The Sounds And Colours Of A Muslim Marriage!

Traditionally known as the ‘Nikah’ in Urdu, the Indian Muslim marriage function is one of the most colourful spectacles of its kind. Customarily held over a period of three days, it is assigned a superlative importance in the Islamic religion and is considered to be mandatory for all as a religious obligation, as it forms a contract between the couple and Allah. Prior to the handling of the wedding ceremony proper, there are two separate events that are counted as pre-wedding rituals, and mostly involve the traditional singing and dancing, at both the groom’s and at the bride’s house.
The various levels of ceremony and ritual that are part and parcel of a Muslim marriage vary, sometimes vastly, from region to region, the customs delineating further when you bring into account the various sects involved. Muslim weddings all over the subcontinent have brought about their own uniquely Asian traditions while maintaining the extensive requirements, other than the main and most significant one – signing of the marriage contract, of an Islamic marriage. Most marriages are not held in mosques, and similarly in most cases men and women remain segregated during the duration of the ceremony and the reception. Since Islam as a religion sanctions no official clergy, any Muslim who has a deeper knowledge Islamic tradition can officiate the wedding, though in India there is traditionally a priest, called a Maulvi, who will officiate.


If the ceremony is conducted in a mosque, marriage officers called Qazior Madhun will oversee the marriage. But, at the end, all differences and speculation aside, every wedding has one singular and significant purpose – to celebrate the marriage and sacred union of two people. The rich tradition involved in the numerous and important pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding rituals of Indian Muslim weddings will steal your breath away. Though, not literally; which is a good thing at the end of the day, you wouldn’t want to have missed it.

Pre-Wedding Muslim Marriage Traditions And Rituals

muslim wedding

Image: Dawgtag Wedding Stories Photography

The Kanya-dhan – This is where the bride’s father promises his daughter’s hand to the groom. The Istikhara – The most important ritual in a Nikah, the Istikhara is when the local religious heads of the Muslim community gather to pray to Allah and ask for his consent and seek his benediction. Once these blessings are received, then the wedding can commence. The Imam-Zamin – For this practise, the groom’s mother visits the bride’s family, bringing with her sweets and a coin of either gold or silver that is cocooned inside silk. This cloth is then tied around the bride’s hand by her prospective mother-in-law. The Mangni – This would be the closest equivalent to the contemporary engagement ceremony, where the bride and groom exchange rings. The branches of the new extended family also exchange gifts in the form of fruits and sweets. The Manjha – Showing a close resemblance to a similar Hindu practise, the Manjha ritual is when the bride wears yellow clothes and is anointed with a paste made out of haldi (turmeric). Once this is completed, the bride is not meant to leave her house, not up until the wedding day.

Mehendi

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The Mehendi – After the bride has gained a glowing complexion, and before her exquisite bridal makeup for the wedding itself, a talented relative or a professional mehendiwala is brought in to apply beautifully mesmerising mehendi designs on the hands and feet of the blushing bride. This event is permeated with a sense of festive cheer, and there is laughing and dancing as the women sing traditional songs. In some cases, the bride’s cousins apply a dot of mehendi on the palm of the grinning groom as well. An ancient practise in this ceremony necessitated, anointing of the teeth of the bride with a powder called missi, in order to blacken them. This practice was considered effective in preventing tooth decay.

NATH ceremony

Image Courtesy: Alia Baig

The Sanchaq – This is where the groom’s family sends all the adornments, clothes and ornaments that the bride is supposed to deck herself with during the Nikah.

Wedding Traditions And Rituals

Barat

Image: Dawgtag Wedding Stories Photography

Reception of the Barat – The bride’s family will move to welcome the Barat (The wedding party) with drinks and gifts. The groom and his family will be accompanied by a band of musicians, who will strike up traditional fanfare to announce their arrival. At this point, the groom will usually share a glass of sherbet with the bride’s brother. In some occasions, where excitement can’t be kept down, the bride’s sisters and cousins might play pranks on the guest, chasing them around and whacking them with bouquets of flowers.

