contagious and so wide-spread, that even the most popular celebrities cannot keep away from it. Began for a good cause to raise charity, the event continues to donate the money to 140 charitable organizations around the state. From good food to dance competitions, the event is a one-stop destination for dance, dine and everything fine.
Ahmedabad is another destination that attracts a huge crowd during Navratris alongside a number of famous singers and popular faces from films and television, who dance to the tunes of folk music perfectly synced with modern-day tunes. An atmosphere of merriment quickly takes over the city during this time, especially at the Pols area. A must-attend event in Ahmedabad during this time is the Vibrant Gujarat Navaratri festival that is organized at the GMDC Ground every year.
Gujarat’s best-kept secret (for visitors to the state), Somnath’s Navratri event - the Navratri Mahotsav at Somnath Mahadev Temple in Somnath is a delightful sight and should be a part of your itinerary. As long queues finish up after prayers, the place takes a 360-degree turn with bright lights, stalls serving authentic Gujarati food, and people dressed in beautiful Ghagra Cholis and Dhotis swaying to the loud music.
Other popular destinations that should be a part of your sojourn are Rajkot and Surat. Rajkot’s Leo-Pioneer Group Navratri Event and the event at Race Course Club are much-loved by not just locals and tourists, even celebrities. A riot of colours, you will find different troupes here performing folk dances and participating in events to identify exceptional dancing and singing talent.
Tips for a successful Navratri
Dehydration is a common problem during this time due to Gujarat’s hot and humid weather. And the large crowd present in the state at this time does not make things any better. So it’s advised you carry a water bottle with you at all times to keep yourself well-hydrated.
Deem your trip incomplete if you don’t have the perfect pair of clothes for the occasion. Pick out the perfect attire from one of the shops in Gujarat that sells colourful Ghagra Cholis for women and Kurta Pyjamas and Dhotis, designed to the T.
The Navratri festival usually goes on till midnight or beyond, so catch up on your sleep the day before attending the event so as not to tire yourself out.
A must-try is the food available at these festivals. Delectable Gujarati dishes like Dhokla, Khandvi, Gathiya among others.
Pro Tip: Some of the shops remain closed during the nine-day festival, and some only operate on select days. So it’s best to shop one or two days before the festivities begin.
Gujarat welcomes you with open arms and takes you in its embrace, filling your heart with joy, and eyes with wonderment at the sights you witness during this time. Gujarat tourism takes pride in organizing these festivals across the state and October is one time when one truly feels like listening when Mr. Amitabh Bachchan tells them “Kuch Din to Guzaro Gujarat Mein”.