Armed with a pair of sticks, thousands of colourfully-dressed Indians thronged Al Nasr Leisureland recently for a slice of Dandiya.

The two-day dandiya programme, performed during Navratri festival (which literally means “nine nights''), saw 5,000 revellers in ethnic clothes dancing in unison, clattering their sticks to the beat of acoustic drums.

Originally a coming-of-age party for young boys and girls, the 21st century edition of the Gujarati dance is now celebrated by Indians of all ages across the globe.

The festival, portrayed in the Hollywood-Bollywood crossover film Bride and Prejudice, was earlier organised by Dubai's Gujarati Samaj, a non-profit society. But it has been increasingly difficult for the group to put together such a big event. Private players then came forward in the show-must-go-on spirit as a result of which the event is now part-culture, part-commerce (there was an entry fee).

Tradition adulterated?

For accountant Ritesh Gandhi, 27, this time of the years brings back memories of home: “It is the most important time of the year for us. It always makes me feel homesick as it is celebrated at a much larger scale back home.''

Dandiya events in Dubai may be comparitively low-key but then, something is better than nothing.

“My only regret is that crass commercialism has taken over the real spirit of Dandiya Raas. These days, they play more Bollywood remixes than folk songs,'' he said.

Evolving, say some

It's a sign of the times, says Komal Selarka, 25, a housewife who goes for the Dandiya programme every year. To her, people should change with time and things must continue to evolve.

“It's a traditional Gujarati festival,'' said Selarka, “but today the entire Indian community celebrates it around the world. Introduction of Bollywood music to the Dandiya repertoire means everyone is happy. I feel the festival is big enough for the traditional and the modern to live side by side.''

Vishva Mohan, 36, a media professional, couldn't agree more. He is a Punjabi but celebrates Dandiya every year with as much gusto as his Gujarati friends.

“Dandiya is no longer just a Gujarati festival. It has become like Eid, Diwali and Christmas, celebrated by all in India. I believe feelings are more intense when you are away from your country and you want to be a part of every Indian celebration.''

Respect for ramadan

Interestingly, the nine-day festival was reduced to just two days, a fact that was consistently pointed out and moaned about by many people at the event.

The organiser Harish Krishnan of E4U Entertainment, agrees shrinking the festival to just two nights from nine has disappointed many.

“But this time, like last year, with respect to the holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with Navratri, we have decided to cut it short,'' Krishnan said.

But that point is soon forgotten as the throng joined the large circle of whirling dancers in a trance-like state, having surrendered themselves completely to the beat of Dandiya drums.