• Phil

CULTURE ‣ Gaun Bithauna (Part 1): Women’s Song Circle at a Traditional Punjabi Wedding

Updated: Apr 20


Sarvar Kahlon, Senior Editor, Cross-Cultural and Traditional Music



Marriage is the most celebrated life event in Punjabi society. Numerous rites of passage in the form of religious and cultural rituals are performed on this occasion to mark a person’s transition onto this next phase of life. Different religious communities have devised different ceremonies to solemnise a marriage, however, these are all performed within a shared Punjabi culture. Hindu and Jain couples circumambulate seven times (saath phere) around a sacred fire while exchanging a series of vows, whereas, the Sikhs take four circumambulations (lavan) around the religious scripture (the Adi Granth). Muslims perform a marriage contract after the bride consents, while Christians exchange rings and vows, before a priest to legitimise the marriage.


Surrounding these covenant rituals are a set of ceremonies and practices, what Kristina Myrvold describes as ‘cultural overlays’, and wedding songs are an important part of that symbolic activity. Although these rituals don’t, per say, legitimise the wedding they play an important role in forming new social ties, reinforcing values, and articulating emotions of the bride, the groom, and close relatives.


Traditionally in Punjab, wedding festivities began with families of the engaged inviting women of their kin and local neighborhood to sing specific types of ritual songs in the days leading up to the wedding day. This practice was known as 'Guan Bithauna'. Songs sung in the bride's house were called, Suhag and those heard at the groom's, Ghodi. Suhag derives from the word Suhagan which means married woman. While Ghodi is the Gurumukhi word for mare and refers to the tradition of the groom traveling on a white mare to meet his bride.




An Unidentified Group of Women from Punjab c.1900.


In earlier times the groom’s mother would not accompany the wedding procession, yet she was most concerned of all the arrangements. Since it was customary for the groom to ride the horse (Ghodi) and lead the marriage procession, the tradition continues to date. This song is about the eager mother voicing her expectations to all dear elders of the family to select the best horse for the groom and get the fine bride home.

*Tejanna – A fine breed of Arabic horses

**Dolaa – Palanquin, represents the bride


So, the groom’s mother says …..

Ni Niliye ghodiye, tejanna* ni

Malla tejanna ni

Oh you fine horse Tejanna…

Yes, Tejanna…

Badhi sain marue de heth

The one tied under the exquisite Marua Tree …

Anaraan de khet

Near the Pomegranate fields …

Saudaagar aaya ai (x2)

Where the horse trader has arrived…

Koi aakhnaa lade de taaye nu ni

Malla taaye nu ni

Someone send for my husband’s elder brother…

Koi aakhnaa lade de taaye nu ni

Malla taaye nu ni

Let my husband’s elder brother get that fine horse…

Achhda dolaa** leyai ve

It is befitting that my son rides well to get his fine bride home!

Mere mann chaah ve

It is my fond heartfelt wish ….

Saudaagar aaya eh

That since the horse traders are here, the deal be done now!

Koi aakhnaa lade de chache nu

Or tell my husband’s younger brother to do the deal…

Ni malla chache nu ni

Yes! My husband’s younger brother…

Achda dola leyai ve

So that my son rides well to get his fine bride home!

Mere mann chaah ve

It is my fond heartfelt wish ….

Saudaagar aaya eh (x2)

That since the horse traders are here, the deal be done now!

Koi aakhna lade de maamme nu ni

Or tell my uncle to get the deal done …

Malla maamme nu ni

Yes! My uncle …

Achda dola leyai ve

So that my son rides well to get his fine bride home!

Mere mann chaaye ve

It is my fond heartfelt wish ….

Saudaager aaya eh

That since the horse traders are here, the deal be done now!

Ni neeliye ghodiye tejanna ni

Malla tejanna ni

Oh you fine horse Tejanna…

Yes Tejanna…

Badhi sain marue de heth

The one tied under the exquisite Marua Tree …

Anaraan de khet

Near the Pomegranate fields …

Saudaagar aaya ai (x2)

Where the horse trader has arrived…




1966. The wedding of Dr Armjit Singh Chopra and Daman Kaur Chatwal. Hulton Archive via Getty Images.


While Ghodis have a positive tone and sing praises of the groom, Suhags are expressive of the feelings, thoughts, and desires of the bride and, more often than not, sound melancholy. The following Suhag highlights the special connection between father and daughter. In conservative patriarchal societies, marriages aren't just a union of two people, but an alliance of two families. In such situations, both the daughter and father have a mutual expectancy and responsibility. In the following Suhag, first the daughter shares, with her father, her romantic expectations in the selection of the groom. Then the father responds, with his real-world perspective on the subject. Note how the daughter addresses the father in a formal manner and deferential tone.

Main taan khadi saan babulji de pass,

Standing here, right next to you my dear father

Karaan ardaas, babul var loriye

I implore you to find me a suitable boy

Ni jaiye keho jeha var lodiye

What kind of husband do you seek, my child?

Jo channa vicchon chann

A handsome lad, the brightest of all moons

Kanha vichhon Kanh

A brave lion heart with spark

Kanhaiya varr lodiye

A husband like Lord Krishna!

Viyaah daaj hove uchi shaan

A grand marriage and dowry please raise

Tere naam di hove shobha mahaan

So, everyone will sing your praise!


(The father responds…)

Ikk lakh launda

I can spend some lakhs

Main lawaan lakh chaar

Or maybe four times more!

Te sobha meri taan na hove

Yet money can’t speak our Honour’s story

Dhiye je bolien mithade bol