Raas or Dandiya Raas is the traditional folk dance form of Vrindavan, India, where it is performed depicting scenes of Holi, and lila of Krishna and Radha. Along with Garba, it is the featured dance of Navratri evenings in Western India.
The word "Raas" comes from Sanskrit word "Ras". The origins of Raas can be traced to ancient times. Lord Krishna performed Rasa lila" (Lila means Lord Krishna's playful dance. The word "Lila" also refers to things that God does that we do not fully understand).
Forms of Raas
There are several forms of Raas, but "Dandiya Raas", performed during Navaratri in Gujarat is the most popular form. Other forms of Raas include Dang Lila from Rajasthan where only one large stick is used, and "Rasa lila" from North India. Raas Lila and Dandiya Raas are similar. Some even consider "Garba" as a form of Raas, namely "Raas Garba".
In Dandiya Raas men and women dance in two circles, with sticks in their hands. In the old times Raas did not involve much singing, just the beat of Dhol was enough. "Dandiya" or sticks, are about 18" long. Each dancer holds two, although some times when they are short on Dandiya they will use just one in right hand. Generally, in a four beat rhythm, opposite sides hit the sticks at the same time, creating a nice sound. One circle goes clockwise and another counter clockwise. In the west, people don't form full circles, but instead often form rows.
Origin of Dandiya Raas
Originating as devotional Garba dances, which were always performed in Durga's honour, this dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between the Goddess and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king, and is nicknamed "The Sword Dance". During the dance, dancers energetically whirl and move their feet and arms in a complicated, choreographed manner to the tune of the music with various rhythms. The dhol is used as well as complementary percussion instruments such as the dholak, tabla and others.
The sticks (dandiyas) of the dance represent the sword of Durga. The women wear traditional dresses such as colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas (traditional attire) dazzling with mirror work and heavy jewelery. The men wear special turbans and kedias, but this varies regionally.
Garba is performed before Aarti (worshipping ritual) as devotional performances in the honor of the Goddess, while Dandiya is performed after it, as a part of merriment. Men and women join in for Raas Dandiya, and also for the Garba. The circular movements of Dandiya Raas are much more complex than those of Garba. The origin of these dance performances or Raas is Krishna. Today, Raas is not only an important part of Navratri in Gujarat, but extends itself to other festivals related to harvest and crops as well. The Mers of Saurastra are noted to perform Raas with extreme energy and vigor.
The Dandiya Raas dance originated as devotional Garba dances, which were performed in Goddess Durga's honor. This dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king. This dance is also nicknamed 'The Sword Dance'. The sticks of the dance represent the sword of Goddess Durga.
The origin of these dances can be traced back to the life of Lord Krishna. Today, Raas is not only an important part of Navaratri in Gujarat but extends itself to other festivals related to harvest and crops as well.
Raas is also performed at social functions and on stage. Staged Raas can be very complex with intricate steps and music. Raas is a folk art and it will change with the times. When African slaves and ship workers (who were Muslims) arrived on the coast of Saurashtra, they adopted Raas as their own and used African drums. While it originated from Hindu tradition, it was adopted by the Muslim community as Saurashtra. Singing entered the Raas scene later on. Initially, most songs were about Lord Krishna, but songs about love, praise of warriors who fought gallant wars, and the Goddess Durga, and even Muslim Raas songs were born. It is common to think that Raas has to be fast, but that is not the case. Grace and slow movements are just as important.
Soon it overtook the individual Raas items which are rarely recorded nowadays. The disco beat and use of western drum became popular, but you can still visit fine arts college in Vadodara during Navaratri where the musicians sit in the centre and play while people dance around them. Gujarati movies entered the scene in late 50's and 60's. Raas took on a different form as it borrowed heavily from the film industry.
There are other unique forms of Raas such as one in the town of Mahuva where men would tie one hand to a rope extending from above and hold a stick in the other hand. This was strictly in praise of Goddess Durga. If you use broader definition, even "Manjira" can be used to do Raas. There are communities that specialize in Raas with "Manjira". Just like the British police, some men dancing at "Tarnetar" used to wear colourful bands of cloth around their legs, resembling socks. The city of Mumbai developed its own style of Dandiya Raas. Now, during Navratri people use Dandiya, but make it more like a free style dance. "Head bobbing" during Raas is popular in USA among youngsters, but that arrived from the Gujarati movies. Head bobbing was for the singers, not for the dancers.
Costumes and Music
The women wear traditional dresses such as colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandahni dupattas, which is the traditional attire, dazzling with mirror work and heavy jewellery. The men wear special turbans and kedias, but can range from area to area. The dancers whirl and move their feet and arms in a choreographed manner to the tune of the music with a lot of drum beats. The dhol is used as well as complimentary percussion instruments such as the dholak, tabla, etc. the true dance gets extremely complicated and energetic. Both of these dances are associated with the time of harvest.