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Pakistani Weddings: The Dholki and Mayoon

I know I threw a wall of text at you in my previous post about Courtship and Marriage in Pakistan. I promise that the next few posts will have more photos. And will be a lot more colorful at that!

So here we are. Planning has been done, the dates have been set. The families have now spent a few weeks (or even a few months!) shopping for clothes, gifts, jewelry and booking wedding halls. With just a few weeks to go before the wedding, its time to start having fun! The Dholki and the Mayoon are events meant to get the family into the ‘mood’ of weddings. Singing, dancing, and all round having fun!

A quick note on Islamic Weddings and Pakistani Customs

It should be noted that according to Islam, the only parts of marriage mentioned in Islam are the Nikah and the wedding feast (Walima). The rest of the events that will be described are cultural additions brought over from Pakistan’s roots as a Hindu culture. That is not to say they are wrong Islamically, they just won’t translate into other Muslim cultures!

The additional customs in Pakistani weddings are called Rasms. A rasm can be a complete event, such as the Rasm-e-Henna or the Mehendi celebrations (next post), or it could be a small act, such as the Joota Churai (shoe stealing) during the wedding.


You know when you just feel like partying and want to make it sound really cultural? Well that’s what a dholki is. Nothing really happens at dholkis. You just hang out and have fun. Traditionally, weeks before the wedding, the women would gather at the bride’s house to sing (and dance) the night away. Recently however, it is not uncommon for men to take part (who will usually dance rather than sing, but you never know!). The groom sometimes also make an appearance.

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Little girl with a Dhol

The term 'Dholki' comes from the dhol, a percussion very much like a 2 sided drum, played as demonstrated here!

There will usually be several dholkis, for family, for friends and so on to start to get every body into the mood of weddings. Usually formal events like the Mayoon will be followed by Dholkis for a bit of fun. There’s no real rules or requirements or customs here. Just have fun!

It's all about fun now. Again, as demonstrated by a cute little girl at a dholki!


Sometimes also known as the Ubtan day, the Mayoon (pronounced with a silent ‘n’ but a very nasal ‘oo’ sound) marks the point where the wedding customs begin. Traditionally celebrated 8-15 days before the wedding day, it marks the day when the bride is made free from her duties at home and enters a state of seclusion during which she may no longer see the groom until the Wedding.

The Mayoon is usually celebrated at the bride’s house and is attended by her close friends and family (in Pakistan ‘close family’ can easily mean scores of people). The bride dresses up in a simple yellow Shalwar Kameez, and must remain in yellow clothing until the Mehendi day.

Mayoon Celebrations

The Mayoon takes place at the brides house where decorations have been made. It is attended by close family of the brides' and a select few members of the groom's side. The women will usually sit together and sing songs to the beats of the dhol.

Mayoon gifts

Among the customs of the Mayoon, the Bride's mother-in-law will bring gifts for the bride. These are usually flowers, to wear as necklaces and bracelets, as well is Ubtan, which is a paste made out of turmeric and other oils and herbs. Close family will sometimes apply ubtan to the bride's face and hands. She is expected to apply Ubtan daily until the wedding. Ubtan is thought to lighten the bride's complexion (because for some reason, desis are obsessed with looking gora, or 'white').

Guys at a Mayoon

The Mayoon is traditionally a women's only event, so men will be absent from much of the customs until the dholki. While women dress in colorful and bright shalwar qameez, men will wear more subdued colored kurtas.

Men dancing at a Dholki

And while men generally will not sing, we generally liven the party up with a bit of dancing! Pakistani dancing is called 'bhangra', has no real rules or set moves. The idea is to move the shoulders the beat and just have a lot of fun!

Weird Mayoon Traditions

Once the formalities are over (i.e. the groom’s family leaves), all hell breaks loose. Since the Mayoon is usually the first time the entire family has been gathered in one place (since the last wedding), some crazy fun customs have been born. Apart from the usual dancing and other craziness, some families take things to a whole different level!

Ubtan Fight:

Remember when you were 7 and found the sound mud makes when it hits the pavement enormously satisfying? That’s what this is all about. You grab yourself a handful of ubtan and run after other people in your house hoping for a satisfying splat when it hits their faces. At some point people start flinging the stuff around which is bad for cameras ;P Noone is safe so wear expendable clothes. And be ready to wash the walls tomorrow. My dad’s family follows this one.

Ubtan powder

Ubtan. Just add water. Fling at nearest person.

