Jat Haryanvi Marriage Rituals and Songs

in Overview
Published on: 23 August 2018

Priya Malik

Priya is a postgraduate from Jawaharlal Nehru University in English Literature. She is currently working towards beginning her blog, The Slow Aftertaste, where she is eager to explore the possibilities of documentation and research-work outside the domain of the university.


Marriage ceremonies and rituals in a Jat Haryanvi marriage are, like in any other part of India, a community-based event. It might not be entirely an exaggeration, or even melodramatic, to suggest that it is a coming together of two families/clans. I twist it a little to argue that the events around a marriage – the ceremonies, the songs, the specific gathering, the laen-daen (give-take) – are more central to it than the actual coming together of two individuals or families, because it is through the performance of these rituals that a community socialises. What does this mean? Simply put, the event of a marriage is more about the way a community (this includes the families of the bride and the groom, but is not exclusive to it) comes together because of the event of marriage, than the actual event of marriage itself.


This coming-together is a happening in itself. In other words, the gathering gathers a momentum of its own, so much so that it is capable of standing on its own feet, without being affected by the actual marriage. It does so by various rituals and songs that are part of a wedding. Even if the songs that are being sung are about the wedding itself, firstly, the topic of the songs is never limited to it. Secondly, the wedding becomes a mere reason, but a good enough reason, to socialise, which, once it (the socialising: the singing, the dancing, the laughing) has gained a firm footing, does not actually require the event of the wedding to thrive. When that happens, we get a clearer picture of the relation between the marriage rituals and songs to the socialisation it entails. It is that of a catalyst and a chain reaction. A chain reaction might not necessarily happen due to the catalyst, but it is surely accelerated or prolonged by it.


In this essay, I will not only descriptively chart-out in a chronological manner the rituals of a Jat Haryanvi marriage, but I will also simultaneously, and especially towards the end, try to support the thesis that I mentioned in the first paragraph. That it is not the actual event of coming together of two people that the marriage rituals (especially the songs) are centered around, but a much larger socialisation of people from various walks of life. This goes much beyond the two families involved. 


Before I begin enumerating and describing the rituals and the respective songs of a Jat Haryanvi marriage, it is important to note that it is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, to be able to talk about songs that are not related to the specific rituals but permeate the rituals is to start building a mountain out of dust speckles. Its difficulty is related to the form of these songs. The songs listed too have been subjected to change by the people who sing it (almost always women). They are subject to their memories, to how well they remember what their mothers and grandmothers never consciously taught them. It is a knowledge that is passed down so invisibly to generation after generation that it can be mistaken for not existing at all.


So, whatever is documented depends on who has been interviewed, and in which area of Haryana. Dialects and customs change at every turn. To give an example: in a village near Hisar, it is traditionally important for the bride’s family to offer new clothes to her mother-in-law’s household on the event of the mother-in-law’s death. Not only that, it is also important to attend her funeral wearing new clothes. Upon hearing this custom anyone who is not from those parts of Haryana will surely fill the room with gasps and sighs as death is not usually celebrated like that. It is not an occasion to wear new clothes. But, this does not mean that these customs are tied to just one area. They keep infusing with other customs of the same community thorough various methods. Marriage is one of the ways. If you happen to have a daughter-in-law from a village that observes this ritual, then expect well dressed people with gifts from her family, if some one aged in the family dies.


Pre-wedding rituals


1. Sagai, or the Ring Ceremony: It is when the groom’s family goes to the bride’s family to finalise the wedding. It is a personal choice whether or not the groom’s family wants to take the groom along. Women and men from the neighbourhood are invited by the bride’s family to attend the ceremony. It is assumed that men of each side will interact with each other, while the women will be seen interacting with the women of the other family. It is not unknown that till not so long ago, women from the groom’s family were not allowed to accompany others to the bride’s house for the ceremony. When the ceremony is about to begin, or has begun, the women gather around to sing. They usually begin by singing to the local saints/deities (not gods). Since the ceremony takes place in the bride’s house, it is more likely that the women from that side will take over and sing their song first. One such example is a song sung to the saint Baba Haridas, said to be a very pure and pious saint and sage. He is said to have performed miracles all his life, and when the purpose of his life was attained, he decided to sit on a pyre of wood to free himself of the world.


‘Paanch patase, pana ka bidle, le Haridas pe jaio jee,

Jiss daali mhare Haridas baithe uss daali nyy jaio jee..’


