On the evening of Oct. 6, the Santa Clara Convention Center was brimming with excitement. Women, men and children dressed in bright Indian traditional attire gathered together for a special occasion. It was Dandia night organized by Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF).
Star performer, Falguni Pathak, from Mumbai revved up the audience with her musical ensemble. The music was lively and full of energy, pulling even the reluctant to the dance floor.
The dance is a combination of ‘Garba’ with fluid graceful movements and ‘Dandia’ performed with sparkly wooden sticks. It is said that Goddess Durga battled the evil demon Mahishasura for nine nights before emerging victorious. Hence, Navratri, or nine nights, is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil.
The steps vary from the basic for novices to complex with intricate variations for the more experienced. Families, friends of all ages and backgrounds danced together in multiple circles forming and dissolving seamlessly to the music. The hall was packed full, but efficiently managed by seasoned volunteers of SEF. There were different areas designated for vendors selling jewelry and other wares, a less noisy kids zone, and food vendors.
As much as it was a celebration, the night was also special because all this was for a cause. Each year SEF organizes events like these to raise funds towards their vision of eradicating curable blindness in India. Starting in 1998, they have grown in impact over the years, conducting more than 14 million free surgeries and several more screenings for those in need.
“We have nine specialty hospitals across India performing more than 150,000 surgeries per year. We want to grow that to at least 500,000 per year, by growing more hospitals and partnerships by 2020,” said Divyogi Patel, a SEF Board Member.
Beena Patel, a volunteer who is the logistics lead this year, acknowledges the staggering scale of the event. “We had more than 2,000 people attending on Friday and today we expect about 5,000 people,” she said.
For patron Bhumika Dadbhawala, this was an occasion to come together. “It is a good turnout,” she said, “and a great way to celebrate our culture with friends and family.” She was with her 14-month-old daughter and wanted her to see the celebrations and be a part of the culture she is from.
Manoj Panikkar, a patron from last year, was here this year with his friend Calon Lochridge from Montana as well as with other co-workers and friends. “This is a great way to be immersed in a new cultural experience,” said Calon.
In some time, the crowd took a breather. A puja was performed invoking the blessings of the Goddess in whose honor the dance was traditionally performed. Lights were turned off and everyone waved little lamps, called diyas, in their palms towards the deity. There was also a professional dance performance that enthralled the crowd.
The rhythm of the drums took over again after the break. The women’s bright flowing skirts and the men’s traditional jackets with mirrors sequined on them swayed, shone and twirled in mesmerizing circles as the music built in tempo and the night drew to a close.
The Dandia festivities continue until the end of October and merge with Diwali celebrations in November. Be on the lookout for local community events at the Santa Clara Convention Center and throughout the Bay Area. To learn more visit www.giftofvision.org/events.