Marriage in Pakistan
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Marriage (Urdu: شادی), in Pakistan is a legal union between a man and a woman. Culturally, it is not only a link between the husband and wife, but also an alliance between their respective families. Because about 97% of Pakistan's population is Muslim the Islamic law is usually observed.
Polygyny the act of one man having multiple wives, is permitted under Pakistani civil law under the Marriage Act of 1965, (the Pakistani Family Act) up to a total of four wives, with the stipulation that the first wife gives attested written permission. However, it is now less common, especially in urban areas.
Arranged marriages have been an integral part of Pakistani society for years and are still prevalent. Marriages are often arranged within the family or within the same community or ethnicity. Social and educational status are very important in arranged matrimonial alliances. However nowadays, love marriages are slowly becoming more common and acceptable in Pakistan. Arranged matches are made after taking into account factors such as the wealth and social standing of their families. A marriage can also be made within the extended family such as between cousins.
There are two types of arranged marriages in Pakistan. Under semi-arranged marriages, the couple makes the final decision. In a completely arranged marriage, with no compromises made by the potential bride and groom, the parents’ decision is final. Dating is frowned upon in Pakistani society and it’s still not acceptable. However, a new generation of Pakistani adolescents have taken on Western practices of courtship. Dating has become a new phenomenon but it happens “behind the scenes” where it’s hushed in order to protect the family honor. The most liberal and educated of Pakistan undergo semi-arranged marriages in the urban parts of the country, and fully arranged marriages are seen mostly in rural areas which hold the least educated people.
Arranged marriages in Pakistan often take long periods of time to finalize. The time from preparation until wedding day may be more than a year. When the wedding date approaches, all close relatives are invited for a typical Pakistani wedding that requires a considerable budget in order to accommodate them. In some cases, wedding dates are even postponed until the important relatives are able to arrive to the location of the reception from abroad. The wedding customs and celebrations also differ significantly depending on the geographical location as well as the families involved. However, a typical Pakistani wedding has at least three main customs involving the Henna ceremony (Rasme Henna), the vows or the Nikah which is a part of the actual wedding or Shaadi ceremony, and a subsequent Walima offered by the groom's family.
A proposal party is a reception held at the bride's house, where the groom's parents and family elders formally ask the bride's parents for her hand in marriage. In religious families, once the wedding proposal is accepted, the families read Surah Al-Fatihah, and then tea and refreshments are served. Depending on individual family traditions, the bride-to-be may also be presented with an item of jewelry and a variety of gifts.
An engagement نِسبت is a formal ceremony to mark the engagement of the couple. It is usually a small ceremony that takes place in the presence of a few close members of would-be bride's and groom’s families. Rings and other items of jewelry among affluent families are exchanged between the would-be bride and groom. Traditionally, the bride and the groom were not seated together, and the rings are placed on the bride's finger by the groom's mother or sister, and vice versa. In recent years, however, segregated functions have become a rarity and rings are usually exchanged between the couple. Prayer and blessings for the couple are then recited, and the wedding date is decided.
The Dholki or Dholak (Urdu: ڈھولکی) celebration takes its name from the percussion instrument Dholki, which is featured heavily during this wedding celebration. Traditionally, many days or even weeks before the actual wedding day, women will gather in the house of the bride at night to sing and dance while accompanied by percussion instruments. Today, this ceremony has also been reduced to a single night of singing and is often combined with Mehndi or Henna ceremony.
Mehndi (Urdu: مہندی), the Henna ceremony, or the Rasm-e-henna ceremony, typically takes place one or two days prior to the main wedding day. The event is traditionally held separately for the bride and the groom. The henna is symbolically placed on the couple's hands. The groom's friends and family bring along sweets and henna for the bride, and the bride's family does the same for the groom. In the bride's ceremony, the groom normally does not participate, and similarly on the groom's event, the bride stays at home. Female guests are sometimes offered mehndi at the host's discretion.
Traditionally, since there were separate functions for both the bride and the groom, the groom's function was called 'Tael' (oil) where female guests put some oil into the groom's hair. With the ceremony now held simultaneously for both the groom and the bride, the use of the term 'tael' has diminished greatly. In some cases, the entire ceremony is instead referred to as "Tael Mehndi" (Oil and Henna) ceremony.
