Celebrating The Nine Nights of Navratri in the Heart of Indian Square, Jersey City
Navratri, derived from Sanskrit where ‘nav’ means nine and ‘ratri’ means nights, is one of the most important Hindu festivals celebrated widely across India. This year, Navratri falls between October 7th until October 15th and lucky for us here in Jersey City, we have one of the largest Navratri celebrations in the area. For two weekends, Newark Avenue’s India Square is closed until 3 AM, allowing folks to celebrate just the way it is in India. The religious festival takes over the road with people dressed up in the most beautiful colorful traditional attire and the sound of folk sounds playing throughout the night. It is a time of excitement where friends and family come together to worship, dance, and celebrate a sacred time together. I enjoyed attending Navratri and am happy to share this religious ritual’s beautiful history and significance with you today.
Welcoming Navratri Celebration to Jersey City
We spoke with Raju Patel, President of the Jersey City Asian Merchant Association, to share how Navratri started in Jersey City. In 2003, various groups gathered and decided they wanted to have an event that would boost the Indian community in the area. They decided Navratri as an event that would not involve fireworks or alcohol and provide a religious and cultural value to the community. For 18 years, the event has attracted about 6,000 people who participate in the dance and some who enjoy watching. Raju is excited that they can celebrate the 19th grand Navratri festival with the people of Jersey City this year. The energy and the enthusiasm of the dancers is Raju’s favorite part of Navratri. He also shared how “the Hindu faith is recognizing the importance of females in society. In Navratri, we celebrate the female deity (also known as goddess) by fasting and remembering the contribution of deity to make society better.” We see this celebration of women during Navratri.
So What is Navratri?
Navratri is the symbolic festival of nine nights of the battle of the good against the evil. On the 10th day, a celebration known as Dussehra takes place, which signifies the Goddess Durga’s (also known as Shakti or Devi) victory over the evil demon Mahishasura. During Navratri, Mother Durga is worshipped as the Goddess of power, energy, and wisdom. Each of the nine days is dedicated to goddess Durga’s avatars (namely Shailputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri.)Along with dancing, devotees fast during the nine days sticking to a diet that includes nuts, fruits, dairy products, and a few selected flours. In addition, a religious ritual called puja occurs at the end of the festival where girls are served food as it is believed the Goddess Durga resides in them.
The nine nights of Navratri are celebrated in many ways depending on customs and beliefs throughout India. However, with a significant Gujarati population here in Jersey City, it is marked by its famous Garba and Dandiya dances, which we can experience right on Newark Avenue!
Dance Dance Dance! Garba Style!
Garba and Dandiya Raas are the main dances one will see performed throughout the night. Garba is the traditional folk dance originating from the state of Gujurat in India. Dancers make circular movements with their hands and feet as they circle the statue of Goddess Durga. The process represents the circle of life, which moves from life to death to rebirth, leaving only the Goddess unmoved and invincible. The dance form you will see during the beginning as folks circle the statue of Goddess Durga is known as ‘taali Garba’ (2-clap Garba) and ‘tran taali’ Garba (3-clap Garba.) You will see a lot of claps and twirls performed in Durga’s honor.
Later in the night, you will see folks taking out dandiyas, which are vibrantly colored bamboo sticks used to strike together while dancing to the beats of folk music. The beat will also have picked up at this point, and the dance movements will be a lot faster! Even if you aren’t interested in dancing, you can stop by to watch and listen to the live performance of devotional songs of Garba by the Music Lovers Group from India. In addition, you’ll enjoy listening to the sounds of traditional Indian percussion instruments such as the dholak, tabla, and dhol.
Outfit of the Night!
You will undoubtedly have a unique experience while attending Navratri; along with the incredible energy from the music and dances, you will see many men and women dressed in traditional attire. For example, women often wear a chaniya choli or lehenga. The chaniya choli is a bright three-piece dress composed of a blouse, skirt, and a dupatta (like a shawl.) To complement their vibrant dresses, you’ll see women wearing stunning jewelry consisting of earrings, bangles, and necklaces. Men also dress up and wear colorful tops and bottoms, which are known as kurtas. Many of the stores on Newark Avenue sell these traditional outfits, so if you’re interested, you can check out Kanha Collections to help you dress for the night!
Don’t miss out on celebrating Navratri! Head out to Newark Ave this weekend!
You still have one more weekend to enjoy Navratri. For anyone interested, stop by India Square this Friday, October 15th and Saturday, October 16th. Safety precautions for COVID-19 are in place. All visitors will be required to take a rapid test provided on-site and complete a form before entering the premises. For more information, please visit their website, and if you can’t join in person, there is an opportunity to watch Navratri live! While you’re on Newark Avenue, the smells of Indian cuisine may have you craving Indian food, so check out our listing of restaurants.