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CULTURE ‣ Thought Leader Sarvar Kahlon Discusses Social and Musical Aspects of Punjabi Wedding Songs

Phil Cartwright, Founder and Sarvar Kahlon, Senior Editor, Cross-Cultural and Traditional Music



This thesis authored by Sarvar Kahlon, extends multi-disciplinary work in progress focused on philosophical, psychological and social science-based perspectives on “musical performance” in the direction of non-western folk performance practices with a focus on suhags as a genre of Punjabi wedding songs. The question that is asked is “Where is the meaning in Punjabi Wedding Song?”


Women in societies across the world perform songs to either express their opinions and sometimes even to protest. The phenomenon is witnessed in cultural contexts from the “most open and liberal to the most restrictive and closed” (Weiss, 2019). These performance practices are often participatory and not intended for a paying audience. More often than not there is an associated ritual function. For instance, these practices may be performed to mark life cycle phases (Schreffler, 2011; Wesis,2019).


Ethnomusicologist Sarah Weiss (2019) argues that women’s performance in religions contexts offer prospects for agency. Further the “public nature of performance” (Weiss, 2019) allows them scope for navigating beyond social boundaries without inviting judgement. This thesis is concerned with traditional wedding songs of Punjab, particularly Suhags, the genre of lamentation that Punjabi women perform at multiple occasions of a wedding. Although the genre originated and developed in rural Punjab, versions of it continue to be staged in urban contexts till today. Punjabi women’s musical practices, on the whole, fall under the ambit of amateur performance (


Schreffler, 2010). Most of the works are of a singing nature, unaccompanied by specialised instruments. It is important to clarify that this thesis does not consider music and song as separate and exclusive categories.


The primary purpose of this paper is to extend multi-disciplinary work in progress focused on philosophical, psychological and social science-based perspectives on “musical performance” in the direction of non-western folk performance practices with a focus on suhags as a genre of Punjabi wedding songs. The question that is asked is “Where is the meaning in Punjabi Wedding Song?”

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