research question (seriously, it is)

One of my favorite people from the Fulbright program in India this summer is Dr. Michael Marcus, who teaches high school world history and anthropology. His project from this summer is on textiles and trade in Indian history. However, he has an increasing interest in Bollywood - and has even come up with the a bang-on description: "a strange combination of the kitsch and the socially and culturally meaningful" - and the two are beginning to overlap. (Bollywood overlaps with a lot of my life, I find, so I'm not at all surprised.)

Dr. Marcus has asked me the following question and wants readers' help.
I have had this strange fascination lately with Raj Kapoor, and on my "shemaroo" disc "showman of the millenium" (not too hyperbolic, eh?) there is a song from RK's old Barsaat called "Hawa Mein Udata Jayen," which is in the genre, I believe, of what is called a "Dupatta" or "Chunari" song. Now that means a piece of cloth imbued with lots of meaning, head covering, veil, married, unmarried, I don't know. I understand there is also the use of a song called "Chunari Chunari" in Monsoon Wedding which thanks to netflix I will be looking into soon. Anyway google searching the subject only turns up examples of the genre, no fuller description or explanation of what (I suspect) is the rich meaning lying underneath. So, could you possibly ask your readers to contribute info to me about this song type? and its appeal? its deeper meanings and how tie in to social customs, ritual and so on? are their issues of "unveiling" or removing taboos as well? Anyway, that's the idea.
Can anyone help? Even if you don't want to post a comment, if you'd be willing to email me any ideas or leads, I will happily forward them on to him. Thank you!


Anonymous said…
"Now that means a piece of cloth imbued with lots of meaning, head covering, veil, married, unmarried, I don't know."

A dupatta is not a head covering, nor is it a veil. It is simply a scarf. Both married and single women wear them.
Anonymous said…
Interesting topic...I've never thought about a genre of songs called Dupatta songs, but on thinking back, of course there are so many!

The Dupatta is a symbol of modesty in North India, mostly. Married women who wear dupattas (instead of saris) are supposed to cover their heads with their dupattas - of course now, the tradition is mostly vestigal in cities...some token covering is done in temples and so on.

Dupattas flying in the breeze is a typical representation of carefree childhood or youth...some songs that evoke this:
- lal dupatta mal mal ka
- there are other lal dupatta songs as well - Raaga has a whole bunch!

Dupattas being wrapped around a girl - used to represent her union with her lover
- Odhni from Tere naam
- Odhni from Tango Charlie etc.

(BTW, Odhni is another word for dupatta, which you probably knew)

Dupattas being removed or caught - imples possession - to catch hold of someone's dupatta or anchal (the end of the sari) is similar to catching hold of their hand...
I can only think of songs that feature this in a brothel setting, like the Inhi Logon Ne song in Pakeezah, but I know there are more..


Anonymous said…
Bitterelemons' post was quite comprehensive.
A "duppata", "odhni", "chunari" usually represents modesty.
Girls usually wear 'chunari' with 'salwar-kameez' ..kind of like a scarf. They use the same chunari to cover their head at some religious cermonies, in the presence of elders etc. Very few people do this in the cities...but its still a tradition in smaller towns and villages.
"hawa mein udata jaaye..mera laal duppata malmal ka" signifies a sense of independecne, youth, romance and free-flow of emotions.

Its interesting to note here that quite a few women these days don't wear the traditional "chunari". Its meant to be a kind of statement (not just a fashion statement)..but one with a more socio-political undertones. Most of the women activists, hard-hitting journalists (who usually cover women's matters) don't wear the traditional "chunari" with salwar kameez. Thats just my observation.
Anonymous said…
Hi Beth, I've long been an avid, albeit silent, admirer of your blog (blurker?). Now is as good a time to let you know as any how much I enjoy your observations. Being a HUGE Indian-cinephile I am fascinated to see how much interest our oft-ridiculed cinema generates among people who didn't traditionally grow up surrounded by it. Thank you for making my mornings more fun!