The bride normally wears a green dress or yellows/orange for the Henna celebration and uses only light, or mostly, no make-up. The groom will typically wear a casual Shalwar Qameez. The bride and/or the groom are brought forward in the ceremony under a decorative dupatta by their close relatives. In the bridal ceremony, a certain number of married women who are closely related to the bride apply henna to her hands, and feed her sweets. This ritual is supposed to bring good luck and longevity to the bride's married life. Similarly, on the groom's side, oil is applied to his head and sweets are fed to the groom.
A song competition also occurs in the Rasme Henna or Mehndi celebrations between the bride and groom's side. Young women and men will sing teasing songs about the other side (where the bride's side pokes good natured fun at the groom's side and vice versa) and try to compete in this ritual sing song. Sometimes elaborate musical and acting performances are part of the Mehndi celebrations. Elaborate dance sequences and competitions between the bride and groom's families are also quite common these days.
Traditionally, the Mehendi was considered a women's event and men did not participate in it. The sing song etc. was left almost entirely to women. However, this has changed substantially in recent times with males featuring prominently in the Mehndi celebrations as well. A recent trend gaining popularity is to announce a color theme for the mehendi whereby guests are supposed to dress up in a particular color. Commonly used colors are bright reds, oranges and yellows. In some communities, the groom's mehndi traditionally features a dress code of green while the bride's requires yellow.
Baraat (Urdu: برات) is the procession of the family, relatives, and friends of the groom and they accompany the groom to the bride’s home for the official wedding ceremony. The groom makes his way to the bride's home on a richly decked horse or car and the “barat” follows in different vehicles. Usually they are also accompanied by a band playing wedding songs. The groom is given a warm welcome by the bride’s family with flower garlands and rose petals thrown upon the procession by the bride's sisters, cousins and friends.
If the couple are Muslim, a Nikkah is performed. Nikkah نِكاح, is an Islamic official wedding ceremony. A marriage contract is signed by both the bride and the groom in presence of their parents and close relatives. Wedding is illegal without a Nikah. The Nikah is performed by a religious person who has the license issued by the government to perform this ritual.
A Wedding شادی, (Shaadi) is when the bride's reception formally takes place. The event takes place at the bride's house where large wedding tents may be set up in the garden or a nearby place. It has also become very common to hold the event in a marriage hall or hotel. The bride's family is responsible for the reception and arrangements of the day.
The baraat or grooms procession indicates the arrival of the groom's family and friends to the bride's house. The barat is often accompanied by the rhythms of a dhol (drum) as it arrives and is greeted with flowers and rose petals by the bride's family. It is customary for the bride's sisters and friends to stop the barat from entering the arena until a sufficient amount of cash is given to them. This can lead to bantering, but usually harmless and just for fun, between the bride's sisters and friends on one side and the groom's brothers and friends on the other side.
The bride traditionally wears a red,pink or purple gharara, lehenga or shalwar kameez which is heavily embroidered. However, other bright colors may also be worn. The dress is always accompanied with heavy gold jewellery. The groom may wear a traditional dress such as sherwani with a sehra or turban though some may prefer to wear a western inspired suit.
The nikah is the Islamic marriage contract ceremony. It either takes place at the Shaadi itself or on a separate day at the bride's house, before the shaadi event.
It is performed by an imam which formally indicates signing of the marriage contract. The bride and groom must both have two witnesses present to ensure that the marriage is consensual.
A dinner is served which consists of several dishes with meat featuring heavily in the meal. Some of the well represented dishes in a wedding meal include pullao, biryani, chaanp, chargha, various forms of roasted fowl and lamb, various forms of kebabs, naan, Shirmal, Taftan, Falooda, Kulfi etc. .
Showing of the face
In Aarsi Mushaf Dikhana (Urdu: آرسى مُصٛحف دِكهانا), transliterated as Munh Dikhai aka Urdu:مُنٚہ دِکھائی) is the ceremony of the “showing of the face” after the Nikah. A green, embroidered shawl is generally held over the couple's head and they are made to see each other in the mirror and the bride unveils her face that she keeps hidden during the Nikah. This custom is also called as Mun Dikhai at times, though Munh Dikahi generally refers to the unveiling of the bride's face after she enters her husband's house. The bride and groom share a piece of sweet fruit, and family and friends congratulate the couple and offer gifts. Dinner is then served to the guests. The sisters, friends, and female cousins of the bride take this opportunity to steal the groom's shoes and demand a sum of money for their return. This is a very popular custom and the groom usually carries a lot of cash, due to the popularity of this custom. He pays the money to get back his shoes and the girls divide the money among themselves.
