Marriage in Pakistan
Marriage in Pakistan (Urdu: پاکستانی شادی) pertains to wedding traditions established and adhered by Pakistani men and women. Despite their local and regional variations, marriages in Pakistan generally follow Islamic marital jurisprudence. Culturally, marriages are not only seen as a union between a husband and a wife, but also an alliance between their respective families. These traditions extend to other countries around in the world where Overseas Pakistani communities exist.
Before the wedding
Searching for a potential groom or bride (رشتہ تلاش کرنا) is the first step of traditional Pakistani marriages. Beyond age 20, both men and women are considered potential grooms and brides. Most marriages in Pakistan are traditional arranged marriages, semi-arranged marriages or love marriages.
- Arranged marriage occurs when a member of the family, a close friend or a third person party help bring two supposedly compatible people together in matrimony. The groom and bride have usually never met before, and any interaction between them is akin to small talk with a stranger. This form of marriage is considered traditional, but is losing popularity among the newer generations.
- Semi-arranged marriage is a growing trend where both men and women interact with one another before marriage (a form of dating). Both the man and woman have usually had several “meet and greet” opportunities, thereby allowing both to gain a sense of familiarity. This process can occur over a span of a few months to a few years and may or may not culminate in marriage. However, if both agree upon marriage, the potential groom will approach his family to send a proposal to the family of the potential bride.
- Love marriages (also known as court marriages) are rare, since the concept of "family consent" has been eliminated. Such “free-will” challenges traditional mindsets as it "dishonours" the powerful institution in Pakistani society - the family. Without family consent, marriages are usually frowned upon.
Once a decision has been made by either the man or woman or both, one or more representatives of the potential groom's family pay a visit to the potential bride's family. In arranged marriages, the first visit is purely for the parties to become acquainted with one another and does not include a formal proposal. Following the first visit, both the man and woman have their say in whether or not they would like a follow up to this visit. Once both parties are in agreement, a proposal party (شادی کا پیام) is held at the bride's home, where the groom's parents and family elders formally ask the bride's parents for her hand in marriage. In semi-arranged marriages, the first or second visit may include a formal proposal, since both the man and woman have already agreed to marriage prior - the proposal is more or less a formality. In love marriages, the man directly proposes to the woman. Once the wedding proposal is accepted, beverages and refreshments are served. Depending on individual family traditions, the bride-to-be may also be presented with gifts such as jewelry and a variety of gifts. Some religious families may also recite Surah Al-Fatihah.
An engagement (called nisbat نِسبت, mangni منگنی or habar bandi حبر بندی) 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 the 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. In traditional engagement ceremonies, the bride and the groom are not seated together, and the rings are placed on the bride's finger by the groom's mother or sister, and vice versa. However, segregated engagement ceremonies have become a rarity among the newer generations and rings are usually exchanged between the couple. A prayer (Dua) and blessings are then recited for the couple, and the wedding date is decided.
A typical Pakistani wedding has at least three main customs:
Arranged and semi-arranged marriages in Pakistan often take long periods of time to finalize - up to a year or more can elapse from the day of engagement until the wedding ceremony. Wedding customs and celebrations also vary upon ethnicity and religion.
Nikah (نِكاح) is the formal marriage ceremony where a marriage contract (نکاح نامہ) is signed by both the bride and the groom in presence of close family members. The nikah is typically performed by a religious scholar at a mosque, such as an Imam, Mufti, Sheikh or Mullah, who in Pakistan will be licensed by the government to perform the ceremony. The bride and groom must both have two witnesses present to ensure that the marriage is consensual.
Shadi (شادی) is the main marriage ceremony which occurs after the nikah and is hosted at a marriage hall, restaurant or hotel. The shadi usually consists of a lavish dinner ceremony, during which the newly married couple welcome family, friends and invitees. The dinner typically consists of several dishes with roasted or grilled food, slow-cooked rice with meat, curries and traditional desserts - these include pullao, biryani, chaanp, chargha, various forms of roasted fowl and lamb, various forms of kebabs, naan, Shirmal, Taftan, Falooda, Kulfi etc.
Walima (ولِيمہ) is the final day of the wedding held by the couple as they host their first dinner as husband and wife. The word Walima derives from the Urdu for guardian ("Wali") from which the words for mother and father (walida/walid) also derive. The feast was traditionally hosted at home but more commonly now, the walima is held in a marriage hall, restaurant or hotel. The walima is a celebration that publicizes the marriage, with a lavish feast similar to the main Shaadi day. However, the family of the bride may expect the walima to be on a smaller scale than the main shaadi reception, to amplify the impact of the main shaadi day. The bride wears a heavily decorated dress with gold jewelry gifted by the groom's family. The groom normally opts for a formal Western suit or tuxedo.
