March 14, 2005

Cornell Raas Team Dances To Celebrate Spring Navratri

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The sound of beating of dandiyas, and lively folk music resonated under a canopy of vibrant colors Friday evening in the Straight Memorial Room, where the Cornell Raas Team held its annual celebration of Spring Navratri. The evening began with an Indian prayer ceremony or puja, led by the Hindu Student Council, continued with open Garba and Raas dancing and ended with three high-powered performances by Cornell Bhangra, Sitara and Cornell Raas.

“The celebration of Navratri is usually held in the fall,” explained Ruchi Mathur ’07 a member of the Raas team, “but we hold the event in the fall and the spring.”

Garba and Raas dancing are traditionally performed on Navratri, a nine-night celebration of the Hindu goddess Durga, in the state of Gujrat. Aruna Bharathi ’08, one of the organizers of the event and a member of the Raas team, enthusiastically pointed out that the celebration of Navratri is not only about traditions but also “a great opportunity to teach people a little bit about your culture.”

A concern of the team was the number of people they would draw to the event. Although a large crowd was slow to materialize in the early evening, by nighttime the Memorial Room was host to a true festival.

Aemish Shah ’07 commented on the crowd diversity.

“People here are definitely exposed to Indian culture, but it’s the Bhangra team that is better known,” Shah said.

The good turnout at the event boosted the team’s morale.

Undergraduate and graduate students along with the Ithaca community gathered together for the celebration. Many had never tried Raas dancing and had been anticipating this opportunity to learn and try something new.

“I saw the Diwali show in November and was interested in learning how to Raas,” stated Eric Riedel ’07, who had attended previous Indian cultural events where the Raas team had performed.

Dandiyas, the sticks used in Raas dancing, were distributed to participants, as traditional music and high-energy dance consumed the room. Some, like Yoon Park ’07 were impressed with the intensity and vigor of the dance, comparing 20 minutes of dancing to “a good cardio workout.”

However, the most anticipated parts of the evening were the performances by Bhangra, Sitara and Raas. Although not all of the members of the men’s team were able to attend, both the women’s and men’s Bhangra team still managed to generate enthusiastic energy. Sitara dance troupe, consisting of all girls, fed off of the crowd by showcasing their choreography and dance skill.

The Cornell Raas team was started in the fall semester of 2003, after a performance at a dance competition in Boston.

“Garba Raas used to be a Sitara dance but has since broken off to form its own team,” explained Akshay Patel ’03, one of the original team members. “Raas was, in a way, modeled off of Bhangra.”

Since its formation in 2003, the Raas team has competed in two major competitions, including Raas Chaos at George Washington University, with seven other universities, and Dhamaka 2005, at Seton Hall University, an intercollegiate dance competition. Although the team has yet to place, it continues to take on new members each year and plans to enter in competitions in the Northeast as well as Michigan and California.

Archived article by Sanika Kulkarni
Sun Contributor