Navratri amid pandemic: Celebrations muted but spirit remains high; garbas go private

Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad, which are the popular destinations for the large commercial garbas, will see shrinking of the garbas and shifting of venues into private community spaces owing to the government restrictions in place.

THE COVID-19 vaccination certificate is the new garba pass for this year’s Navratri festival to be celebrated in smaller residential neighbourhoods, in a muted, controlled way, after a year’s break last year due to the pandemic.

Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad, which are the popular destinations for the large commercial garbas, will see shrinking of the garbas and shifting of venues into private community spaces owing to the government restrictions in place. With the government allowing only residential colonies and private groups to organise garbas this year, Sheri (street) garbas in local neighbourhoods are preparing to welcome more revellers and audiences with eagerness and caution in equal measure.

Marketed as the “longest dance festival in the world” by the Gujarat tourism department, concentric circles where up to 10,000 boys and girls would dance at one go, especially in Vadodara, are not likely to be seen as the government has capped the capacity at 400.

Mayur Ravde of the Koyali Faliya Sheri garba, which will organise its event for the 56th year — barring the compulsory break last year — has decided to issue passes to players and made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory. The organisers will give preference to local residents of the area but are anxious about the crowd management.

Ravde told The Indian Express, “We began registration some time back for nine nights and have issued passes to those who have registered… Since the garba is on the streets, we will also have to take into account that we may not be able to restrict the audience but we have members of our committee, who are working closely with the local police to ensure that we can pull it off without any hurdles.”

Ravde added that those players, who have taken their Covid-19 vaccinations will be allowed to dance. “We are also making sure that there is enough space in the circles to allow movement of players. We will be telling them to maintain distance and play. There is a lot of enthusiasm among the people too as Navratri is the most favourite festival of the city and we have missed the garba last year,” Ravde said.

The residential colonies have also decided to scale up their private events. Ashish Dadhich, president of a residential society of 350 tenements at New VIP Road in Vadodara, says that the managing committee has decided to hold multiple smaller Sheri-like garbas within the colony.

Dadich said, “We have 350 houses. Usually, audience alone at our Navratri event goes up to 700 people. As of now, we have readied three spots to cater to about 100 homes… We have also strictly instructed our resident members to not invite guests.”

Jayant Shah, a managing committee member of another residential society in Karelibaug area of says, “Those who have flats facing the common plot have been asked to watch the garbas from their windows and balconies so that we can restrict the crowd to the players only… We have also decided to have a separate garba for children under 15 years of age in our smaller garden area.”

In Surat, however, the revelry is likely to be muted as the Surat Municipal Corporation has not allowed garbas where even one Covid 19 case has been detected and has made vaccination certificates compulsory at garba venues. The city saw 26 apartments, where at least one Covid-19 case was reported, being declared cluster zones, and barred them from hosting any community celebrations.

Virendra Jariwala, president of Hi-Tech residency at Vesu said, “We have made a group of 15 youths of our society and they will go to each and every house in the society, and get the names of the people interested in garba events. Our volunteers will note down their names and after checking their vaccination certificate, they will be given a special card, through which they will be allowed to play garba in our society…”

Usually garbas are crowded events with professional orchestras or DJs, and the dancing goes on till midnight.

Commissioner of Police, Vadodara city, Shamsher Singh said that the police had issued basic Standard Operating Procedures in line with the decision of the state government. “The organisers will have to seek police permission for using loudspeakers and follow the basic guidelines of not having more than 400 persons at the venue as well as mandatory vaccinations. The organisers can approach the local police stations for permissions, which are being generously granted.”

A senior police officer of Ahmedabad city said that residential societies’ managements must inform their local police station regarding garba events on scheduled date so that local police can ensure only society people are involved in garba activities.

For the Durga puja, which is a huge attraction in Ahmedabad, organiser Bengal Cultural Association (BCA) general secretary Anal Mukherjee said, that a pass-based entry has been decided this year and passes shall be issued among its 700-800 association members only if they have taken the vaccine dose.

“Cultural programmes (during the evening) will be accessible to the public only virtually. (Physical) Darshan (of idols) in the evening and puja in the morning is allowed as well keeping in mind all government guidelines for gathering. Security personnel shall be ensuring that at no point of time more than 400 people are present at the pandal,” said Mukherjee.

(With inputs from Vaibhav Jha)

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