Shab-i-Zifaf (شبِ زِفاف) 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. After the relatives have left, the groom enters the bedroom where the bride is waiting. Traditionally the bride's veil or head covering (dupatta or chador) is draped over so that it covers her face (گھونگٹ). It is customary for the husband to brush the bride's veil 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 ring or a family heirloom.
It is customary for a bride and groom to receive wedding presents. Traditionally, an envelope with cash or gifts are given to the bride or groom when wedding guests come to visit them during the shaadi reception. It is also customary for friends and family of the couple to invite guests over for dinner and lunch after the shaadi 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 hosting further dinner parties with the shaadi guests.
Wedding songs are performed typically during the Rasm-e-Heena function. These songs are mainly traditional folk songs, but may also include pop songs.
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Invitations & Wedding Cards
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There are considerable regional variations for weddings in Pakistan - not all of the following celebrations or traditions are conducted in all weddings.
Rasm-e-Heena (رسمی حنا) or mehndi (مہندی) is a ceremony that is named after henna, a dye prepared from the Lawsonia inermis plant which is mixed into a paste form to apply onto the hands of the bride and groom. This event is held a few days before the main wedding ceremony and was traditionally held separately for the bride and the groom. However the ceremony is often now combined and held at a marriage hall. The groom will typically wear a casual black or white shalwar qameez, sherwani or western suit while the bride will typically wear an embroidered brightly colored shalwar kameez, sari or lehnga. The dress may or may not be accompanied by jewelry, depending upon region and ethnic background. In some ceremonies, a certain number of married women who are closely related to the bride may 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. Sometimes elaborate musical and acting performances are part of the Rasm-e-Heena celebrations, as well as competitions between the bride and groom's families are also quite common these days. Traditionally this was considered a "woman's event" as men did not participate in it. However this has changed substantially in recent generations with males featuring prominently. In some regions, Rasm-e-Heena is not celebrated while in other regions two Rasm-e-Heena celebrations are hosted, one by the groom's family and another by the bride's family.
Aarsi Mushaf Dikhana
Aarsi Mushaf Dikhana (آرسى مشف دِكهانا) or munh dekhai (منہ دِکھائی) is a ritual of “showing of the face” after the nikah ceremony. 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. The bride and groom share a piece of fruit and family and friends congratulate the couple and offer gifts. Dinner is then served to the guests.
Attan ( اتڼ ) is a Pashtun dance usually performed at the end of the marriage ceremonies. Traditionally however, the dance was performed twice - once at the beginning of the wedding and once at the end.
Baraat (Urdu: برات) is the groom's wedding procession which mainly occurs in Punjabi weddings and in Karachi. It is customary for the bridegroom to travel to the shaadi venue on a mare, accompanied by the groom's family members. Traditionally, the groom would travel to the venue by a decorated horse and after, the bride will leave in a doli (palanquin) - see section ruksathi below. In recent times, the decorated horses and dolis are replaced by decorated luxury vehicles or limousines. There will normally be a procession of cars in the baraat, often following closely behind the groom. 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. The baraat can become a large procession, with a band and dancers. The groom and his horse are covered in finery and do not usually take part in the dancing and singing; that is left to the attendees ("baraatis"). The term baraati is also more generically used to describe any invitee from the groom's side. Traditionally, baraatis are attended to with lavish deference as the honoured guests of the bride's family, in a bid to display the earnest respect towards the groom’s family and friends.. The bride's family, specifically the bride’s parents, invite the groom's family and their guests for a feast. The reception is attended by the family, friends, neighbours and acquaintance of both sides of the family, so guests can number in the hundreds or low thousands. Traditionally, the venue would have been the bride’s parents’ home, however in recent times special-purpose wedding venues, restaurants or hotel function rooms are used. The bride wears a heavily decorated dress with gold jewelry, that her mother gifts her daughter, so the Brides reception can formally take place. A 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 jewelry. The Groom will wear a traditional Sherwani with a turban, usually the turban is accented in a colour matching the dress worn by the bride. The Shaadi celebrates a daughter’s departure from the family unit. The Shaadi is expected to be lavish and is considered an important responsibility on the bride’s father. The responsibility of Shaadi is often cited as a reason subcontinental families prefer male offspring. Arranging the Shaadi may be a challenge where the bride’s parent(s) are without means, deceased or otherwise estranged.
