SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – More than 3,000 people attended the middle weekend of the Navratri Garba celebration at Crossroads South Middle School in Monmouth Junction.
The township-based Indo-American Cultural Foundation of New Jersey (IACFNJ) sponsors the Hindu holiday festival, which includes several nights of cultural dancing.
“The IACFNJ has been in the community for the last 15 years,” IACFNJ Vice President Dr. Tushar Patel said Friday night. “We have been holding this Garba in South Brunswick for the last 10 years.”
The organization, which started in 1997 to help bring India’s culture to the community, said the Navratri celebration marks the festival of nine nights during which Hindus worship Goddess of Shakti Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.
Hindus believe the Goddess Durga destroys all the evil propensities lurking the minds of her devotees, Goddess Lakshmi implants divine qualities in the devotee’s minds and Goddess Saraswati bestows true knowledge to her devotees.
The 10th day, also known as Vijay Dashami, commemorates the victory of good over evil.
Navratri, as the name suggests, means nine nights, and is one of the important Hindu festivals, according to the organization.
It is dedicated to the worship of Goddess Durga, the deity of Power.
Each of the days of the nine-day festival are dedicated to the worship of different forms of Goddess Durga, which unfolds the religious importance of the occasion, according to the group.
The festival itself includes hours of Indian cultural music and dancing.
The first four nights were celebrated at the Crossroads South Middle School on Major Road, with the final night, Oct. 31, scheduled for the high school on Ridge Road.
Patel said the crowds attending the event so far this year were “record breaking.”
IACFNJ Executive Committee member Mac Shah said that 1,500-2,000 people were expected to attend each night of the festival.
“The crowd is fantastic,” Shah said. “People are enjoying (the festival).”
Shah said having a number of non-Indian, or Desi, people attending follows the mission of the IACFNJ, which includes bringing the culture to not only those who are connected to Southern Asia, but to the community as a whole.
“We try to merge (our cultural heritage) not just with our community, but other communities as well,” Shah said. “So everyone can understand where the concerns are coming from.”
The evening provides a fun night out, and non-Indian people are encouraged to come to the next night at the high school, even if they are worried about learning the dances.
“We would be happy to show them,” Shah said.
One of the fascinating aspects of watching the celebration is seeing the floor full of dancers swinging and twirling in two different directions without bumping into each other.
Shah said that the cultural dances start to be learned at a young age, even at two or three-years old.
Others start later and can still pick them up rather quickly.
Genie Kothamraju, 18, of Monmouth Junction said she started learning the dances at around 14, and attends the event each year with her family.
“I want to keep participating,” Kothamraju said. “It’s a lot of fun. I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to do it.”
Kothamraju brought a fellow Rutgers student and friend, Morgan Ulery, also 18, from Asbury Park.
“You feel like you’re part of something bigger,” Ulery said of her first Navratri experience. “I really like it.”
The last night of the festival will be celebrated from 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. at the high school next Saturday night, Shah said.