The tradition of organizing big feasts for the entire units on special occasions is as old as the Indian army itself. The significance of this function for the Jawans and officers of the army is not well known outside the army circles, to understand it we need to look into the environments and traditions of the army. In a unit which is composed of officers, junior commissioned Officers or JCOs and Jawans, each rank and class has it’s laid down position hence, in a unit even in field areas, officers eat in their own messes, JCOs and men in their own, officer’s messes function even during wars.
The idea of separated messes is not class distinction but give each rank an opportunity to relax and enjoy without any senior breathing down their necks. So it is on special occasions like Republic or Independence days or celebrating famous battles a unit has fought or raising daysof units, a Bara Khana is organized so all ranks can dine, wine and make merry together in relaxed atmosphere of mutual bonhomie. During these functions rigid discipline normally followed in day to day life of a unit is relaxed, officers and men join together to dance or sing , small skits are held making fun of seniors and juniors alike-all in good spirit and humour, ridiculing of rigid postures or strict orders issued by them is also freely allowed .
ARRANGEMENTS AND TIMING: when a Bara Khana is held it requires large scale arrangements as more than two thousand people have to be catered for, chairs and benches, shamianas and cooking arrangements to serve hot food to all at the same time, drink bars to offer drinks to all and sundry are required to be established, arrangements to hold skits and dances are to be arranged too.
Normally a play ground or any other open area is chosen as venue where light and sound systems have to be fixed, separate seating, normally sub unit wise for jawans, JCOs, officers and families have to be made, like all fauji functions the events start after permission is given by the senior most officer normally the commanding officer. The function closes also bang on time on a given signal. Normally Bara Khanas are held after sunset after the retreat bugles have been sounded but on certain occasions in high altitude areas or winter months in mountainous terrain a Bara Khana is generally organized during the day, but these are held as much pomp or show which the terrain and conditions allow, Bara Khanas are organized by companies where troops are deployed facing an adversary, across the line of control or borders.
OCCASIONS: Bara Khanas are organized throughout the Army on National days both in peace and field areas, but various regiments and units hold them on raising days or to commemorate battle honour days, the functions held on each occasion are suitably modified to match the mood of the moment. Most occasions such as return from a battle field after success or a tough operational assignment are celebrated with focus on these events with great enthusiasm.
On such occasions songs and skits depicting the valour of the units against the enemy are presented. Needless to say all officers and men mingle together freely during such celebrations.The event starts with the commanding officer’s visit to enclosure of every company/ subunit along with the subedit major- the senior most junior commissioned officer, along the unit second in command, adjutant and quarter master of the unit. Other officers join their subunits, each subunit offers drink to the commanding officer and staff as they go round to share drinks with the men who are being served their meal. Men are free to make requests or present any other demands, but generally no serous grievances are put forward here.
After the commanding officer and his party completes the round, every one settles down to watch, song, dances and skits presented by Jawans, these presentations are to amuse all but sometimes highlight serious shortcoming the men are facing or some inconveniences being caused by wrong orders by the administrative staff, are presented in a light hearted manner. Some peculiar characteristics of officers or JCOs are sometime presented to the delight of all, no offence is however meant in such presentations. Problems related to quality of ration supplies, or clothing, Jawans not getting leave when most needed causing problems to their families may also be highlighted. A few grievances presented in an informal way or requests for some welfare measures are noted and well received by the commanding officers and redress promised on the spot whenever possible. This helps developing better relationship between officers and men without any questions or further explanation being asked. In normal course such requests go through proper channels taking time, here instant satisfaction is normally granted. Thus a Bara Khana serves various useful purposes besides good fun; these are not merely a festivity.
FAMILIES AT THE BARAKHANA: Here men and officers families also meet and dine together, they see their respective husbands out of uniform mixing informally with their superiors, this promotes better relationships and better understanding of each other’s problemsbetween the families too, they may discuss their day to day problemshere. The Indian Army, has various rigid traditions in its regiments, but now some changes, are coming in while keeping the main customs anddiscipline intact, jawans are now using informal language and dressed more informally in the presence of their officers in Barakhana .In seeking permission from the senior-most officer to start drinks or food at the Bara Khana, the troops instead of the old formal terms now use terms like "cheers ki anumati shriman” (permission for drinks).
MORALE AND TOGETHERNESS: Another important purpose a Bara Khana serves is to raise morale of troops by providing proximity with the officers off and on in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. In a reunion Bara Khana old officers and Jawans who have retired long ago join in celebrations showing the long term relationship between retired and serving personnel, setting an example for serving Jawans and officers.
KNOWING MEN BETTER: This kind of informal mingling during Bara Khanas creates better understanding between officers and men that helps both in peace or war. Army leaders need to now and then allow relaxation from its rigid regimental discipline in assessing the morale and welfare measures to make certain that all is well and men-officer relationship which have great impact for the operational fitness in time of war is good, the real state of the critical men-officer understanding comes out clearly on such occasions at a Bara Khana because it:
• Relaxed and informal interaction between senior and juniors, improves accessibility of leaders and interaction between junior leaders and Jawans, leads to better man management and prompt attendance to their day to day problems;
• Strengthens time tested reporting and feedback system in a unit;
• Requests for easier leave policies to attend to domestic problems are heard here without formality and attended promptly;
• Identification of persons who have problems and low morale is easy in such gatherings, those at higher risk or combat stress etc are noticed by senior commanders, regimental medical Officers and junior leaders;
• Provides relaxation after tough exercises and living conditions during field tenures;
• All officers and other personnel in the unit are sensitized about their comparative n thinking on various important issues facing men during war or peace.