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Konkani Wedding Songs
by Jyotsna Kamat

Foreword by M.V. Kamath

Nothing has given me greater pleasure in recent times than to know that Dr. Jyotsna Kamat has collected some five hundred Hovis in Konkani for publication under the alluring title of Suragyasar (garland of suagi flowers.) A hovi, as she has explained, is a two-liner but very appropriate song, sung during weddings. A wedding among the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin community in the twenties and thirties of the 20th century was not, as is practiced today, a two-hour event. In my childhood days in the thirties I was aware of a nine-day wedding. One might rightly query: A wedding of nine days? Right. Indeed a wedding of nine days. During these days the bridegroom's party would be richly treated with food and entertainment. Ladies from both the bride's and bridegroom's party would get together for singing what, often, were impromptu songs, produced almost on the spur of the moment that were often hilarious, if not teasing. They were intended to keep the groom's party interested and engaged. We need to remember that those were days when neither television nor radio existed and it surely was hard to spend the passing hour without getting bored.

I particularly remember an occasion, late at night, after a sumptuous dinner when the bride and the groom were supposed to throw a ‘flower ball' (Phulla Chendu) at each other. The ball would be caught and thrown back by the groom and the bride. The shy bride would not dare to look at the groom's face – that would have been considered too daring! – and the ball would miss its mark and there would be much teasing. The bride's party (consisting, naturally, of ladies) would sit behind and around him and there would be a lot of good-honored banter. The groom would be teased by the bride's party if he threw the ‘ball' a little too fast and so on and on the fun went for an hour or to. It was then that some of the hovis were invented, if one could say, ad hoc. It was a time of innocent enjoyment.

As the years passed, a nine-day marriage came to be shortened first to a seven-day, then a five-day, then a three-day and then to a one-day affair and much of the joy of communication started to fade away. The main purpose in organizing these events was to familiarize the groom and the bride to each other. Thus there was the ceremony of “finding the ring”. It was quite a hilarious game. There would be a large bucket filled with colored water so neither the bride nor the groom would know what lay at the bottom. The bride's uncle would be acting as the ‘umpire'. He was supposed to put a ring in the bucket and the bride and the groom would be asked to pick it, the uncle also being a partner in the show. In actual fact the uncle would be holding the ring in his own fist while the bride and the groom would be trying to locate it, sometimes knowing quite well that the uncle was holding it in his own fist. The idea was to get the bride and the groom ‘touch' each other while the ladies sitting around would be making very disparaging remarks about how dumb the bride and the groom were. It was all good fun.

Alas! Those days are now gone. So, too, has romance. Not the romance that we know of now, but the romance of another time and age when the bride and the groom would have been introduced to each other for the first time at the bride's residence and just the touch of one's future partner, even while both hands were dipped deep in colored water aroused love and passion.

I am glad that Jyostna Kamat has taken all the trouble to collect and edit the hovis to remind us of old times and could it be-happier days. These days the bride and the groom do not need to be introduced: they would probably have known each other in school and college and the places of their employment, and for all we know, would have dated and supped together. What is now performed is merely a ceremony to legalize a marriage of minds. It is over at most in four hour's time and before anyone knows, the relatives of the bride and the groom would have dispersed with a quick au revoir. Today, no one has time for jollity, let alone a good nine-day camaraderie. 

Which is why Jyotsna Kamat's Suragyasar is so welcome, if only to remind us, nostalgically, of a time when life was more leisurely and marriage, like birth, was a time to remember.

Thank you, Jyotsna. And thank you for trying to keep alive a beautiful and noble tradition.

M.V. Kamath.

Portrait of M.V. Kamath


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