Dandiya is, basically, a combination of human movements, attuned to melodious rhythmic beats and jingling sound of bells, clattering of sticks, alongwith colourful flow of light.
Dandiya Raas is the most popular form of dance, played in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Mumbai etc., during Navratri. It originates from devotional Garba dance, representing the mock-fight between Goddess Mahisasuramardhini and demon-King Mahishasura, Nicknamed as “The Sword Dance”, it is performed during Navratri, in Goddess’s honour. Men and women, with stick in their hands, whirl energetically, yet, gracefully, moving their arms and feet, in a cherographedly complicated manner, opposite sides hitting the sticks at the same time, to the tune of dholak, tabla and other musical rhythms. They dance in two circles, one clockwise and other anti-clockwise. The colourfully decoratead sticks, about 18″ inch long, represent the sword of Durga and hitting, creat a resounding sound. Nowadays, the dhol beats are replaced by songs.
The women dress in traditional attires, like colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas, with mirror works and heavy jewellery, with men wearing special turbans and kedias, which varies regionally.
The festivities, start with Garba, followed by an Aarti, worshipping Goddess Durga, after which the Dandiya Raas is played. It finds its origin from the Raas Leela played by Lord Krishna with his consorts, in Vrindavan. Also, related to harvesting, The Mers of Saurastra play dandiya, energtically and vigorously.
Staged Raas, performed during social functions, includes complex type of dance, with intricate steps and music. Initially, played to beat of dhols and songs praising Lord Krishna and Goddess Durga, nowadays, songs about love, praising gallant warriors, are sung, also, Muslim Raas songs.
Dandiya Raas, mistaken as a fast paced dance, has its graceful and slow movements. But, the pre-recorded “non stop” Raas music, came with the innovation of C-60 cassettes, popularising disco beat and western musical drum. With entry of Gujarati movies, in late 50’s and 60’s, people started playing dandiya to film songs.
Another unique form of Raas, strictly in Goddess Durga’s honour, is played in Mahuva town, with men tying one hand to a rope extended from above, with the other hand holding a stick. In a broader perspective, “Manjira” can also be used to do Raas.
Garba, a devotional service to Goddess, is played by women, with graceful movements of their hands and feet, whereas, Dandiyas, is played with a pair of colorfully decorated sticks, moving circularly, to dhol beats or songs.
In U.S., college students of Indian origin, make a fusion of non-stop Raas music with strong drum beats and stunts, combining with various themes, mixing traditional with modern. Dandiya, a live folk dance, dynamically, represents the life cycle and the heart beats, keeping pace with the change in times.