Vignettes of a (North) Indian Baraat

March 10, 2009

It was perhaps after decades that I participated in a baraat. For those uninitiated, let me explain what a baraat is.

A baraat is the procession accompanying the groom on his way from the janwaasa (the groom’s camping site) to the bride’s place. But the imagery suffused in this activity is replete with symbolism. Like do you know that the baraat, or the wedding procession, symbolizes an army accompanying the chief warrior (the groom, of course) out to wage war with the bride’s “side” to “win” the girl? This kind-of explains the war-like readiness of the wedding procession and the accompanying musical instruments (Band-baaja in local parlance).

And in case you are not aware, there is a “small” groom, called –Seh-baala– who accompanies the groom in the same vehicle. This kid, is the surrogate groom. Should the real one die while fighting the bride’s side, the “small” groom would fill in for the real one!

The baraat comprises of the foot-soldiers of this army, also called baraatis.

So there I was, in Patna after nearly a whole day travel from Bangalore. First a flight to Kolkata, then a six hour layover at Kolkata airport and then a flight to Patna. I would normally not take such arduous journeys across the country to attend a relative’s wedding. But the groom was special, my favourite cousin. And I am fond of the groom’s parents- my mama and maami– as well. So this was a journey I had to make.

The baraatis were mostly my relatives from Jamshedpur. They had traveled by train through the night and were lodged in a building virtually next door to the bride’s house. This is called the janwaasa, the camping site of the baraatis.

The timing of the baraat was fixed between 6pm and 8 pm. This had nothing to do with any auspicious muhurat or anything. The determinant of the baraat timing was the availability of the brass band. I understood that the particular day was a very busy one for weddings. The band had parceled out the evening in 3 shifts. 6-8 pm, 8-10 pm, 10-12 midnight. So this brass band was to play in 3 different baraats, all the way till midnight!

I was not staying at the janwaasa; I was staying at my in-law’s place, a few minutes drive from the janwaasa. (I was visiting my in-laws after nearly 4 years!). After all the pampering I had at my sasural (in-law’s place) by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, I had to drag myself out to the baraat. I had to remind myself that I had come all the way to be a baraati and not just to be pampered by the in-laws!

I reach the venue at 5.45 pm, dressed in my best suit and tie. I thought the baraatis would be all set to leave. Nothing of the sort. They were still lolling around, bantering and gossiping, awaiting their clothes to be pressed and shoes to be polished. Some were taking a last minute shave. After all, it is only a well-groomed army which wins the battle!

Boot Polish, anyone...?

Boot Polish, anyone...?

6 pm: Still no signs of action, I was getting restless. What about the 6-8 pm timing? Someone quickly reassured me, timing is only a figure of speech. It just divides the evening/ night into 3 portions, nothing more, nothing less. So, I was advised, to relax!

6.15 pm: Sudden cacophony at the door. The brass band had started! Some of the youngsters rushed out to advise them on what songs to play. It always is a Hindi or Bhojpuri film song! And as always, the clarinet player is the leader of the band. He is the only guy who dresses differently. Not in the brass band’s, well, brassy costume, but a jacket. I love these brass bands and this Musa Band as good as any I have heard before!

Musa Band in attendance

Musa Band in attendance

The Clarinet guy

The Clarinet guy

6.45 pm: I see some stirrings among the baraatis. We are now ready to go, I think.

7.00 pm: I was wrong. The groom, who has been holed up in a hotel room along with a chosen few has not turned up yet. Poor chap is stuck in a traffic jam somewhere on the way. No baraat without the groom. How can an army leave without its commander? A flower bedecked car waits at the janwaasa for its most important passenger, the groom.

Tense Wait for the Groom

Tense Wait for the Groom

7.30 pm: The baraat starts its march. But wait a minute, the bride’s place is just a 300 meters away. What is the point of the baraat if the journey concludes in 5 minutes. No, the baraat proceeds in the completely direction. No amount of convincing from others that the alternate route culminates in a cul de sac deters the baraatis.

7.45 pm: The baraat is wending its way in the reverse direction. The gaudily-dressed band players in the middle led by the nattily dressed clarinet-wallah. The grubbily- dressed light carriers with the generator-set trolley trailing behind. The large truck-like vehicle with a humongous-sized loud-speakers and the solitary male singer blaring away unmindful that his voice was getting drowned in the brass band cacophony. And then the baraatis. All dressed in their best.

8.00 pm: The baraatis hit the cul de sac. Time now for an about turn! Imagine 50 odd baraatis, a dozen or so band-wallahs, the gen-set trolley, the aforementioned truck, the light-wallahs complete with loosely-hanging electric wires emanating from the gen-set trolley threading the head-borne lighting fixtures together all taking a U –turn. This nearly impossible task made even more difficult thanks to a dozen odd cows and their minders walking in the opposite direction in that narrow lane!

Musa Band and the Lights

Musa Band and the Lights

8.15 pm: The baraat has finally turned around and heading back to where it started from. The walk should now be short and simple, but some of the younger baraatis have different ideas.

Two highly enthusiastic youngsters are dancing right in the front of the car. The car moves a meter or so and then is stopped by the dancers who by now have pulled in more and more people. Yours truly included!

Oh, those dancers!

Oh, those dancers!

Someone decides to add to the celebratory mood and uncorks the bubbly! Not champagne, as you would imagine but bottles of Sprite, Mirinda and Coke! We are all dancing now in our sodden jackets and suits.

Some more of the Dancers

Some more of the Dancers

Just as I thought the dancing was done with and we would finally move ahead, comes the burst of fire-crackers. A 5000 lari right in the middle of the road. Some more crawling of the baraat, some more dancing, some more firecrackers. And then some more of the same.

8.45 pm: We are now back exactly to the point where we started from! The bride’s family is getting a bit worried at this delay and one of them walks into the melee of the dancers requesting them to make haste. And this poor chap is promptly pulled into the group to shake a leg or two! One of the baraatis, a venerable old man dressed in a dhoti and kurta is pulled into the dancing party. He is angry, ANGRY! He pulls himself away threatening dire consequences for the revelers.

8.45pm to 9.15 pm: Dancing, firecrackers, dancing, firecrackers…. Distance moved 200 m. The bride’s family getting more and more restless. And so are most of the baraatis. They are tired now after nearly two hours of walking!

9.15 pm: Someone from the bride’s family has bribed the driver of the car carrying the groom to dodge the dancers and reach the bride’s place. The band strikes the famous “Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka”. (I wonder why this is the chosen song bands play, including in my wedding some 17 years ago, when the groom reaches the bride’s place. To instill some confidence in the groom?) The revelers surround the car and take to some final ultra-vigorous dancing as the pundits from either side start the “dwaar puja” which is the traditional welcome to the groom.

9.30 pm: I am tired now. Really tired! My Sprite-sodden suit does not help the cause. The marriage ceremony will take place only after midnight.

I am dying now for my dinner and a return back to my in-law’s place for a night’s rest!

My baraat act is over!

The Grooms' Headgear atop the Car

The Grooms' Headgear atop the Car