The past two weekends (Sept. 25, 26 and Oct. 2, 3), the block of Newark Avenue in Jersey City between Kennedy Boulevard and Tonnelle Avenue known as “Little India” and “India Square” was the center of one big religious and cultural block party.
Navaratri 2009 took place on each of the days from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. It is a street festival with song and dance performances, worship services, and appearances by politicians like Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and Gov. Jon Corzine. Up to 10,000 people were estimated to have attended each day of the festival.
The Navaratri event in Jersey City has taken place since 2002.
The Navaratri event in Jersey City has taken place since 2002, and this year’s event was free of charge and jointly hosted by the Jersey City Asian Merchant Association (JCAMA), the Govinda Sanskar Center, the Journal Square Restoration Corporation, and Jersey City’s Urban Enterprise Zone.
In India, Navaratri is usually celebrated for nine nights twice every year, in March and in October. It is celebrated in different ways in the part of India where Navaratri is taking place, but it always takes place outdoors.
In the western province of Gujarat, from where the majority of business owners and residents in Jersey City’s Little India area emigrated, the nine days are marked by worship and celebration. Specifically, Gujarati women dress in traditional, colorful dress and perform Garba, a dance in circles around a pot containing a lamp.
A celebration for everyone
Raj Patel, the president of the JCAMA, is a Gujarat native. This celebration helps him keep in touch with a tradition that he still appreciates.
“It’s wonderful to celebrate this outdoors, just as it is done in India, and helps me stay close with my culture and faith,” Patel said.
Patel said in an interview last week he came up with the idea because he wanted to foster a greater sense of community amongst the Little India population and to expose their culture to those living outside the community in Jersey City.
Little India in JC
Little India is an area that since the early 1980s has been the home to a number of Indian stores and restaurants, as well as a large part of Jersey City’s Indian community. According to the 2000 census, there are nearly 13,000 Asian Indians living in Jersey City. New Jersey has over 180,000 Asian-American residents, with approximately 23,000 in Hudson County.
One of the non-Asians is retired Jersey City Police Detective Richard Boggiano, who expressed a deep appreciation of the community living in Little India and in particular, the Navaratri celebration.
“A lot of people here on this block are friends of mine,” Boggiano said. “I love this celebration, it’s fantastic, and I wish we had more things like this because it is professionally run and they never have any problems.”
What took place?
A little before 7 p.m. on each day of the event, the Jersey City Parking Authority, along with the sponsors of the event, cleared the block of cars. The Journal Square Restoration Corporation was responsible for cleaning the streets.
Then, a stage was set up at the center of the block for the entertainment.
Patel said it takes usually a little bit of time for people to start filing in. By 10 p.m. of the day (Sept. 25) that the Hudson Reporter was in attendance for the celebration, there were thousands of people packing the sidewalks and street.
Soon, the evening’s celebration kicked off with constant displays of Garba dancing, and men and women, young and old, wearing traditional colorful clothing. Restaurants stayed open late to provide special Navaratri meals. And at midnight, there was a worship service taking place at the Govinda Sanskar Temple, also located on the block.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.