Traditions, Customs and Rituals
Asian weddings can be a lengthy process due to their vast customs and traditions. I’ve been to over five weddings this Autumn to observe what they exactly entail and why. It’s interesting that the majority of Pakistanis continue to follow this cultural trend of marriage, regardless of how ‘British’ they may be.
In this post I’ll explore the typical Pakistani Muslim wedding from beginning to end. Alongside aiming to explore whether these practices conflict with Islam; is there a boundary?
Most arranged marriages and even those of choice (i.e lovers) begin with the boys family approaching the prospective girl. The family will boast their son’s
caring nature, his wage & how they feel the girl is suitable. The fella will usually sit like a quiet shy boy to impress the in-laws and shortly the girl will walk in to serve tea- and both will take a peek on the sly . Some parents are happy for them to speak in private but otherwise, once the parents are convinced- the boy and girl are set to be hitched!
The girls family will usually be hesitant in accepting right away, to show that they aren’t giving her up so easily- so there may be more than one meeting.
The parents will propose on behalf of their son; they’ll present sweets and gifts for the girl- maybe to butter her up a bit? If the proposal is accepted, the girl’s parents will give their word, that they truly accept (otherwise known as zabaan). This is to ensure there’s no backing out later; it was common for people to make promises and then break them at a better bargain.
The families will hold an engagement party, which is a formal ceremony to mark the coming together of the two people, in the presence of close family members. The Groom’s family will approach the Bride and ask for her hand in marriage- rings are now commonly exchanged between the couple. Prayers and blessings will be read and cake will be cut. From this point the wedding day is priority for everyone, dates are pencilled in diaries and everyone prepares!
Best man/Bridesmaid – The family will choose the Best man/Bridesmaid, they tend to be really good family friends and people who’ll assist the bride/groom effectively. The Family normally take sweets along as this a formal tradition.
The first major ceremony that will take place is the Nikkah- this is the signing of a marriage contract between the couple. This should be done in front of two witnesses at minimum but usually the family and close relatives will attend. The groom will also provide a Dowry, this is financial security for the girl; normally ranging from £200 to £5000. It is a small and straight forward function but after the Imam has left, there are various customs carried out:
Munh Dikhai – ‘Munh Dikhai’ is the ceremony of ‘Unveiling the Face’. Once the Nikkah has been performed, the Bride is veiled and made to sit next to the Groom for the first time. The Groom will unveil her (and hopefully fall in love :s). After moments of delight, the Bride and Groom will feed each other mitai (Asian Sweets), and family and friends will congratulate the couple.
Choor – The Grooms family will hand over a Choor (a Scarf) packed with gifts and healthy sweets for the Bride and her family. The Brides family will open up the Choor, empty the gifts then add some of their own gifts & sweets.
Rang – The Bride’s family will also throw paint on the Grooms side to confirm that a wedding will take place. The colour will dye the clothes and when the people return to their homes, it’ll be proof that what just happened, happened.
The Bride and Groom are happily married now but this is only the beginning, there is a huge party to organise!
Traditionally many days or weeks before the wedding day, women would gather in the Groom’s house to sing and dance while accompanied by the percussion instrument, the Dholki. Usually it is hosted by different households, each showing their happiness of the marriage. The idea was to build hype before the actual wedding day so everyone was invited.
The Bride’s family did not usually participate or hold such events as extreme happiness in ‘giving away’ their daughter may have given the wrong impression. You can argue that the family should be happy and optimistic but it is difficult for any father to let go of his princess.
About two or three days prior to the wedding day, the Henna Ceremony will take place- where guests apply henna on the Bride. Traditionally the Mehndi function begun with a few friends coming over to the Brides home to apply Mendhi, this developed in to a function for the guy too where oil (tael) was applied to his head. But with the ceremony now held simultaneously for both the Bride and the Groom, the use of the term ‘taeli’ has diminished greatly and referred to as the ‘Mehndi’ ceremony.
This has become one of the main functions now so many people are invited. Its common for the Bride and Groom to look casual on this day though. Close relatives will wear matching sherwanis to go with the theme, which normally revolves around yellows and greens. There is usually a dance-off between the boys and girls but most of the evening is spent with guests applying mendhi and oil to the Bride and Groom. As part of the tradition, the Bride was not required to work in her marital home till the mehndi faded away. Once the Mendhi function comes to an end, female guests are offered mehndi cones & something sweet, normally a bag of sugar (lol).
Scarves – The Bride and Groom will usually walk in separately surrounded by their family, who will carry a scarf over the Bride/Groom. The only purpose is to create an entrance for them as it would be awkward if they walk in all alone.
Doli – Some families will carry the Bride in using the traditional Dholi, this was to treat her like a Princess.
Candles – The family is also led by the girls carrying tea-light candle plates, this is based on the Hindu tradition of avoiding bad luck and sending oms to the Gods. In the Pakistani tradition, no such thing happens but as part of the general theme it looks decorous. Some of the girls will also dance using dandiya (decorated sticks).
Bands – The best friends of either side will also put a band on the brides/grooms wrist. The idea of marriage is about tying the knot, so the best friends are like, im with you all the way whilst this knot is being tied.