You Gotta Eat:

This tradition-common on my mother’s side of the family has all the women packed into the kitchen cooking ‘Gulgulay’, a deep-fried sweet. This goes on all night so bring an appetite! Also if you don’t eat, prepare to have uncles and cousins force-feed you. I do think however that this and the Ubtan fight can’t be done at the same time ;P

You sleep, you lose:

Think you’ll save yourself from a lot of trouble  if you fall asleep? Think again! Anybody passing out before sunrise will be publicly humiliated. Soot from the stove is taken and rubbed all over the transgressor’s face. Yes, this is Paskistan’s answer to hangover sharpie photos. We just do it without the booze ;P

Of course, each family has their own traditions and their own brand of craziness. Got any weird mayoon/wedding customs or stories? Do let us know in the comments! If not, wait for whats next: The Mehendi!

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  • Qusay

    “Abdullah, all this talk about weddings and traditions, you must be getting yourself to get married soon”

    That is what every older female (i.e. mom or auntie) will think when they read these posts… u r calling upon yourself all the forces of marriage man…

  • NidalM

    Haha ;P Bring on the aunties :P Though I don't think Aunties read my blog. If they did, I'd have already been attacked for the comparisons with vultures ;P

  • Chiara

    Just quickly, and I will be back! :)

    The walima is culturally recommended not Islamically required. The nikkah is the legal marriage, the walima the social recognition of it and “required” for society, moms, aunties, extended family, friends, the employment of videographers, etc.

    You are free to disagree with me on this, but be forewarned that I know this well because of my own situation, I know the marriage and legal recognition laws in many countries, Muslim and non, and I have had this argument at length on another Saudi-themed blog. Also, having recently, on a different blog, essentially been called “une salope blanche“, you do so at your peril! X( LOL:) You are of course the Pakistani-Saudi marriage expert, however. :) :)

    Secondly–I understand why the photo of the little girl under the title, but given the hullabaloo about Muslims and child brides you might want to rethink that or label it in GIANT LETTERS as not a bride! :)

    Great topic and post, and I look forward to reading and commenting more in depth (lucky you :P ) ! LOL :)

  • NidalM

    I suspect that you may be right on that the Walima is recommended and not required. It might just've been the case that looking at it as an insider and seeing it as a something practiced in all muslim cultures I saw it as a requirement :) Also, I dare not disagree with you Chiara ;P

    I seriously do hope people don't think that. Honestly didn't cross my mind either. Will just change the thumbnail then :)

  • Souma

    PHOTOS xD you make me happy, boy. and i'll be even happier of you show me more (feel free to add a “that's what she said”)

    About yellow, it's a colour that suits a cafe latte complexion, it's not a colour a gora can easily wear. i cant wear yellow, makes me look dead. so having the bride wear yellow till the wedding day would make her look radiant! dont you think? and she looks so pretty masha'allah! and, not to mention, you're looking quite handsome luv!

  • Chiara

    The legal requirement part is that their be witnesses to the marriage, ie that it be socially known, but that could just be one or two people in attendance at the nikkah. At least in Morocco, the nikkah is often attended by the close and important male members of the family, as well as the bride, the groom and their respective fathers. My own was attended by my mahrem (who had to be a Christian man), my translator (a friend), and all the older adouls (5, 6 of them? ) who were observing the newbie perform the ceremony and were delighted with our marriage for some reason.

    The walima or social celebration is an extension of that to a broader social statement of the marriage and witnessing. I understand that it is de rigueur so seems a requirement. Most Christians don't realize that when they walk down the Church aisle and say their “I do's” or “I will's” that they are not legally married by the church. They are only legally married when they have signed the government registry that the state has allowed the churches to administer. If you are already legally married, eg at a marriage court, or justice of the peace, or have a niqah from a Muslim country (no separation of mosque and state so the niqah is legalized by the state and the certificate issued), you can still go down the aisle and have a religious service, but during the time you should be in the back offices signing the registry you just sit around making jokes –as we did when I was maid of honour for a friend who married legally at a court in Germany, and then went to a dance/bar whatever with some friends; then found her mother insisted on the Church wedding, and wedding celebration when they got back to Canada.

    For those of us who aren't familiar with the dholki as an instrument or pre-wedding party when we see the picture of that truly delightful little girl, we see not the instrument but the little girl, a little doll, a…OMG! child bride! LOL :) ! Good solution you had by changing the thumbnail!

  • Chiara

    I just read the whole post more thoroughly, and wanted to commend you on the excellent explanations and pictures. The captions are great as usual!

