Gujaratis love their garba. Garba is a tradition that goes beyond caste, creed, and even religion. The heady beats of dhol and nagada with energetic songs can get even the laziest of people up and dancing. Garba also form an integral part of wedding ceremonies. But beyond the traditions, such is the love for Garba that we Gujaratis can do it on any and every occasion, every stage, any time. There have been viral videos about it too. I have seen this happen so many times that a musical evening is organized, complete with an awesome DJ, but eventually, on public demand it veers towards Garba. But India is a secular country, and Garba is a truly secular tradition too. And I can say this confidently, because I am going to tell you about something unique and awesome – CHRISTIAN GARBA!!!
If Navratri is celebrated with Garba, can Christmas be far behind?
What is Christian Garba?
Christian Garbas are songs that are set to traditional Garba tunes but instead of the traditional themes – praising the Goddess, expressing a woman’s feelings, etc. the Christian Garbas have lyrics that praise Jesus Christ. The Christian Garbas are an integral part of Christmas in many parts of Gujarat, especially cities and towns with substantial Christian population. During Christmas time, you’ll find these Christian Garba playing in church compounds, community halls, or even large grounds where Christmas is being celebrated, especially in cities like Ahmedabad and Surat. Men and women dance to the Christian Garbas, just as they would during Navratri, and celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus. There’s garba for teen taali, ek taali, etc.
If you go to the Old Red Church in Maninagar, Ahmedabad during Christmas time, towards the Christian Society, you would hear these garbas being played and people dancing on them with enthusiasm and devotion. When you see this sight, you will realize how secular Garba truly is. It is indeed a tradition that brings people closer be it in the praise of Goddess Durga or Lord Jesus.
Similarly, Ranipur in Ahmedabad is a Christian settlement. When you go from Narol to Sarkhej, Ranipur is a small settlement you will find along the way. The community used to earlier reside on the banks of Sabarmati river, but after establishment of the Gyaspur sewage farm, the community shifted here to its new location. The settlement is called Ranipur since 1876, when Queen Victoria was declared the Empress of India. The place is called ‘Ranipur’ or ‘Queenstown’ in commemoration of this event. During Christmas time, you will find the Christian Garba a popular attraction at the church here.
What’s more, just like other communities, the Gujarati Christians have taken their traditions to international shores with them. You’ll find Christian Garbas being played and danced to in many countries of the world now in pockets of Gujarati Christian communities.
Who pioneered the Christian Garba?
C Vanveer – A Gujarati Christian composer and songwriter living in Mumbai is known as one of the earliest pioneers in writing Christian Garbas. He used to see Christian youth dance to traditional Gujarati Garbas but couldn’t participate in the idol worship. Vanveer got inspired to have something similar for Christian festivities too. He wrote some lyrics inspired by Bible stories and set them to Garba tunes. His first album released years ago in 1993, and since then he has released many more Christian Garbas.
Take for instance this popular Christian Garba by C Vanveer called ‘Bible Kera Vachano’ –
“Deevda samjhe jagmage ne jeevan path ajvade
Bible kera vachano
E che jeevant vachano
Mat samaj e lage karya ne mukti no marg batayo
Bible kera vachano
E che jeevant vachano“
Or take another one again written by C Vanveer –
Aj Prabhu hum tera dhanyawaad karte hain
Ab tak jo asheeshein di
Un sab ko yaad karte hain
Paap me humne janam liya aur paap karte aaye
Tere vachan jo humko mile
Kabhi kisiko nahi sunayein
Fir bhi tu to prem ki dhara
Another famous artist who writes, composes, and even performs the Christian Garba is Vinod Christian. He began performing over three decades ago and has written over 60 Christian Garba till date. He has his won band and performs during Christmas and even at weddings. His Christian Garba events are very popular and thousands of people participate in them every year.
Garba itself is a secular tradition, and all people, irrespective of where they are from or what community they belong to participate in the festivities across India. Despite some unscrupulous activity time and again that tries to prevent non-Hindus from entering the Garba pandals citing it as a measure to prevent ‘Love Jihad’, little understanding the ideals of love and brotherhood or even really understanding what the term means, Garba is, will, and should remain a social and secular tradition. But Christian Garba add a different dimension to it, giving Christians to celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus in their own way while also embracing the culture and traditions of their motherland.
When I first encountered this tradition in Baroda at the Barakha Center, I was clearly bowled over. I had grown up having a lot of Christian friends, my father had a lot of Christian friends too. We would visit them during Christmas, we would get delicious cakes from these folks and it would be a fun time. Christmas is one of my favorite festivals. And yet, I never encountered the Christian Garba. I ate tons of plum cake, but Christian Garba was something I had never seen or heard before. In that moment, when I first heard the songs and so all the colorful Christmas celebrations I felt overwhelmed realizing how beautiful a country India is, with such unique traditions. It was a true demonstration of unity in diversity for me. I had always associated Christmas with Christmas carols like Jingle bells, Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer, etc. but Garba was the thread that was actually tying all of us Gujaratis together irrespective of our religions! India never ceases to amaze me!
Know of any such beautiful traditions? Drop me a line in the comments or find me on Instagram @banjaranfoodie.