Scarves – During the Mendhi guests will also shroud the mother (and grandma) with a scarf. A scarf symbolises modesty which is an eloquent trait, so to show happiness, guests will use a scarf. It would be equivalent to handing over a bouquet of flowers.
The Night before the Baraat, the family will hold a Gharoli event where the Groom is prepared as a Mahraj (Bride Groom). The mother will begin by tying a turban around his head and shrouding him in a sparkly scarf. The sisters will then take him for a walk whilst taking turns to wave flowers (chatiyah) on his head and carry a water pot (khara) on their heads. The remainder of the family normally sing songs or drummers will be called to keep the momentum going.
The turban symbolises importance and leadership i.e indication that he’s the main man, and the scarf symbolises modesty (which was an elegant trait). Flowers are symbolic for happiness and joy so its why the sisters dangle flowers on their brothers head. Traditionally, the sister also prepared water for her brother, she would go to the well and fill up a pot (Khara) with water, this was a joyous act as she had the honour to prepare water for her brothers morning bath. This developed in to a trend and became symbolic, so now, most women will take turns to carry a Karah on their heads. On the following morning, the groom will take a bath using this water and drink any left over.
Once the Groom steps back in to the house, out of happiness, he normally gifts his sister with money.
The second part of this night involves the relatives presenting gifts to the Groom. The gifts will include clothes, jewellery and cologne. Its common for the extended family to also present gold rings for the Groom and his mother.
Bari – Normally on this night the mother will also showcase the Bari, this is a set of gifts for the Bride which include clothes, jewellery, homeware and toiletries. The idea behind this is to make the Bride feel welcomed and in place as soon as she arrives.
Daaj – This is a set of presents from the Brides family, it is usually homeware gifts for the couple for when buy their own place. From a mothers point of view, she wants to ensure the daughter is fully equipped with household goods for her new home.
This is also another one of the major functions. The Baraat is the family, relatives and friends of the groom who make a procession (Janj) towards the brides home; essentially it is ‘the Groom taking his clan with him to pick up his Mrs’. Drummers will be present and fireworks will be set to create a hype. Traditionally, during some part of the procession a member of the Grooms family will stop the whole Baraat (Rokhana), direct them to their home and serve a light snack.
Once the Baraat reaches the venue the Grooms family will set a display of fireworks and accompanied by the rhythm of the dhol, dance away. The groom does not usually take part in the dancing.
On the other side of the fence, the Brides family will accept the Baraatis as guests so given a warm welcome; flower garlands and rose petals will be thrown upon the Janj as they walk in.
Dhood Pilai – At the entrance of the venue the Brides sisters will stop the Groom from entering until a sufficient amount of cash is given to them. The idea is, ‘you’re not taking our sister home so easily so pay up’, this can lead to bantering between the bride’s sisters and friends on one side and the groom’s brothers and friends on the other side. Once the Groom pays up, in return the sisters welcome him with a glass of Milk (Rasm-e-Dhood Pilai). Milk symbolises richness and purity- it was like champagne back in the days.
Once the Janj enter the venue, the Groom makes way to his Bride but before he can sit, he is stopped once again by the sisters who are requesting more money. After a continuance of bantering, the Groom pays them out and finally joins his bride.
Now that the Baraatis are here, the Brides Reception formally takes place. All her family and friends will be present wishing her well. The common theme on the Shaadi day is to wear very traditional clothes, so the Bride will wear a heavily embroidered dress in a rich red or a dark purple accompanied with gold jewellery, that the mother gifts her as part of the Daaj. The Groom will wear a sherwani with a turban, usually in a colour matching the Brides dress.
Shoe snatcher – As most couples didn’t know each other prior to the wedding, the sisters and friends will arrange games to break the ice. One example is stealing the Groom’s shoes and demanding sum of money for their return. The bantering and fun allows the couple to bond quicker.
Once the guests have been fed and the Bride has moral support from her extended family. The Bride will head back home so her family can see her off properly.
Churi – On the Grooms arrival to the Brides home, one of the sisters will bring along a plate of churi (buttered chappati) to feed the groom. The idea behind this is to signify that the Groom is always welcome and as the head-sister, she will happily cook for him- hence the feeding of the churi. Over the years, this has become a trend and also a game-like tradition. The sister will cover the plate of churi with another plate tightly, in return the Groom will attempt to move the plate out of the way. Once he succeeds, the sister feeds the Groom.
Rice – As the Bride walks towards the car with the Groom, the Bride will stop on her door step and throw rice over her head. Rice in Pakistan is a high source of nutrient so it symbolises wealth and efficiency. When the Bride throws the several grains behind her, she signifies that ‘she is leaving her mothers comfort and nurturing to enter in to a new family’.
Qu’ran – The Qur’an is also held over the Bride’s head as she walks from the Door to the car in order to bless and protect her- yet another oblivious tradition.
The Groom will then take her back to his parents home.
As soon as the Bride arrives at the Groom’s house, the family will make her feel welcomed and cheer her up. The couple will start off by un-knotting each others bands that the friends put on them at the Mendhi.
