On Friday, September 8, the sound of drums boomed and students in the finest Indian clothing mingled under the lights of the Athletic Centre gym. The smell of samosas wafted in the air; for a moment, it felt like home.
This was the U of T Gujarati Student Association (GSA)’s Rangeelo Raas event, which the association hosts annually. Raas is a Gujarati folk dance to honour the Hindu goddess Durga and is typically performed during the Hindu festival of Navratri. The well-attended event was full of students celebrating the festival with their peers.
Navaratri — which translates to ‘nine nights’ — is a festival that celebrates the goddess Durga — the feminine divine form — along with her nine manifestations. Raas is danced in circles to represent time, which Hindus believe to be a cycle from birth to death to rebirth. In the middle of the dance circle lies a clay lantern, which symbolizes Durga as a constant symbol in the cyclical process of life. Raas is also danced barefoot to reinforce the Hindu belief of respect for the earth and its natural gifts bestowed upon us.
In an interview with The Varsity, Co-President Stuti Kantawala spoke about how events like these are a good space for people to make friends and an opportunity for first-years and commuters to find community through culture.
The GSA’s event also included an Arti. An Arti is an essential religious ceremony to honour the presence of a deity. During this ceremony, a candle is lit with a wick soaked in ghee — clarified butter — alongside a plate of offerings. Attendees take turns circling the plate and candle as well as reciting prayers before pictures or statues of deities.
As more Hindu people from South Asia have immigrated to North America, Raas events have become more widespread. More than 20 universities in the US have large-scale Raas competitions, including expensive costumes and professional choreography. In cities with high Gujarati populations, artists from India come to the US to perform live music during the Navratri season. Fun fact: Toronto hosts North America’s largest Raas festival!
Traditions like Raas can be lost if there aren’t teams putting in the work to organize events around them. Thanks to the efforts of Co-Presidents Parth Patel and Stuti Kantawala, Vice President Nandini Shah, and the entire GSA, U of T Hindu students could celebrate their traditions and find comfort in the community, all while being far away from home.