My last piece on cultural weddings – Weddings in Saudi Arabia – generated a lot of interest and I thought those of you hungry for a heavier cultural dose would love the next series of posts I plan to put up.
Weddings are a big thing for Pakistanis. So big, in fact, that marriage celebrations in most families can last up to two weeks, with formal ceremonies taking up at least 4 full days. A fusion of Hindu culture (which forms the roots for the majority of Pakistanis) and Islamic ideals, Pakistani weddings are a mix of colors, religion and culture.
Note: I will also point out that Muslim families in India and Bangladesh also follow similar traditions, though individual customs may vary.
Marriage is also culturally considered the union of two families, not just the pairing of two people. Combine the vested interests of extended family with the restrictions from culture and religion, and navigating the path to a wedding can get quite challenging for all involved!
It should be noted that the majority of what I write here is from personal experiences (of OTHER people’s weddings, thank you) and it should be expected that cultural diversity, even within Pakistan, allows for vastly different marriage customs. Also, apologies if you’re expecting photos. This is a preamble to the actual ceremonies so the big photos come next post!
There’s no easy way of describing courtship among Pakistanis. This is probably because families vary so much, both in terms of religion and culture. Between conservative viewpoints, where the couple are only allowed ‘one look’ before marriage, and the liberal, where dating is seen as a norm, it is usually very difficult in finding the correct balance between religion and modernity. This epic battle, being fought in almost every Muslim culture, is sometimes (and misleadingly in my opinion) referred to in Pakistan as the difference between ‘love’ and ‘arranged’ marriages.
The perception is that love marriage is one where the couple meet, date and ‘fall in love’ before informing parents and elders. While arranged marriages are seen as those where the elders meet, decide the terms of marriage and allow minimal contact between the couple before the big day. In reality however, there is a whole spectrum of ‘loviness’ and ‘arrangeness’ in Pakistani courtship and it usually depends on the families’ comfort levels on what path they follow.
The beginning of any relationship is, of course, getting acquainted. Because doing so in conservative cultures is rather difficult, traditionally this role was handled by elders. This tradition exists to this day, where family friends and relatives will recommend spouses for girls/guys of age. This has led to jokes in Pakistani culture about ‘desi Aunties’, some of which you may have caught on my blog posts over the months (and it is expected that Chiara will comment here with one ;P).
With the liberalization of Pakistani society however, it has become increasingly easier for young men and women to meet. And thanks to modern technical innovations, it’s easier than ever for them to communicate without breaking social rules (or at least sneak around without getting caught ;P). Due to serious lack of expertise on the matter, I will leave it to the reader to draw parallels with the western concept of dating, though it should be expected that physical contact will be understandably limited depending on conservatism.
Whether it be through a family friend or through a chance meeting and a subsequent fiery romance, the couples’ families will eventually meet. Either for tea at one of their places or as a family picnic so everyone might get to know each other. And it is at this point things start getting more and more official.
A better term here should probably be ‘supervised dating’. This is where the guy and girl will get to know each other and their potential in-laws, under the supervision of their families. They will usually communicate over phone or online and generate obscene phone bills ;P Family visits and outings will constitute the physical meetings (and I’m sure, sneaking around as well!). This phase usually lasts from a few weeks to a couple of months.
Families will sometimes ask for commitments before letting their children date as a form of cultural protection. This could mean a formal proposal from the prospective groom’s family (see Rishta below), or even an all out engagement. Hyper-conservatives may ask for a Nikah, which is an official Islamic marriage (court marriage). This, however, is rare. Due to it now being common for male/female interactions in workplaces, education and online, few families actually have qualms with their children talking and choosing potentials before commitments.
The Urdu word ‘rishta’ literally means ‘relationship’. However, in the context of marriage, it refers to the formal request for the girl’s hand from the would-be groom’s family. As mentioned before, depending on how conservative the families are, the Rishta could come just days after the initial meeting to mark the starting point of dating. The response of to the rishta in this came would come after the dating phase. If the couple and families already know each other, the response will be immediate.
The rishta ceremony itself is a small event attended by close family. Since the rishta has already been accepted by this point, it is only a formality. The groom’s family will bring ‘mithai’ (Pakistani sweets) as well as gifts (usually jewelry) for the girls’. Once the rishta has been accepted, courtship is officially over and wedding preparations begin!
As the previous section indicated, the line is blurred between courtship and marriage in Pakistani weddings. While the engagement can be seen as part of courtship in some families, increasingly, it is considered a point by which a decision to marry has already been made.
Definitely a western concept, but increasingly being ported into Pakistani culture, an engagement is a formal announcement of the intention to marry. Rings are exchanged, and depending on the families’ preferences, the ceremony itself could be a small gathering or a lavish party. Like the actual wedding ceremony, it will be hosted by the girl’s family with the guy’s family bringing gifts and jewelry for her.
The motivation for engagements is usually to ‘reserve’ a spouse until an opportune time can be found for the wedding. Because of educational and financial concerns, as well as the need to have extended family members present at the actual wedding, engagements are seen as a way to solve timing issues while at the same time assuring the other side of a commitment.
With the availability of the Nikah as a stronger form of commitment, stand-alone engagements are only done if it is expected that the wedding will take place a relatively long time later or if the engagement is asked for by the family to begin the period of dating.
The Nikah is the actual Islamic point where the couple transfrom into husband and wife. It is the signing of the matrimonial contract between the couple in front of witnesses. The Nikah will usually accompanied with (or replace) an engagement or as part of the wedding ceremony itself.
If done stand-alone or with the engagement, the girl will return to live with her family until the actual day of the wedding. Islamically, the couple may now be in seclusion with each other and have all the rights a married couple have. To avail these right would however be a cultural faux pas. (stupid culture!!).
Well that was a long trip 0_0 And we’ve only just started! Once the above formalities are completed the families will set an official date for the wedding, around which the days of celebration will be held. The dates are carefully chosen to ensure relatives living far away are able to attend. Invitations will be sent out and preparations started!
The preparations are many and this is usually the start of a very stressful time for both families. On top of the need to book wedding halls, gifts need to be bought and dresses need to be prepared for each day of the celebrations. Traditionally, the girl’s side will gift the groom his clothes and vice versa. I assume this would require a ‘get their measurements’ party ;P
The wedding itself consists of several events: Dholki, Mayoon (Ubtan), Mehendi, Shaadi and Walima. These, I’ll cover over the next few posts!
(Disclaimer: I do not hold the copyrights to all but the vulture shot in this post. They have been gathered from various sources online.)
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