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Friday, March 1, 2013

What makes people dance in a baraat in Gujarat?

Pic courtesy: Exotic India Art

I have balked at the idea of people dancing in the middle of a busy street in a baraat (a wedding procession). And much to my discomfort, I have been asked to/forced to participate in many of them since I moved to Gujarat in 2008. In Gujarat, weddings are very big affairs. The ceremonies are conducted through a week (or more) and even the henna-applying ceremony, the Mehendi, could have around 200 invitees. While in most cultures, the wedding card is only a card that gives you the date and time of the event, in Gujarat, you have the wedding booklet (the kankotri), which will tell you about the Mehendi, Mandwa (a puja at the groom's house), Garba/Sangeet (traditional dance), Hast Milap (the wedding itself), Pirsamani (where the bride serves food to the members of the groom's family) and Reception. The words may be different for different castes but basically the invites list separate events and their venues for the different days. So if you are family or close to the family, you'll get a booklet that contains all the information. If you are acquainted with the family, you'll get invited only to the wedding and the reception. And, if you just know one of the members, you'll be invited only to the reception. The number of leaves in your booklet define how important you are to the family. Courtesy demands that if you get an invite and are in town, you must show up. If you don't, your absence is "noted", not just by the host family but by the others who are present. If you are family, you'd better dance in the baraat. No one will ask you to. You just have to. "It's all about the hoens (the 'n' is like the 'n' in saans in Hindi)," says a friend. The closest equivalent to hoens in Hindi is josh. It's a raw mix of excitement and enthusiasm, that gives you a high so much so that you forget your inhibitions and take to all kinds of celebrations. Hoens in the dry state of Gujarat works like alcohol does in Punjab. "It's what makes 85 kg women do the 'ghoda kudvana' (literally, jump like horses) and it comes from participating in many weddings over a long period of time," says a friend. Maybe someday, I shall get the hoens too!

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