    The staying awake until sunrise is familiar from Moroccan weddings. There is an immense competition among women about all aspects of their wedding, including how late it went. Dawn is early, but then it gets down to exact timings (maybe they should use those Olympic split seconds watches!). I once remarked that my SILs wedding (oh, yeah, the hub's brother was the groom, AKA the excuse for the dressup LOL :) ) had gone on until 5:30am and was immediately corrected by her (from far across the room) that it went until 7:30am. Hmmmm… possibly that was when the last car (ours) pulled out after all the guests had left, but… Better not to argue about such things, bridezillas can rise like phoenixes from the ashes of their wedding memories and videos. The videos are prized and everyone is convinced that they are copied, shopped around, and shown in Moroccan communities the world over so that the secrets of the wedding's success can be stolen–I mean copied. :P

    I don't recall substances thrown or smeared on faces! There are expensive carpets put down on the grass outdoors for outdoor weddings and this I think surprises Westerners, not to mention is an unfamiliar surface for dancing in high heels, and the lovely clip on decorations on said footwear can be caught in rug edges and “go missing”. Rather interestingly to me, when that happened to me and I realized it later (NAKED black suede 3″ heels!) and began looking around for them, my family rushed over (thinking contact lens) and when they realized my problem took me to my FIL. Someone had found them and given them to him, and he was very proud that he had them to give back. He emphasized he had been holding on to them for safe keeping since know one knew whose they were. I think one has to understand how offended most Arabs/North Africans are by their image, especially in France, as “light fingered” to fully appreciate how happy he was to give me back my little clippy decorations. And of course after i had them in my hands, I got THE LOOK saying “put them in your purse, and I told you in Canada not even to pack them!”. LOL :)

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  • NidalM

    must… resist… to… gah! I cant!!! Thats what SHE said HAH! Sadly very few of the photos from Dholkis and Mayoons I have can be put up here since they're mostly of people at home, doing the family thing.

    Technically my dear Souma, you would be a gori (The replacing of the 'a' with an 'i' to denote the female gender). I never did think about it in terms of yellow making the wearer more radiant, but it does sound about right! Perhaps the ubtan really doesnt do anything at all, its all in the yellows! :P

    And I will pass on the compliments to the bride and me. Alright done! (Thank you!)

  • Single4now

    Okay, I realized, I DO know what the whole “that's what she said” silliness is all about. I just don't hang around people who use that phrase a whole lot. Alhumdulillah. :P

  • Single4now

    Lovely pictures. It seems you've pretty much mentioned a lot of what I said in my comment of your previous post. :P
    As for the uptan throwing, I've been to one wedding where they were planning on doing that. It was segregated but the women (even though I had no idea who they were) were keen on covering my face with it and I very seriously warned them not to come close to me with that. I was wearing good clothes and I was not ready to take a chance on that. :P I'll be making sure no such event takes place in my wedding and if the guests request for it too much, I'll invite them to a day of paintballing! :D How fun would that be? InshaAllah!

  • Susanne

    great post! I loved it! The customs all seem soooooo fun! :D

  • NidalM

    Rasme-e-Paintball you mean :P

    Thank god you dont have my uncles. You tell them that and theyll aim for your clothes ;P It washes right off though so its not something to really worry about. And to be honest, few ppl get anything but faces covered :)

  • Single4now

    Sounds scary. But at least you know your uncles. I didn't know these aunties at all. In fact, I didn't even know the bride. She was some very distant relative. In fact, when I went to a cousin's nikkah, I met so many relatives I had never seen/heard of before yet they came up to me asking if I recognized them. LOL. So yea, they were just looking to cover people and I guess it irked them that no one had smothered my face with it. Actually, at that girl's wedding, it was mainly haldi that they were using which is not so easy to get rid of so I think I narrowly escaped. :D

  • Souma

    i have a gym t-shirt that reads “that's what she said” O_O

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  • Nanana

    Thoughts of marriage r sooo beautiful,, i want my entrance in a dholi :D

  • Guest

    Actually The tradition of mehndi comes from muslim background. It is traditional for muslims all over the world for the groom to give the bridal clothes and jewelry before the wedding, so the bride can use these to prepare for the wedding. This is a common occurance in for example Morocco and turkey. 

    In hindu traditions the bride’s family pay for all of the cost for the bride and the groom. inclusing his clothing. In hindu marriages there is no actual mehndi day. see:  

  • Sameena

    I love dolaks!!!!

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