The Nikah – This is the actual Muslim marriage ceremony, where the exquisitely decked up bride wearing her traditional muslim bridal jewellery, and the groom are formally wed in front of the Maulvi and close family members. In more orthodox Muslim communities, the men and women are segregated and are seated separately. The ‘Walis’, or the fathers of the bride and groom, play an important role in the ceremony in the instance of a segregated event. The Meher is given to the bride at this time. Once people are settled and ready, at an auspicious time, the Maulvi reads selected verses and prayers from the Quran, and then asks the bride if she agrees to accept the groom as her betrothed, with the settled amount of the Meher. After being asked three times, and with consent at every point, the same process is repeated with the groom. They demonstrate their free will by repeating the word qabul – “I accept” in Arabic, as their answer. This is known as the Ijab-e-Qubul, the proposal and acceptance. Most Muslim couples don’t speak out vows as such, but instead listen as the Maulvi pontificates on the meaning of marriage and their responsibilities to each other and to Allah. Some couples do indulge in vows, which often sound similar to this one: muslim marriage vows

Then the couple and at least two witnesses, these could be the Walis and/or the Maulvi, sign the marriage contract – the Nikahnama – making the whole marriage a legal entity in the face of civil and religious law. This contract contains a set of terms and conditions that must be adhered to by both the parties, and it also gives the bride the right to divorce her husband. `Then, in the way of traditional Islamic customs, the new couple may share a piece of sweet fruit, which could be anything but is usually dates. If the ceremony is a separated one, one of the Walis will stand in for the bride and act on her behalf. The Maulvi has the option of adding another ceremony at this point, which usually includes a recitation of the Fatihah – the beginning chapter of the Quran – and durud, which are blessings. At this point, the new couple are heartily blessed by everyone in attendance, who wishes them a long and happy married life.

The groom traditionally raises a salutatory salute in the form of a salaam to his well-wishers, especially the elders. He is also customarily brought first to the women’s area so that he can present his gifts to his wife’s sister. The bride also customarily receives numerous gifts, generally referred to as the burri, which may realise themselves as jewellery, garments and money. After this extended session of well wishing is concluded, the whole wedding procession moves on to eating a lavishly prepared dinner. The Arsi Mushaf – In this touching ritual, the couple is seated next to each other, with their heads hidden by dupattas. Along with a copy of the Holy Quran, a mirror that is facing the jointly seated couple is also kept between them as well. After the Maulvi guides them into reading prayers from the Holy Quran while wearing the dupattas, they slowly remove the dupattas. This is when the newly married couple gets the chance to see each other for the first time after their marriage has been solemnized. This is accomplished by glancing at the mirror and taking each other in as husband and wife.

Post-Wedding Traditions And Rituals

Ruksati ceremony

Image Courtesy : Alia Baig

The Rukhsat – At the end of the wedding, after most of the important rituals to tie the couple together are done, the bride says goodbye to her family. This is usually a very intense emotional moment. When she completes the journey to her new household, the bride’s arrival is welcomed by the groom’s mother; who sanctifies the occasion by placing a copy of the Holy Quran on her head. The Walimah – This is nothing but a massive and luxuriously lavish wedding reception feast which is organised by the groom’s family. Also known as the Dawat-e-walimah, it is a way to welcome the new family member as well serving as a method to make a public announcement of the marriage to the community. The Chauthi – This custom is observed on the fourth day after the wedding, where the new couple visit’s the bride’s parental home for the first time after their marriage. Typically, this event is felicitated with a lunch or a dinner which is provided by the bride’s family. The new couple is once again showered with gifts and blessings.

Increasing Acceptance Of New Ideas And Practices

Love Versus Arranged

Though they are traditionally arranged marriages, the Muslim community in India is increasingly becoming open minded to the idea of love marriage. With the passage of time, the people of India have cautiously accepted this radical notion; the knowledge that marriages can happen outside of the same caste/community/religion, has taken a life of its own. And it has proliferated; even in rural India, the otherwise usual bastion of traditional orthodox Indian lifestyle, people are becoming open to the idea of love marriages. And while traditionally a Muslim man may marry up to a maximum of four women without divorce and inside a few conditions, increasingly they are restricting themselves on to just one. Whether this is due to increased sensitivity and understanding, or just a decrease in the general mettle of men who have trouble with the one wife, is up for debate.

An Inter-Caste And Inter-Religion Muslim Marriage?

Until recently, marrying someone outside of your own caste or religion was not just frowned upon, it was strictly unpermitted. With increasing modernisation, and social awareness, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages have lost their taboo status and are becoming increasingly popular. However how much the orthodox and conservative rail against this movement, nothing is going to happen to change it.

Le Wedding Attire

The idea of what is acceptable wedding attire has also seen drastic changes over the years. While in earlier times, the bride and groom would have been decked up in traditional garb; today they sneak in the eclectic dash of modern aesthetic as well, at least in the ceremonies and rituals that are not overtly sanctified by the sacred nature of religion. These Muslim bridal dresses are reflected by the latest changes and trends in haute couture, as the more elite classes in particular are now hiring the hottest fashion designers around to choose and design unique trousseau and attire for the bride and groom. Taking inspiration from high society and high profile weddings of business moguls and Bollywood stars, people want to emulate the ‘star quality’ of these celebrity personas on their most special of days.

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