I'd like to add a personal observation to the above comments. Traditionally, conservative and orthodox Indian women will cover their heads and at least partly obscure their faces in the company of unrelated adult males. So one theory to explain the abundance of dupattas fluttering around in film songs: it might signify that the heroine has freed herself from the shackles of tradition, abandoned all reserve and declared her love for the hero. Melodramatic, yes. But allusion, thy name is Bollywood.
Sharon said…
I totally have no clue. Really.

I have no brown person street cred, huh?

Seriously though, I think bitterlemons has caught the significance of the dupatta in song, though I'm not sure there are enough 'dupatta songs' to constitute a whole genre.
Anonymous said…
"They use the same chunari to cover their head at some religious cermonies, in the presence of elders etc."

I think this is a regional thing. In South India, Hindu women almost never cover their heads, ever.
MP said…
you've got the socio-cultural of it pretty much right Beth. taking off the chunari/dupatta basically means 1. you've got more access to the girl 2. you could be 'deflowering' her 3. now you're the man in her life. since it's a garment supposed to keep the modesty of a girl, any guy who get to pull it off her and prance around with her occupies a special place in her life
MP said…
Aparna said…
I suppose most points have been covered already, and as Lavanya pointed out, the cultures are pretty different in north and south india, as in, in the north, women cover their heads and also partly their faces in front of their in-laws, esp elders, whereas in the south they don't.

are their issues of "unveiling" or removing taboos as well?
Definitely. A woman's dupatta cannot be removed by a man, if she is not affianced or married to him, else that is translated as 'enraging the modesty', insulting or even raping the woman.

Also, when the song says, 'Odh Li chunraiya, tere naam ki' (translated as 'draped myself in the chunariya in your name'), it means that the girl accepts the person,in whose name she draped the chunariya, as her fiance or husband. Of course, different cultures have different symbols of marriage, but this is one of them.
Oh my stars, you are all superwow!!! Michael is already thrilled with what you've posted.

And special hi to Pinke V, my new favorite blurker, who should tell me if she has a blog I can read each morning for giggles, as she is clearly quite funny.
Anonymous said…
totally offtopic:,,2-2378112,00.html

Bollywood outstrips Britain at box office
Anonymous said…
Now that we have gone past the chunari, lets get to the choli(short mid-riff baring top worn with the long skirt - lehenga) and the related song "choli ke pichhe kya hai" (what's underneath that top of yours?) from the film "Khalnayak". the answer is "Choli mein dil hai mera" (My heart is underneath my top).
But we all know what he's really getting at with that question. As all North Indian girls know, North Indian men are breat men and mamma's boys...Go figure the cultural connotations of that. Oedipus is alive and kicking.
Anonymous said…
Addendum to my comment above - the word is meant to be breast not breat...sorry:)
SPM said…
Some interesting references to the chunari / aanchal / dupatta in songs, over the years, include:
1. Kaaton se khich ke ye aanchal, todh ke bandhan baandhi payal.. from Guide. Here the character played by Waheeda Rehman, in actually breaking free from the clutches of her achaeologist husband, and those words that mean "removing this scarf from thorns, breaking free from the bondage, I wear anklets on my feet (to dance for life, in a way)..".

2. "Chhod do aanchal, zamana kya kahega.." The flirting hero grabs the aanchal, and the heroine protests, wondering what people will think.. !

A not very popular film of Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Kareeb, had the dupatta on the film's main posters. It was an interesting spectacle. Vinod Chopra is a man who is fascinated by this part of the woman's attire and he has used it in other films too. But here, on a hill top, he used some obscenely long length of a specially constructed dupatta, and with the help of huge fans, he got the dupatta to fly high and away into the sky. The beautiful orangish yellow dupatta filling up the blue sky made for a breathtaking view.

Just a few asides to add to this discussion.. !

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