The older women came first. Four women appeared, their hair ranging from shades of gray to pure white. One had a back bent with age. Yet they moved to the music with sureness and grace, going through the dance movements and steps they had been doing since they were young girls.
We were in the Kutch egion of the state of Gujarat, the heart of Navratri, a nine night Hindu celebration of the goddess. I was here with Pushpika, Bhakti (the SHARE social worker), and the heads of the producer cooperatives with which MarketPlace works, who were in Kutch to participate in a workshop on leadership and business strategy. The workshop program was designed to help the groups expand their businesses and position themselves to compete now and in the future. In addition to producing MarketPlace clothing and accessories, all the cooperatives also have local customers, and it is important that they are well prepared.
After working very hard during the all-day-long sessions, our group enjoyed the various local Navratri celebrations in the evenings. On this occasion we were in the home village of Kishore, manager of the fabric producer group VGS Batik located near the center where the workshop was held. Seated around a dirt plaza enclosed with arches and walls, it was a very intimate setting. In the center a fabric canopy sheltered the musicians and the garba, the earthenware pot holding fire which represented the goddess. After the elderly women had danced halfway around the clearing, a line of young men began to follow, their movements all coordinating perfectly. Some small children ran in. Gradually more and more people got up and went into the dance space, and soon the people resolved into two concentric circles, the men in the inner line and the women forming the outer. Around and around they went circling the musicians and the goddess, two sinuous, totally synchronized lines. The steps were relatively simple, two steps up and two back, but combined with turns and swaying and a clap, the result was mesmerizing. The music was also haunting, one tune played over and over, with occasional changes in tempo. It seemed like it might go on forever. But we had an early start for the next day and had to – reluctantly – leave.
– By Sharon Wallace