With city colleges embracing the co-curricular policy outlined in the National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020, subjects like Dramatics, Dance, and Vocal Training have emerged as favourites among students. 

The development has also presented a wave of opportunity for teachers of the arts, who are cashing in on the chance to present their chosen arts in their most authentic forms. Take renowned Garba exponents and artists Jigar and Suhrad Soni, for instance. Tired of the “adulteration” of Garba, the Soni brothers are on a mission to promote “authentic Garba” among school and college students. And the institutions are responding. This academic year, the Mithibai college in Vile Parle and the Thakur college in Kandivli have integrated Garba into their Credits for Co-Curricular Activities (CC) courses programme.

Aligned with the NEP 2020, students can now earn two credits per semester if they dedicate 30 hours to learning Garba on campus. Mithibai and Thakur each have 120 students that have opted for this programme and are learning from the Soni brothers this year. 

Brothers Suhrad and Jigar Soni gave up their high-paying corporate jobs to teach and promote garba 

Jigar, an MBA in Marketing, worked with an aviation firm as its General Manager of Sales and Business Development, while Suhrad, a software engineer with an MBA in Finance, held the position of Project Manager at a European IT firm. The clacking of the dandiyas and the clapping of hands, however, proved too loud for them to ignore, and the brothers walked away from well established corporate careers to promote and popularise their favourite form of dance. Today, they are the co-founders of the Soni School of Garba Dance (SSGD). 

Jigar, who won a gold medal for Mumbai University in 1996 at a dancing competition hosted by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), says, “We honed our skills under the tutelage of the late Kumari Indumati Lele ji, fondly known as Didi in the dance community. But gradually, we see the art getting adulterated with each passing day.  We have refused numerous lucrative offers to teach Garba mixed with latka-jhatkas, Bollywood style. They can very well call it fusion, but that is not Garba.”

Professor Krutika Desai, Principal of the Mithibai College, tells mid-day, “Last year, we introduced Garba along with various other folk dances as a component of our Sociology of Arts course. This year, as part of our credit-based Co-Curricular (CC) program, we have included Garba as one of the options. In addition, we are also offering Kathak, Yoga, and other activities based on students’ preferences and demands.”

Dr. Khevana Desai, Assistant Professor in Mithibai College’s Sociology Department, adds, “We have incorporated practical sessions specifically focusing on Garba, alongside theoretical studies on other folk dances from diverse regions. We are exploring activities such as Marathi folk, Gujarati folk, basics of theatre, and Kathak to be included in the Credits for Co-Curricular programme.”

Dr Chaitali Chakraborty, Principal of Thakur College of Science and Commerce says that the college has several extra curricular initiatives, and Garba is the only folk dance, which is getting a heart warming response from the students. 

“Under the NEP’s Credits for Co-Curricular programme, we offer options like NSS, NCC, activities offered by the Department of Lifelong Learning and Extension (DLLE), Yoga and even an initiative where students care for stray dogs in designated areas. It’s heartening to see students take after Garba, enthusiastically switching from their usual jeans and t-shirts to chaniyas, kurtas and skirts for the sessions. Students have expressed an interest in learning Garba even after they have earned their required credits,” she says. 

Under the NEP, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has mandated a co-curricular policy for universities and higher educational institutions (HEI). This policy aims to dismantle rigid academic boundaries, promoting creativity and encouraging students to explore diverse disciplines. 

“This is the first time that classical and folk dance have been made part of the curriculum. Activities that earn credits or marks are taken seriously. It is great that people are taking initiatives to align folk dance forms like Garba with the NEP and teaching it to college students,” says State Director of Higher Education Dr Shailendra Deolankar.

Krutika Desai, Dr Chaitali Chakraborty, Dr Shailendra Deolankar and Dr Tina Tambe

He adds that the same model can be applied to promote Maharashtrian art forms like Jhaadipatti Rangbhoomi, the theatre of the jungle-belt, from eastern Vidarbha as well as regional and traditional art forms like Lavani, Powada, Dindi and Kala. 

“This will help preserve and protect our cultural identity,” he says.  If the experts and the teachers are happy, the students seem to be happier.  Bhumi Jadhav, a first year student from Thakur College says, “I used to feel left out when my friends participated in Garba events, and the co-curricular sessions were just what I needed. Not only did I learn Garba, I also gained insights into its history and cultural significance. The extra credits don’t hurt either!”

Khushi Gupta, also a first year BMS student from Thakur College concurs. “Initially, I was never inclined towards Garba and had never attended any Garba events during Navratri. However, when our college introduced it as part of the Credits for Co-Curricular program, I observed other students participating and decided to enroll in the program. Encouraged by Jigar sir, I began wearing traditional Indian attire to class, which truly transformed the sessions into joyful celebrations,” she says. 

The move is being lauded by classical dance exponents as well. Dr Tina Tambe, award winning teacher and Kathak expnonent, says, “Starting such courses is a great initiative.  Not only Garba, but any kind of classical or folk dance learning would be equally good. Learning dance not only helps in physical, mental and emotional well-being but also connects the students to the art and culture of our country.  

It’s one of the best forms of recreational learning, as it increases mind-body coordination, motor skills, focus, concentration, stamina, balance, grace and also releases feel-good hormones. Besides, it also increases social interaction and community building and contributes towards creating an active, fitter and happier youth.”

The SSGD has now joined forces with the Nalanda Institute, affiliated with Mumbai University and Maharashtra government, to introduce Garba lessons at the school level.  “Students taking lessons from us for five years will be awarded a three percent score in their SSC exams. The course is also recognised for admissions under cultural quota and Nalanda institute has acknowledged the same,” Jigar says, adding that discussions to extend the programme to other colleges in the city and state are also underway.

No of students from Thakur and Mithibai opting for garba lessons 

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