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Marriage in Pakistan (Urdu: نكاح , عروس , شادی ,بیاہ ,عقد ,ازدواج) 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. If a married man remains childless with his first wife, family members might recommend to marry a second wife. However, polyandry, the act of one woman having multiple husbands, and group marriages, known these days as polyamory (meaning multiple husbands and wives partners), are not permitted.
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 made in 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 tradition, the bride-to-be may also be presented with an item of jewelry and lots of gifts.
An engagement (Urdu: منگنی) (Mangni) 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.
A maayun (Urdu: مایوں) is custom of the bride entering into the state of seclusion before the wedding. In earlier centuries this would last eight to fifteen days, which, being no longer practicable, last now for a night. The bride and the bridegroom are made free of all the chores and errands around the house. The bride and groom are not allowed to see each other after the initiation of the period and the bride is not allowed to leave her house, particularly after sunset. The beautification rituals begin during this time.
Ubtan turmeric paste, sandalwood powder, herbs, and aromatic oils are traditionally brought by the women of the groom's household for the bride. She blesses bride and applies “ubtan’ to the bride's hands and face. Groom's sister also does the same, and a thick string called a “gana” is tied to the bride’s arm. “Ubtan” is applied to the bride's skin each day leading up to the wedding. Similar ceremony is held for the groom, where bride's mother, sisters, cousins and friends bring “ubtan” for groom and rub it on his skin.
The ceremony is often brought to a close by the members of the household playing ubtan whereby it is brought in huge trays and throw at each.
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.
Barat (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 nikah is performed. Nikah (Urdu: نكاح) is an Islamic official wedding ceremony.
A Wedding (Urdu: 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 barat 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. .
In Urdu:منہ دکھائی) transliterated as Moo Dikhai aka Arsi Mashaf 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 Moo Dikhai at times, though Mun 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: رخصتی) (sending off) takes place, when the groom and his family will leave together with the bride. The Qur'an is normally held over the brides head as she walks from the stage to the exit in order to bless her. This is a somber 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.
Suhaag raat (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 to be laid across the couples' bed. 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. The bride adjusts the edges of her dupatta so that they cover her face. This is known as 'ghoonghat'. It is customary for the husband to brush the bride's ghoonghat aside to reveal her face, as one of the first things he does on suhaag raat. 'Moonh Dikhai', literally meaning 'revealing of the face' is a present that is presented to the bride by her husband on this night. This is generally a piece of jewellery such as a ring or a family ornament
Walima (Urdu: ولیمہ) is the final day of the wedding held by couple as they host their first dinner as husband and wife. Without the bridegrooms parents this ritual can not be performed. So to make walima valid, the parents' blessing and presence is the most important factor The groom's family specially father and mother play the important role to invites all of the bride's family and their guests to their home for a feast at their home or a marriage hall. 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. Typical colour palettes are green or pastel shades. The groom normally opts for a formal Western suit or tuxedo.
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 on stage 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.
It is very common for the couples to go for a honeymoon following the shaadi (wedding) and walima ceremonies. The most popular destinations are Murree and Nathia Gali, 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