So Many Events! The Culture of Pakistani Marriage
by Muneeza Sheikh
Ever stress out at the fact that you have to attend a wedding and do not know if your outfit is suitable for the occasion? For those attending a typical Pakistani wedding, you might want to have a few outfits ready (and a few backups) because once a marriage is confirmed, the super long list of events that are planned out sometimes even years in advance for guests and family members to attend can take up to a month!
Some of the most common events that are held in a typical Pakistani marriage include variations of the following: Marriage Proposal, Engagement, Dholki, Mehndi (Henna), Barat, Nikah, Registration, Reception, Rukhsati (Farewell) and Valima (Walima). The only Islamic events are the Nikah and Valima, and registration is usually a legal requirement, however the remaining events are cultural additions which each have their own rituals, symbols and meanings.
The marriage starts off with the proposal, which is usually followed by a proposal party at the bride’s house. This is when the groom’s parents and elder family members formally ask the bride’s parents for her hand in marriage. Once the proposal is accepted, tea and refreshments are served, and depending on the types of families involved, gifts and jewelry may also be presented to the bride from the groom’s side of the family.
Next, a small yet formal engagement takes place which marks the engagement of the couple. In the presence of close family members, rings and gifts are exchanged between both families. Finally, prayers and blessings are recited and the wedding date is finalized.
The Dholki is a celebration that inherits its name from the percussion instrument, Dholak, which is a large part of this event. Singing and dancing in happiness and joy for the marriage is usually what the Dholki is all about, as it features family members, relatives and friends. Many Dholki events are held by friends weeks or even months before the actual wedding.
The Dholki is also sometimes combined with the Mehndi or Henna ceremony. In this event, henna is symbolically placed on both the bride and groom’s hand, and both families bring beautifully decorated gifts for the bride and the groom. The bride usually wears bright and vivid colors such as green, yellow or orange, with light or no makeup, and the groom wears a typical Shalwar Qameez. The bride and groom are ushered under a decorative duppatta by close relatives. Singing, dancing and musical performances continue as sweets or fruits are fed to the bride and groom.
Before the actual wedding can take place, the Nikkah ceremony must be completed, as it is the official Islamic wedding ceremony where a marriage contract is signed by the bride and groom in the presence of close family members and relatives. Without the Nikkah, the wedding is considered illegal, thus it is considered the heart of the marriage.
The Baraat is the procession of the groom’s close family members, relatives and close friends that accompany the groom to the bride’s house (or where the wedding is taking place). The groom is welcomed and greeted by the bride’s family with garlands, flower petals and music. The bride usually wears a red sharara, lehenga or Shalwar Qameez, which is heavily embroidered and accompanied with gold jewelery. A few speeches are made from the bride’s close family members, such as her parents and her siblings, and a cake is usually cut. Following this, an elaborate dinner is served with a variety of traditional dishes including biryani, kabobs, chicken tikkah, naan and mixed vegetables. Marriage portraits are taken, and families are called up to the stage to take pictures with the newly married couple. After this, the Rukhsati will typically take place. This event is usually sombre and very emotional for the bride’s family as it marks the farewell or departure of the bride to start her new married life.
The final event is the Valima (Walima), which intends to publicize the marriage and showcase the bride and groom as an officially married couple. The Valima is usually organized by the groom’s family, and without his parent’s presence, the ritual cannot usually be performed, because it is the groom’s parents that invites all of the bride’s family and relatives for a feast. The bride wears a festive, yet heavily decorated dress and jewelry which she receives from the groom’s family, and the groom usually opts for a suit. The bride and groom usually receive cash from the guests as family portraits are taken.
Pakistani marriage traditions and culture may seem to be very extravagant and repetitive, but this is what makes it so unique and enjoyable for all guests attending!