Gujju's festival guide to Navaratri 2011 in Mumbai

Gujju's festival guide to Navaratri 2011 in Mumbai

Where to see the biggest dandiya danceathons, including garba dance lessons and what to wear
Navaratri 2011
To the uninitiated, the nine-day Navaratri festival could well pass off as speed-dating dancing for Mumbai's Gujarati community.

Right after the marathon Ganesh festival, Mumbai bounces into another nine days of religious revelry called Navaratri, starting on September 28.

Led by the thriving Gujarati or "Gujju" community with the rest in tow, Mumbai stocks up on cash to spend and calories to burn at this danceathon that has defined the rules of community celebration in India.

To the uninitiated, Navaratri could well pass off as speed dating meets dancing.

Never mind unverified reports of condom sales hitting peak during this time  -- the clacking of dandiya dance sticks might as well be a mating call.

On Navaratri everyone has their own agenda.

Talented dancers make a killing on the prize money; Bollywood stars use it as a part of their marketing machinery; music bands struggle to sync electronica with traditional tracks; surrogate sponsors thrive for visibility; city cops work overtime; and, for the nobler Mumbaikars, it's another annual festival celebrating the age-old triumph of good over evil.

For most fellow Gujaratis, Navaratri continues to be a matrimonial playground to see and be seen.

The backless choli blouses are an added incentive at this party of bride hunters and groom watchers.

Do you dandiya?

Navaratri 2011This Navaratri garba dance is not as easy as it looks. During the nine nights of the festival of Navaratri, Mother Goddess is worshiped in song and dance predominantly in western India.

The garba dance, a swirling in concentric circles with clapping hands, and the dandiya, the same as garba but with bamboo sticks beating the rhythm, goes on in apartment complexes, school compounds and large public open areas, under the aegis of local organizing committees.

But be warned: garba is not as easy as it looks.

For a quick crash course, leading garba choreographer Shaivangi Chitalia promises to deliver your garba moves in one weekend.

Shaivangi Chitalia: shaivangi.p@gmail.com

Star shine at Sankalp

Local stars from the Mumbai music world and filmdom maximize this moolah-making and buzz-generating opportunity.

Movie promotions tie-up with celebrity appearances. Like  former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen who did a quick air-kiss and briefly waved her hand last year to promote her new pageant.

Television soap opera prima donnas fill in as chief guests to present top dancing awards and -- dressed to hilt -- spawn the latest trends in mass clothing, much to the delight of the retail industry.

While PR agents go on the rampage for footage, live musicians charge astronomically for Navaratri.

Costs sometimes reach as high as $1,000 or more per hour, for top dandiya singers like Falguni Pathak’s performance at her suburban gig, Sankalp –- though the organizer, Devendra Joshi, refused to confirm the exact amount.

Though he did let out that Sankalp expects over 50,000 dandiya revelers this season.

Where to get traditional gear

Navaratri 2011Live bands demand higher fees during Navaratri, with celebrities using the festival for public appearances.But the real razzle-dazzle comes from the locals who turn up in hordes, after spending hours dressing up traditionally in backless blouses, swirling skirts (known as ghagraas), embellished with beads, embroidery and mirror-work.

The men mostly stick to the good-old kurta, unless they decided to go the whole hog –- with the short round kurta and head gear called a pagdee.

Best places to shop to look like a dandiya star are at perennial favorites such as the Banjaran boutique, that has seen movie stars making a beeline for its traditional dress for two decades and more.

For an even more traditional touch, try Shrujan Shop, the best in the business, who back embroidery crafts and its creators in the Kutch province of Gujarat.

Banjaran, Shop 2, Trident, Nariman Point, Churchgate; +91 (0)22 2283 4521

Shrujan Shop, Sanket, 39 Hatkesh Society, N S Road No 6, Juhu, Vile Parle West; +91 (0)22 2618 3104

How to pick a dandiya ground

Most Navaratri dandiya nights are spread over large open grounds and are packed on weekends, even with a big entry ticket price.

Rules are just the same as any other nightclub, except that there is no discrimination towards stags or a strict dress code.

The venues command a premium if they deliver, in order of priority: a live band with a good track record, a later time limit for loud music to go on past 10 p.m., the “good looks” factor of the crowd, the prize money involved, the possibility of star-spotting and, lastly, the safety factor.

The "season ticket" concept for hassle-free parking and family-friendly deals is gaining popularity.

Mumbai's suburbs win hands-down for most exciting Navaratri danceathon venues, while our downtown cousins manage to have fewer and tamer shindigs.

Top 3 dandiya nights in Mumbai:

Sankalp Dandiya: The reigning queen of dandiya, singer Falguni Pathak is back this year with her troupe. Entry is Rs 2,500 for a season pass.

Tickets available at Goregaon Sports Club, New Link Road, Malad (W); +91 (0)22 288 09922

First Road Navratri Mahotsav 2010: The coolest crop from the colleges around, this event fulfills the “good-looking crowd” quotient best. Entry is Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,300 per night.

Tickets available at Jasodha Rang Mandir, behind Bhaidas Hall, Vile Parle (W); +91 (0)22 2329 20378/0757

Cricket Club of India (CCI) Dandiya Nite: A classy downtown gig with good food to match, but make sure you tag along with a CCI member for access to the best town-side Navaratri celebration.

CCI, Dinsha Wacha Road, near Churchgate; +91 (0)93 2204 2656

Writer Ashutosh Parekh, married to architecture, decided to stray 12 years ago into media. Currently collaborates on creatives and programming for leading television channels as a part of global broadcast giant Turner International in South Asia.

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