While the popular Navratri venues in the city have full-blown orchestras and celebrity singers, there is a small pandal in Kathiawadi Chowk, Malad, which has made simplicity its identity. Here the Garba music is played using just four manjeeras (traditional percussion instruments) and one tabla.
For the past 54 years, a group of 40 young boys and men have gathered at the pandal to celebrate Navratri in a traditional Gujarati way. The men and the women dance separately. “It is a Kathiawari tradition that boys and girls dance separately, and we follow that,” said Vipul Khareliya, a member of the group.
Armed with metal dandiyas and clad in the traditional white khediya and dhoti, boys and men from a diverse age group of 8 to 40 years move their feet and hands to the beats of folk songs in perfect synchrony. “Every dancer in the group has learnt the steps from the previous generation,” said Mahesh Patel, a senior dance member of the group. “I learnt the steps from my father when I was a child. Now, my eight-year-old son is learning the same steps from me,” said Mahesh Patel. “I have never danced anywhere else other than this chowk.”
Raj Hansora, 17, who has been dancing with the group for the past eight years, also learnt the dance steps from his father. “It is an honour for me to perform the steps that my grandfather used to perform,” said Hansora.
“The Kathiawari Garba dance is a very masculine dance form. The steps involve different types of jumps and various sitting positions called ‘baithaks’, therefore the dance requires a lot of energy,” said Dushyant Soni, a city-based Garba dance choreographer who has watched the group perform several times.
Some residents of Malad make it a point to go watch this traditional dance at least once, every Navaratri. “I have been coming to watch the Garba at the Kathiawadi chowk since my childhood. It gives me a flavor of Gujarat here in Mumbai,” said Hitesh Goel, a resident of Malad.