Decoding Indian ‘Band, Baaja, Baraat’

“Band, Baaja, Baraat”! goes the popular adage describing Indian weddings. Considering all three words relate to the liveliest of all functions, our motivation for thronging to every possible wedding is quite obvious. I don’t ever see “Pandit, Puja, Pheras” replacing the established expression.

The energy of a baraat is extremely contagious and depending on how large a group of friends the groom has, a baraat procession could last 4 hours (that’s the most I’ve seen) while attempting to cover a distance of barely 50 meters. And pivotal to keeping this energy going is the wedding band. Having their origins in military brass bands from 18th century Britain, these bands have a long and rich history. In these modern times of DJ’s and loudspeakers, their military-styled uniforms, drums and trumpets are quintessential to most weddings, even if for just a brief duration.

While the oldest of all British military bands dates back to the sixteenth century, they were introduced in India only in the eighteenth century. Apparently, bandsmen and their big musical instruments provided the only means of commanding an army in the frenzied environment of a battlefield.

In India, British military bands were an important tool of propaganda of their imperial enterprise. With time, however, these marching bands transformed into musical processions for kings and other elites, as a symbol of their opulence. Eventually reaching their present avatar as the musical band, playing Bollywood numbers at wedding celebrations and various festive gathering.

On exploring further, it seems their enthusiasm on the job hides a bitter truth. Though they are considered a mandatory part of the wedding ceremony, their wages are paltry. Hardly sufficient to sustain a livelihood in large metro cities. With sparse money and scant respect for their profession, many are quitting to try their hands at other jobs. For some, sadly, it means cutting off from their century old legacy of musical roots.

There are though, a handful of musical groups who are managing to survive by serving affluent clients. They evolve through the years, catering to each generation of Bollywood fans from the 70’s till the very latest hip shaking numbers. With colorful styling, neon lights, flower décor and shiny brass instruments, they continue to add fervor at our weddings.

It is in the backdrop of their lively and energizing music that we capture our most candid moments. As a fellow artist, I am attempting to do my part in trying to preserve their heritage. So, next time you are enjoying the revelry of a baraat, do take a moment to breathe in the beauty of their journey. Maybe even express your appreciation, when you stop to rest, as they play on, relentlessly.