Despite the general thinking that all things that come from the West are naturally disruptive and things originating from India are conservative and puritan, in contrast stands the current form of the wedding sangeet scene, which is borrowed from the West, and adapted.
Not too long ago, sangeet was not as big a function as it is today. It certainly did not have the colour and flavour of today. It was an important part of the wedding festivities, but today it is a standalone and perhaps the most popular event. Sangeet and mehndi pretty much coincided; while the bride and friends and relatives spent hours applying mehndi to their hands and feet, there was live music on the side followed by traditional food. The live music naturally led to some ad hoc dancing by guests. The music session also often consisted of family members playing the dhol, singing a few traditional songs and performing local dance forms like Bhangra or Garba.
Mehndi is a beautiful tradition and the intricate artwork that the bride applies is particularly attractive, but one must admit that it’s slightly uncomfortable to dance with mehndi applied. In the past, the menfolk got left out of the mehndi-cum-sangeet programme, which was dominated by ladies. However, as an evolutionary process, the mehndi and the sangeet started to get disassociated. The sangeet gradually became an organised event with a properly constructed dance floor and cocktails being served, a DJ or a band for rocking live music and active dancing into the wee hours of the night.
About five years ago, a DJ nite pretty much dominated the wedding sangeet scene. Today, the most happening thing is a take-off from the West. The choreographed evenings are a direct borrowing from the West. Huge on documentation, all western ceremonies are given to speech-making, recording, photo displays, recognising and enacting memories at milestone events, be it a wedding, a sangeet or a funeral.
These choreographed events satisfy many needs. First, they provide the youngsters a reason to meet and make merry. As the practice sessions begin a few weeks in advance, when a choreographer is called in and the love story gets narrated about how the couple met, it keeps the young and old engaged, as everybody has a role to play. Typically, the choice of music is Bollywood with a good combination of new and contemporary songs and some old golden hits.
While it is encouraging to see that not all things that come from the West are necessarily unsettling, it is also equally heartening to note that Indian culture is so flexible that it allows an intermingling of influences in as traditional and as sacred a ceremony as a wedding.
The writer is an entrepreneur and educationist