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North Indian Wedding Songs: LearnQuest Music Program Held At Boston University

Donna Maurer, Ph.D.

In North Indian weddings, a wide variety of vibrant colors, sights, flavors, and of course, sounds enliven the senses. Such a vivid sensory experience draws attention to and heightens the significance of weddings not just for those getting married, but also for their families and honored guests. As a key element of the experience, music threads through the entire set of wedding rituals, which can last for up to a week. The traditional songs, many of which are often passed on from one generation to the next, are melodious, energizing, and culturally rich; thus these songs deserve to be heard, appreciated, and preserved.

On Wednesday, March 23, talented Hindustani vocalist Smt. Shuchita Rao and her accompanying musicians, dancers, and student singers treated their audience to a wonderful educational and musical experience around the theme of North Indian wedding songs, as part of the five-day LearnQuest Academy of Music Conference; this event was held in collaboration with Boston University.

After being introduced by Dr. Pradeep Shukla, Director of LearnQuest Academy of Music, Shuchita meaningfully set the stage for the program, which featured a diverse audience with various levels of understanding and experience of the music and culture of India, by drawing on the ideas of anthropologist Victor Turner.

As Turner had pointed out, wedding rituals serve as a rite of passage. When a person moves from one status to another, during the transition, there is a temporary state of chaos (liminality); rituals help smooth this temporarily uncomfortable transition period. Music, then, has not only an aesthetic function, but also a practical one: It can help re-orient all of the individuals involved as the couple moves from being daughter and son to becoming wife and husband. In particular, folk traditions were built around the practice of arranged marriages, and thus it was especially crucial to bridge the uncertainty associated with the new relationship, especially for the bride and groom, but also for their families.

After presenting this thoughtful groundwork for the program, Shuchita and her team led their audience members on a vibrant musical and multimedia journey through the various phases of the complex set of wedding rituals – 13 such phases altogether!  Video segments of the various rituals provided a vivid backdrop for the team’s emotive singing.

Some highlights included group songs, such as Mehendi Hai Rachne Waali, to celebrate the pre-wedding ritual where women in both the bride’s and groom’s families come together to apply beautiful henna tattoo designs to their hands. Here, the audience really had a great sense of the festivities, with the joyful singing of the group, which included Shuchita’s singing students: Alka Pandey, Chaitrali Yadav, Meenakshi Rana, Lavanya Kancharla, Chandra Ganapathy, Swapna Kommidi, Rekha Jugulum, Pallavi Mehta, and Satya Rao. The melody and rhythm were well accentuated by the skilled accompaniments of Sri Mohitosh Talukdar Taposh on harmonium and Sri Vijay Mohan on dholak. 

The audience also was thrilled by Shuchita Rao’s sweet and emotive solo singing. One lovely melody was Nazariya Lag Jayegi Hariyaale Ko Koi Mat Dekho, which Shuchita explained, referred to the idea that one should “not stare at the bridegroom who looks handsome in his gold ornaments and expensive clothes.” This song is sung during the Haldi (turmeric) ritual, when the bride and groom are kept separately at their parents’ homes, and turmeric is applied for its cooling and healing properties.

Sacred aspects are also featured in some of the wedding rituals, and the music reflects the solemn aspects of the experience through the recitation of sacred chants. One of Shuchita’s students, Satya Rao, chanted some of these Sanskrit mantras, including one to accompany the offering to "Agni," the God of fire, who is considered a key witness to the union of bride and groom during the Hindu wedding ceremony. Other songs, such as Aanand Kar Naachat Hai Ganpathy and Aaya Mangal Din Aaj, mark the auspiciousness of the wedding day; the group’s performance of this latter song featured the delightful and exuberant dancing of Minerva Teli and Radha Rao.

The audience clearly enjoyed the program, with some even taking part in the Garba Dance celebrating the married couple’s arrival at the husband’s family home, with the song Mai Tho Bhool Chali Babul Ka Desh. Thus even the audience members, including Professor Brita Heimarck of Boston University's Ethnomusicology department and several of her music students from Southern China, had a chance to directly experience the joy and musicality of the wedding celebration. As a member of the audience, Mr. Larry O’Toole, Director of Technology at Boston University, commented,

I was thoroughly charmed by the music and dance that [Shuchita and her] students demonstrated. . . . There is such a range of emotion that is present in any wedding, but especially, as in the arranged marriage tradition, when bride and groom are just discovering each other for the first time as part of the ceremony.  Song and dance can certainly help the individuals and families get through these changes and come out happier on the other end.

Surely, music brings families together to celebrate the new relationship and the new connection between the bride’s and groom’s families, and Shuchita and her team well captured the musical colors and flavors of wedding rituals. This LearnQuest program was an excellent opportunity for attendees to experience traditional songs in a way that brought forth all the love, joy, solemnity, and passion associated with wedding rituals in North India!

(Photo credit: Sarvanan Meyappan )

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