Mauritian Bhojpuri song tradition Geet Gawai becomes UNESCO heritage

Geet Gawai, a pre-wedding musical ensemble that encapsulates the cultural heritage of the indentured labourers (also known as Girmitiya of Mauritius) migrated from Bhojpuri regions of India, is recognized by UNESCO as “The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

UNESCO website in announcing this decision said, “Geet-Gawai is a pre-wedding ceremony that combines rituals, prayer, songs, music and dance. It is performed mainly by Bhojpuri-speaking communities in Mauritius who have Indian descent.”

Geet Gawai takes place at the home of the bride or groom and involves female members of family and neighbours. The tradition has all the resonance of the rituals that is still in practice in Bhojpuri region of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It begins with untying of a piece of cloth containing turmeric, rice, grass and money, called “lagan”. When this ritual starts other participants sing songs meant to honour Hindu gods and goddesses.

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After the site has been sanctified, the mother of the bride or groom and a drummer honour musical instruments to be played during the ceremony, such as the dholak. Uplifting songs are then performed and everyone joins in and dances. Geet-Gawai is an expression of community identity and collective cultural memory.

The practice also provides participants with a sense of pride and contributes to greater social cohesion, and breaking class and caste barriers. Knowledge about the practice and its associated skills are transmitted from older to younger generations on an informal and formal basis. This is done via observation and participation by families, semi-formal teaching houses, community centres, and academies. Nowadays, the practice of Geet-Gawai extends to public performances and men also participate.

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