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* Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at the Fiji National University's College of Humanities and Education in Lautoka. Bhawna Kundra is a French and business management teacher and MYP assistant co-ordinator at International School Nadi. The views expressed are theirs and not of this newspaper or their respective employers. For comments or suggestions, email. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

NAMASTE Pacifika is rocking Fiji with its carnival of dance, music and cultural activities in Fiji. The memories of Bollywood dances performed at the Indian High Commission's Republic Day reception at the Novotel in Lami and also in other destinations of Fiji and Pacific Islands has not faded way.

The performance will be enacted by Aavishkar from the Academy of Performing Arts. They will mesmerise Fijians with their performance this month.

As per Namaste Pacifika booklet Aavishkar, it started with a mission to study various folk dance forms of Gujarat and India and later teach these dances to urban youth and bring awareness about India's rich cultural heritage. The group will showcase the richness, diversity, and vibrant colours of Gujarat to the audiences. It will be a lifetime opportunity for not only the progressive Gujarati community in Fiji but all Fijians to be enthralled by the varied Gujarati folk dance performances.

History of Gujaratis in Fiji

Litia Mathewsell (FT July 20, 2015) in her article "The arrival of the early merchants" stated "Gujarati communities are renowned for their commercial success and as published accounts relate, their origins in Fiji could be traced to Porbander in India. Located on the Kathiawar peninsula, the coastal town is more famously known as the birth place of Indian activist and spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi.

In a closer-to-home context though, this was also from where the plethora key traders in Fiji sprang".

Brij V Lal in his book A Vision for Change: AD Patel and the Politics of Fiji, said "the first Gujarati migrants to Fiji were a couple of Parsi artisans who arrived in 1901…next Gujaratis to arrive in Fiji were Chunilal Ganji and Virji Narshi (sonar or goldsmiths) … the high tide of Gujarati migration to Fiji was from the 1920s onwards".

In a similar vein, Kenneth Gillion's book Fiji Indian Migrants: A history of the end of indenture in 1920, (1973) also corroborated the journey of early Gujaratis to Fiji as free immigration and it reached its peak in 1920s.

Kamal Kant Prasad, in his doctoral thesis, The Gujaratis of Fiji, 1900-1945: a study of an Indian immigrant trader community from The University of British Columbia, 1978 explained the Gujaratis' migration to Fiji as such.

"First of all, groups which found little fame and fortune in Africa began to turn to opportunities in other countries.

"Secondly, deteriorating conditions in Gujarat in the early twentieth century caused population movements to other parts of India and abroad. Failure of the monsoons, famines, reduction of landholdings among families, and the subsequent drop in agricultural productivity merely hastened the process.

"Thirdly, as opportunities in urban centres, especially Bombay, became limited, more and more Gujaratis left India in search of opportunity to supplement meager resources at home.

"Fourthly, British colonial territories which contained powerful white communities soon began to restrict the entry of Indians which initiated the push toward new frontiers such as Fiji."

By contrast, Fiji welcomed free immigrants because of the skills which they introduced. It maintained an open door policy toward this category of migrants until 1930.

Gujarati penetration into Fiji was part of the movement of free immigrants into the colony. Gujaratis settled mainly in urban areas because of their commercial orientation, and where their activities had the maximum potential for success.

Brij V Lal's book Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the Twentieth Century stated the most "prominent Gujarati-owned companies today — Motibhais, Punjas, Narseys and the Gujarati immigrants — have been really hard working and made their place in Fiji.

Since then the community has excelled in all sphere of profession and with them came the glimpses of Gujarati folk dance to Fiji.

Gujarati folk dance

Gujarat is famous for celebrating festivals with huge enthusiasm. They have a range of traditional dances based on their rich culture and tradition. The site http://mythicalindia.com illustrates five popular folk dances of Gujarat, starting with Bhavai,

The name bhavai is derived from Sanskrit word bhava which means emotions/ feelings. The Bhavai drama is a continuous performance which lasts for the whole night without any stage equipment. It includes issues from social life in a satirical way.

The second dance form is dandiya. This dance form actually stages a mock fight between the goddess Durga and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king. During dandiya, dancers move their feet and arms in a complicated, choreographed manner with dhol being used as complementary percussion instrument. The sticks (dandiya) represent the swords of Durga.

The third form of dance is garba. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word garbha (womb) and deep (lamp). Traditional garba is performed around a central lamp or around goddess Shakti. The circular and spiral movements have similarities to other spiritual dances like those of the Sufi culture.

Traditionally, it is performed during Navratr.

Next in the lot is padhar. Padhar dance is a prominent folk dance performed by people belonging to the Padhar community. Padhar people are followers of Hinduism and they worship various forms of Durga.

When performing this dance form, the people are in a mood of excitement and frenzy.

The last is the tippani dance form. It has coastal women striking the floor with sticks and chanting while other women dance.

With simple musical equipments like thali, the dancers produce the music. It shows the boredom created by long trips of their men to the ocean. This dance is one of the patterns of the vigorous dance forms of the folk dance in Gujarat.

Thus Aavishkar brings Gujarat folk dances to Fiji and all set to rock the stage with their enthralling performances. It is a lifetime opportunity for all Fijians to get the glimpse of Gujarati folk dancing live in Fiji.

Conclusion

India's high commissioner to Fiji Vishvas Sapkal, who has actively supported these cultural and tourism promoting mega events in Pacific Islands, deserves huge praise. He has successfully implemented this six-month mega event giving Pacific Islanders the chance to be captivated by the performances of world renowned artistes.

Source: The Fiji Times Online

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