The Rukhsati (Urdu: رُخصتی) (sending off) takes place, when the groom and his family will leave together with the bride. The Qur'an is normally held over the bride's head as she walks from the stage to the exit (or if the ceremony is being held at home, to the main entrance of the house) in order to bless and protect her. This is a sombre occasion for the bride's parents as it marks the departure of their daughter from their home. The departure of the bride becomes a very emotional scene as she says farewell to the home of her parents and siblings to start a new married life.
Traditionally, the groom travels by a decorated horse to the bride's house and after the wedding ceremony takes his wife in a doli (palanquin) to his parents' house to live. The horse and the carts have now been replaced by cars, and in sharp contrast to western weddings, it is typical to see a quiet bride with wet eyes as she sits in the car beside her husband leaving for her new home.
Shab-i-Zifaf شبِ زِفاف also called Suhaag raat سُہاگ رات (golden night/maiden night of married life) refers to the couples' first night together and it occurs after the bride has left for the groom's house.
On the day of the wedding, the couples' bedroom is decorated with flowers. It is customary for roses or rose petals to be laid across the couples' bed and sometimes for garlands or strings of roses to be used as bed curtains. The groom's female relatives lead the bride to the bedroom and she is left for some time to await the groom's arrival. At this point it is common for the groom to stay with his relatives for a while. The groom may be offered a glass of milk during this time. After the relatives have left, the groom enters the bedroom where the bride is waiting. Traditionally the bride's dupatta (veil or head covering) is draped over so that it covers her face. This is known as 'Ghoongat' گهُونٚگٹ. It is customary for the husband to brush the bride's ghoongat aside to reveal her face as one of the first things on that night. It is also customary in some families for the husband to present his newly-wed wife with a small token of affection. This is generally a piece of jewellery such as a ring or a family heirloom of similar extent.
'Munh Dikhai', literally translates into 'revealing of the face'.
Walima (Urdu: ولِيمہ) is the final day of the wedding held by the couple as they host their first dinner as husband and wife. This is traditionally organised by the bridegroom and/or his family thus, without his parents, this ritual normally cannot be performed. So to make Walima valid, the parents' blessing and presence is the most important factor The groom's family, specifically his parents, invite all of the bride's family and their guests to their home for a feast. More commonly nowadays, this is held in a marriage hall or hotel instead. The Walima is typically the most festive event of the wedding ceremony and intends to publicize the marriage.
The bride wears a heavily decorated dress with gold jewellery provided by the groom's family. The groom normally opts for a formal Western suit or tuxedo. It is at this ceremony that they are formally and publicly show cased as a married couple.
It is customary for the Pakistani bride and groom to receive wedding presents in the form of cash. Traditionally, an envelope with cash is given to the bride or groom when wedding guests come to visit them during the wedding reception. It is also customary for the friends and family of the couple to invite them over for dinner and lunch after the wedding to formally accept them as a couple. This can often result in the first few weeks of married life for the newly weds being spent engaging in dinner parties and small receptions.
It is very common for the couples to go for a honeymoon following the shaadi (wedding) and walima ceremonies. Murree and Nathia Gali are some of Pakistan's most popular destinations, although more well-off couples may go overseas for their honeymoon. The honeymoon is generally 2–7 days long and gives a chance for the couple to spend some time in privacy, especially in joint families where the bride lives with the husband's family.
Pakistani wedding customs can be quite varied depending on the ethnic and geographical origins of the bride and groom. Some of these customs are listed below
- Dastar Bandi or the "Wearing of the turban" is a ceremony which is performed in parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The ceremony marks the start of manhood for the groom. Elder men in the groom's family place a turban on his head and formally include him in the 'circle of men'.
- Doodh Pilai is a ceremony which is prevalent in many Pakistani weddings. On the actual wedding day, sisters, cousins or friends of the bride will bring milk for the groom. After he drinks the milk, he is supposed to present them with money and presents.
- Maklava is a predominantly Punjabi custom. Traditionally, the marriages were arranged and often contracted between people from different cities and villages. This 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 a few days after the wedding. She then spent some time at her parents' house before heading back to her new husband's home. This practice is still prevalent in most rural areas of the Punjab.
- Chauthi or the fourth day after the wedding the brides parents host a dinner for the immediate family members of the groom, often this is marked with playful traditions like hiding the shoes of the groom and a lavish feast.
- Guthna Pakrai is a Punjabi custom in which the younger brother of the bridegroom hold the knee of the bride and don't let go until some acceptable monetary gift is given to him.
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- "Pakistan, Islam in - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Oxfordislamicstudies.com. 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
- "Pakistan". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
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