Milk – One of the ice breakers the family will set up is where the couple have to fight for the hidden ring in a bowl of milk. I guess the idea is to get the couple accustomed to each others personal space.
Khara – Another game is where the women will also spin a khara (water pot) around the Grooms head several times and then drink from it. The groom will try to stop them from doing so.
Guthna Pakrai – This is where the youngest brother of the Groom sits on or holds the knee of the Bride. As he’s the baby brother, the Bride gives him a bit of pocket money. The idea makes sense as he’s her new baby brother too but it has become more of a trend- so the baby brother will demand money.
Otherwise known as the golden night, this is where the couple engage in sexual intercourse for the first time. But, normally the couple will go to a hotel due to the thin walls at home. It’s been reported that some mothers will lay down white bedding to ensure intercourse has taken place and more importantly that she is a virgin! Yum.
The day everyone has been working towards, Its the Wedding Reception- the most extravagant event yet. It is also Sunnah to hold this event i.e publicly announce the marriage. There aren’t many traditions attached to the Walima, it will vary to suit the household, venue, timings, guest list, etc. The Groom normally opts for a formal Western suit or Tuxedo and the Bride will wear a dazzling dress with Jewellery provided by the Groom. Its common to see: several high end cars, a fully themed venue, four course meal, DJ, dance floor, bridesmaid, flower girls, bouquet for the bride, wedding cake and favour boxes.
Salami – As people go on to the stage, they will give salaam and congratulate the couple. Rather than going empty handed, most people dish out a tenner each for the Bride and Groom. But this has become a trend, it can become embarrassing to only give a certain amount or nothing at all.
Traditionally, as marriages were arranged between people from different cities and villages, it often meant that the Bride was unfamiliar with her new family. To ease her into the new life and surroundings, she was brought back to her parents’ house on the Walima night to spend a few nights home.
It has become common for couples to go on a honeymoon. A week away enjoying time with each other and ultimate privacy bonds the couple closer. On a side note- Morocco, Turkey and Egypt are extremely cheap to visit- ladies you’ll know what you’re worth.
The Brides parents host a dinner on the 4th day after the wedding for the immediate family members of the groom. Due to impracticalities, the first family dinner is held at other suitable times.
It is also customary for the friends and family of the couple to invite them over for dinner to formally accept them as a couple. Or with some families a huge after party is thrown.
Based on the ethnic and geographical location of the families, weddings in Pakistan can vary. I have observed only 5 weddings. I may have missed some traditions out or not grasped the meaning of some fully. Please leave a comment below if you believe so. Here are some miscellaneous traditions:
Dastar Bandi – Elder men in the groom’s family place a turban on the Grooms head to formally include him in the ‘circle of men’.
Nehndra – Is a customary payment from guests towards the wedding, however it seems as though it’s code word for ‘here’s my cut for the food’.
The only requirement for Muslims to marry is signing a contractual document i.e the Nikkah ceremony- The Walima is a Sunnah and highly recommended act. You are also required to comply with the law of the land to ensure your marriage is accepted legally. This would mean the majority of the traditions listed above are not part of the Islamic tradition. Many people claim for this reason, these cultural additions should be avoided and marriage should be entirely Islamic to attain full blessings.
However, the Islamic stance on different cultures is that, they are to be embraced and respected so long as they don’t contradict Islamic teachings. Forced marriages have been prevalent in some areas in Pakistan, Islam completely condemns such marriages, so this culture among some families in Pakistan will be highly unislamic. The question now is whether the above traditions contradict Islam.
The general rule stands that if the act is haraam, then so will the tradition be i.e using a Bindi to ward off evil. Bollywood Music is prevalent at weddings, and as Muslims we know Music is haraam- but how much is music disliked over these traditions. I don’t want to give verdict on each tradition as I’m not a qualified scholar. For example ‘zabaan’- the purpose is to secure the ‘arrangement’. If families were to back out for trivial reasons it could raise feuds among families and major embarrassment so in Pakistani rural areas it was practical and reliable. But if the zabaan, becomes an extravagant tradition where money is spent unnecessarily, then its a waste.
Whereas an Engagement party- you can argue that it is unnecessary and wasteful. But I can see how a small get-to-together can become a party i.e family ties are important in Asian societies, so the parents will most likely invite their parent and siblings and the boy/girl themselves will want a few friends there for moral support. As this means, many people have gathered, the families will want to feed their guests so food will be made available. Already this becomes a small party but due to the circumstances not to be wasteful. I guess it depends on your intention. Those who do it to show off or are spend-thrifty are unfavoured by God. Even in the days of the Holy Prophet , marriage used to be preceded by a mutual understanding with the actual marriage taking place at a later stage.
To put things into perspective, at every western wedding there is cake. Many Asian people will also have cake at the wedding. This is a societal norm- Most of us will say its harmless and completes the occasion as cakes are eaten at times of joy. In the same way some of the traditions are harmless like the ‘Baree’ or ‘Dhood pilai’.
As long as you avoid the haraam acts listed in Islamic sources, avoid showing off, avoid high interest loans, avoid music and avoid being wasteful you’re good to go.
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