On Monday, Oct. 17, the Naimoli Family Athletic and Recreational Facility received hundreds of students decked out in their best Indian clothes for Rass Leela Garba Night, hosted by the NJIT Association of Indian Students and NJIT Hindu Youth for Virtues, Unity, and Action, better known as Hindu YUVA. Other collaborators were NJIT Sanskar, the Rutgers Indian Students Association, and the Tau chapter of the Delta Epsilon Psi fraternity at Rutgers-Newark, in association with Mazhavan Entertainment.
This large event was challenging to coordinate; Parthiv Patel, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major and president of Hindu YUVA, stated, “It took almost four weeks to get permission to use Naimoli Family Athletic Center. And during those four weeks I had simultaneous meetings to discuss the food vendors, food menu, DJ options and finalize on that according to the budget.”
The event began at 6 p.m., but in accordance with Indian Standard Time, or the South Asian tendency to show up late, the crowd began to arrive in droves at 7:30 p.m. and reached a crescendo around 8 p.m. Patel commented, “This year we saw a bigger turnout. Last year we had over 650 people, while this year it was more than 850 people.”
According to the time they arrived, attendees were issued different-colored wristbands, which corresponded to the time they would receive a plate of food. The people who arrived earliest also received servings of baby corn manchurian, chili paneer, and mixed noodles.
Garba is a type of dance that originates in the Indian state of Gujarat and is traditionally performed during the nine-day festival of Navratri. Dancers step, twirl, and leap in concentric circles around a lamp or a picture of the Hindu goddess Durga.
The night began with modern and traditional garba songs with a predictable beat, which made it easier for dancers to time their movements to the rhythm of the song. The more experienced dancers spun in rapid back-and-forth movements in the center of the circle, while amateurs performed slower motions on the outside.
A special part of garba dances is the clothing; girls and women traditionally wear a two-piece chaniya choli, which consists of a top blouse and a full bottom skirt. A sash is tied around the blouse and the back of the skirt. In every movement a dancer makes, the skirt flares out and spins with her. Boys and men primarily wear a kurta, or tunic, with pants.
For the first hour of dancing, the lights were on; as a result, there were more students looking on than actually participating. However, the lights were soon turned off and many more students felt comfortable enough to participate without fear of judgment. To be sure, there were many uncoordinated motions, much stepping on toes, and a non-zero chance of someone barrelling into you every five seconds, but this is also true when walking through the Campus Center during rush hour.
Attendees also had the opportunity to take photos, videos, and GIFs with friends at the free photo booth set up by Mazhavan Entertainment. A backdrop tapestry, adorned umbrellas, and a decorated partition were also popular pieces to pose with.
The first round of dancing was followed by a prayer to the goddess Durga. Navratri is a festival celebrating the victory of good over evil, whether spirits, demons, or burnout. Therefore, garba events usually honor one of the forms of the goddess Durga.
Towards the end of the night, the lights were turned off again and the Naimoli Center became a dance floor complete with Bollywood dance hits including “Lungi Dance,” “Dilliwali Girlfriend,” and “Jalebi Baby.” For over 90 minutes, the crowd danced, jumped, and sang along to the most famous songs of the last few years.
At last, at 10:20 p.m., the event ended and attendees began to filter out. The turnout was significant, with hundreds of people attending despite the event being held on a Monday night. Patel agreed on the event’s success, noting, “This year, we were able to manage everything better than last year. There was good cooperation between the clubs and the event itself saw a huge glow up with a bigger crowd who enjoyed it more than ever.”