The song is about how all those who want to visit Haridas’ shrine, or pay him a homage, should go there along with five patase (a white sweet made of sugar). In the second line, Haridas is likened to a bird sitting on a tree branch. It is the direction that all those who are devoted to him are supposed to bow down as a token of acknowledgment and respect.


2. Bann: After the wedding has been finalised by both the families, the time before the marriage does not include any formal rituals. But, five days before the wedding, the ceremony of bann is observed. In the local parlance is usually referred to as bann dena (to give a bann, or to invite someone to bann). This ritual is observed by both the groom and the bride’s side of the family in their respective houses.


Each day, as per the custom, the kinpersons of the bride/groom have to invite the bride/groom’s family for dinner or for performing bann related rituals. So, for five days the house which the bride/groom belongs to does not cook dinner. All the five days before marriage, dinner is served to all the guests in the bride/groom’s aunt’s or uncle’s, or any other close relative’s house. It is preferred if the respective relative lives in the vicinity of the house of marriage.


The first day of bann is tael chadhana. Tael is oil, and chadhana is a verb that is close to the English word climb. It is interesting to see it as that, because in the ceremony, mustard oil, henna, a bit of curd, and turmeric is mixed to make a paste. A special type of grass that goats eat is bundled up, and used to apply the paste to both the bride and the groom in their respective homes. This application of the paste is done differently on the first day of the five days before marriage than on their termination: the wedding day. On the first day, the paste has to be applied in such a way that it climbs the body. The person who is getting married sits on a small stool, called patdi. All the married women of the household take the grass dipped in the paste (dipped in a way that it is not dripping), one in each hand, to touch with it first the feet of the person who is getting married, then their knees followed by their shoulders and finally the forehead. Every woman in the household follows this routine. In the background, all the women who have gathered are singing this particular song:


‘Teli hei telan tael, kisya ei tel chadhaiya?’


The song asks: ‘who is this person who is now applying oil, tell me?’ The next line of the song answers its own question by saying that the person applying oil is the bride/groom’s grand mother, mother, or aunt, or (married) sister, and so on. However the ladies are addressed keeping in mind their marital status, which means it is always in reference to the nearest patriarch to that relation: the husband. The same ritual is followed on the day of the marriage but now the sequence of touching oil is from the forehead to the feet. Symbolically, the oil that climbed up is being brought down.


Another ceremony of the bann is to smear the face, legs, and hand of the bride/groom with batna, which some of us might recognise as ubtann from various cultural references. It is a thick paste of barley flour, turmeric, and mustard oil. Again, all the women of the household, or even outside of it, apply it on the bride or the groom’s body. This time the application is generous as it is said to be good for the skin. Unlike tael chadhana, this ritual is performed for all the five days before marriage ending on the day of marriage. The song for this is again in form of a question answer format: ‘who put this paste on your beautiful face, my lovely bride-to-be?’. The answer again follows the same format as mentioned before.


3. The evening song-walk: Each night after dinner is served to all the guests, and the batna ritual performed, all the men and women gather, sometimes with drums and dholaks, for a singing-stroll around the house. Everyone is free to dance to the tunes of the drums. If they do so, the procession is more than happy to stop for them. Along with the beats of the drums, the women also sing folk songs about the procession moving towards the house in which the wedding is taking place. The society being inherently patriarchal, the house is always referred to as the patriarch’s house, even if he is dead. But many variations of the same are also heard. Since the structure of the song is not rigid at all, names and designations come and go as the singers please. Twisting words, or putting words in an old song’s mouth, is a personal favourite technique of any old aunt to break the entire gathering into peals of laughter. Everyone is in the mood for laughter. Strict adherence to words matters little.


On the wedding day


6. Bhat: Ten days before the marriage, the mother of the bride/groom invites her brother’s family to the wedding. On the day of the wedding when they finally arrive – the men of the household: her brother, cousin brother, her nephew – are welcomed separately by the bride/groom’s mother. The songs emphasise the importance of a sister-brother relationship.


‘Kadki dekhun batt maa ke jaaye din tei pehlam aaiye’


It translates as:

‘For long I have waited for you, my mother’s son, since the break of the day’.


After everyone is welcomed, lunch is served and everyone begins to eat so that they can begin to prepare for the wedding.


5. Before the garland ceremony: After the groom’s procession reaches the bride’s village, or, just the venue of the wedding, men and women from bride’s side gather to welcome the barat, the groom’s procession. Sarcastic congratulations are offered to the barat for managing to make it to the wedding, as the processions are generally thought to be laidback with regards to reaching the wedding venue. Time management is usually not on their mind. The completion of this task of reaching the venue is likened to winning a war. The sarcastic compliment extends to become a welcome note on entering the ‘other side’: the bridal family’s territory.