Bijjar ( بجر ) is a Balochi word which literally translates to “cooperation” but in actuality is the receiving of aid, where by the groom (saloonk) or his family members receive Bijjar from the community members (mainly relatives and friends) to smoothly perform the wedding. Bijjar usually came in the form of cattle or crops but nowadays is mainly money and is repaid back at weddings of relatives and friends at a later time.
Dastar Bandi ( دستار بندی ) is a ceremony where a turban is placed on the head of the groom and marks the start of manhood. Elders of the groom's family place a turban on his head and formally include him in the 'circle of men'. This ceremony is commonly performed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and northern Balochistan.
Dholki ( ڈھولکی ) is a ceremony that takes its name from the percussion instrument Dholki and is featured heavily during wedding celebrations in Punjab. 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 other percussion instruments. Today, this ceremony has also been reduced to a single night of singing and is often combined with the Rasm-e-Heena ceremony.
Doodh Pilai ( دودھ پلائی ) is a ceremony which is prevalent in many Urdu speaking 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 gifts.
Haldi (ہلدی) is a Sindhi wedding ritual followed by the bride and groom - a form of purification by pouring oil and haldi all over the bride/groom bodies this is done by the family members of both. After the ceremony has finished, the couple cannot leave the house.
Jol Bandi (جول بینڈی) or Bashang (بشنگ) is a Baloch wedding ceremony held at the brides home and is similar in concept to Rasm-e-Heena. "Jol" means a large well decorated sheet in Balochi and "bandi" means "to close". During this ceremony, the bride is covered with the decorated sheet, usually sown by the groom's family. This marks the beginning of the official wedding ceremony.
Maklava is a predominantly a 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. In Northern Punjab, it is called Bad Phera (Exchange cycle).
Mobaraki (مبارکی) is a post-wedding banquet common in Baloch wedding and is hosted by the family of the bride. The entire groom's family, friends and relatives are invited along with relatives and friends of the bride's family.
Paon Dhulai is a Sindhi wedding tradition, where the bride's brother washes the feet of both of the bride and groom. Some families condemned this as it seems like an insult to the family of the bride.
Rukhsati (رُخصتی) - "sending off" (sometimes called Doli (ڈولی) - "palanquin") takes place when the groom and bride leave the shaadi venue together with the elders of the Family. Before this point the bride and groom will have already been married in the eyes of God by the imam in the nikkah. This is a Bride's farewell by her family. The games and pranks are juxtaposed with the dour occasion for the bride's parents, as the doli marks the departure of their daughter from the family unit, to establish a new home for herself. In order to bless and protect the couple, the Qur'an is held over the bride's head as she leaves, and even though there is no basis in Islam or Muslim tradition for the Rukhsati. In recent times, withholding or delaying the rukhsati has been used to exert control over the couple by the family of the bride or to extract dowry from the groom. Intentionally delaying or not hosting the Shaadi or Rukhsati May be used to disavow the relationship. However, in Islam as it is considered haram (impermissible) for any person to restrain a married woman from going with her husband, after the Nikkah has been performed
Sammi is a folk dance mostly performed in Potohar region of upper Punjab and Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during weddings.
- 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.
- Darwaza Rukai or doorway blocking. The females of the grooms side block the doorway for him to get to his wife, until he rewards them with a gift or money.
- Godda Pharai/Guthna Pakrai, is a Punjabi custom in which the younger brother of the bridegroom holds the knee of the bride and doesn't let go until some acceptable monetary gift is given to him.
- Sehra Bandhai/Sehra Bandi, garlands dressing
Mahr (مهر) is a mandatory payment, in the form of money or possessions that will be paid by the groom to the bride and stipulated in the nikkah contract. While the mahr is often money, it can also be anything agreed upon by the bride such as jewelry, home goods, furniture, a dwelling or some land. Mahr is typically specified in the marriage contract signed during an Islamic marriage. The amount of mehr is decided by the family of the bride and the time of the payment is negotiable.
- Arranged marriage
- Baad (practice)
- Child marriage
- Culture of Pakistan
- Divorce in Pakistan
- Islamic marital jurisprudence
- Polygamy in Pakistan
- Punjabi wedding traditions
- Vani (custom)
- Watta satta
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