6. Before the seven rounds around the sacred fire: The bride’s side of the family sits behind the bride, and vice versa. Before the actual ceremony of marriage begins, both the sides of the family engage in mindless banter. It is, as I have been told, not as frivolous as it used to be as everyone wants to be prim and proper nowadays in wedding functions. But, this is the official time to take digs at each other. For example, some one from the bride’s family might say that we asked for pretty looking men for our daughter, but where we arrived at is this ugly, unruly crowd. As a retort someone from the groom’s side will come forward to prove the falsity of the argument and accuse the bride’s family of something else. And this is how the banter continues. It has a high/quick potential of turning, what some people used to being too nice around each other might call, crass. It goes on till the elders decide it is time to stop to let the ceremony actually take place.


7. Patda Pherna: If translated literally, it is very close to the English phrase: ‘to turn the tables’. Except, in this case, the table is not really a table, but a very low, but broad, stool. This stool is turned by the bride so as to signify her changed role. With the turned stool, she is looking forward to the new responsibilities that await her as a bride.


8. Vidai: The occasion of the departure of the bride with the groom’s procession. In this song, the women sing about the bride taunting her father about how the house in which she grew up is going to seem absolutely empty without her.


Coming back to the argument raised in the beginning of the essay: why and how do the marriage rituals make the marriage more about the act of socialisation and not about the actual act of marrying someone? After briefly mentioning the marriage rituals with their respective songs, one of the things that is so obviously common is that all these songs are sung by women, but never would one encounter the bride-to-be singing the songs. Singing of songs was always relegated to the domain of the woman, but is also associated with women of a specific age, mostly married.


For all the pre-wedding ceremonies, someone from the bride/groom’s house goes into the street in which their house is located to invite the neighbourhood women to those ceremonies. But, interestingly, the invitation is not strictly for the formal ceremonies, but for an after-party of sorts. After the formal ceremonies of bann, batna, street-singing are done, the women from the bride/groom’s house, and all the invited women gather (usually after nine in the night because by then they have finished all the chores) to sing, dance, basically, to make merry. No formal ceremony, no ritual, just a simple get-together of the ladies of the neighbourhood for five nights continuously. Everyone is invited. If you live in a more urban location, it is even more interesting to see the unbelievable mix of women. I recall once being given the duty to give these invites to at least twenty five such houses. In one of the houses, I had to explain to one lady not from Haryana (I forget where she was from) the concept of this tradition. She attended the party, understood no Haryanvi of the songs that were being sung, but enjoyed looking at the ladies dancing and poking fun at each other. This gathering can go on till midnight or one in the night.


The songs sung in the gathering are not related to any ritual. It may start off with the singing of a few bhajans, but it always ends up being about marital relations, or takes the form of a complaint. These songs, situated outside the set of ritualistic songs, are called jakdi. Because the women who gather around to perform them are from so many different backgrounds, villages, castes, and beliefs, the songs that are sung are extremely fluid.


Despite being so fluid, these songs give a structure of meaning to women who join wedding celebrations of someone they know little or nothing about. The marriage becomes a locus around which the women of the neighbourhood get to sit with each other to gossip, to joke, sing, and dance. For a moment, every night before the wedding for five or more days, the women forget that they have gathered for someone’s marriage. What matters is that they are together laughing, having fun, and cross dressing.


It is because of the marriage rituals that something so uncontrollably fluid takes shape. Even though it is true that after the party comes to an end, the women return to their respective households to begin the same routine, it is not the whole truth. For it undermines the power of experience, and unspoken bonds that are taken back by these women to their regular lives. It is, after all, this that connects the younger generation to the older generation of women who are well versed in songs. It is only in these occasions that one has the chance to sit down and listen to the rhythm of these songs, which will probably not be sung outside the occasion of a wedding. But it is the only time that the knowledge of these songs is passed on from one generation to the other. Not just socialisation, but an event of marriage becomes a pedagogical method.


With an increased nature of one’s sporadic existence in which no one has the dedication to devote one day to someone’s marriage, let alone five, the question remains: can the songs be preserved, and propagated with marriage not being its sole catalyst? One of the hopeful ways it can be done is through treating these ritualistic songs as un-ritualistic. In other words, looking at the possibility of the songs as becoming literature with an ability to exist outside of cause and effect of a marital framework. It is a difficult task, but one that would definitely prove to be rewarding.