Marriage in Pakistan (Urdu: پاکستانی شادی) pertain 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
Further information: Arranged marriage in the Indian subcontinent
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 an gifts such as jewelry and a variety of gifts. Some religious families may also recite Surah Al-Fatihah.
An engagement (called nisbatنِسبت, mangniمنگنی or habar bandiحبر 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 weddings, 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.
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 day. Wedding customs and celebrations also differ significantly depending on ethnic background and religion. However, a typical Pakistani wedding has at least three main customs: Rasm-e-Henna, Nikah and Walima.
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 nowadays the ceremony is usually 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 or sari. The dress may or may not be accompanied by jewellery, depending upon region and ethnic background. 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. Sometimes elaborate musical and acting performances are part of the Rasm-e-Heena celebrations. Elaborate dance sequences and 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.
Hosting the marriage ceremony differs among different cultures. In Punjabi weddings, the ceremony traditionally hosted by the family of the bride, while in Baloch weddings the ceremony is traditionally hosted by the family of the groom. Nowadays, it has become common to hold the event at a marriage hall, restaurant or hotel.
Main article: Nikah
Nikah (نِكاح) is the formal marriage ceremony where an marriage contract (نکاح نامہ) is signed by both the bride and the groom in presence of family members. The nikah is performed by an Imam, Mufti, Sheikh or Mullah, who is licensed by the government to perform this ritual. The bride and groom must both have two witnesses present to ensure that the marriage is consensual.
Aarsi Mushaf Dikhana
Aarsi Mushaf Dikhana (آرسى مشف دِكهانا) or munh dekhai (میں 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.
Rukhsati (رُخصتی) - "sending off" (sometimes called Doli (ڈولی) - "palanquin") takes place when the groom, his family and the bride leave the Nikkah venue together. At this point the bride and groom are married in the eyes of God and this the Bride's farewell to her family. Traditionally, the groom would travel to the Nikkah venue by a decorated horse and after the Nikkah, takes his wife in a doli (palanquin) in recent times, the doli is replaced by cars. Small pranks may be played on the groom to lighten the mood while delaying the Bride's departure, for example the bride's siblings may hide the groom's shoes or block the exit requiring some small token to allow the couple to leave. This is juxtaposed with the sombre occasion for the bride's parents as it marks the departure of their daughter from their home and can become a very emotional scene. In order to bless and protect the couple, the Qur'an is held over the bride's head as she leaves, and even though the Qur'an may be involved, there is no basis in Islam or Muslim tradition for the Rukhsati. Muslim cultures outside the Indian subcontinent generally do not practice the rukhsati tradition. Similar traditions exist in all parts of the subcontinent for example Vidai or Bidaai in Hindu tradition, Doli in Punjabi and Sikh weddings, Bidai or Kankanjali in Bengali weddings, Kanyadan in Nepalese weddings and Kschemadandulu in South Indian weddings. In recent times the rukhsati has been used to exert control or extract dowry, however this practice is not permitted in Islam as it is considered haram for any person to restrain a married woman from going with her husband, after the Nikkah has been performed.
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. .
It is customary for a 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 during the wedding reception. It is also customary for friends and family of the couple to invite them over for dinner and lunch after the wedding 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 engaging in dinner parties and small receptions.
Main article: Walima
Walima (ولِيمہ) is the final day of the wedding held by the couple as they host their first dinner as husband and wife. This is to celebrate the consummation of husband and wife. This is traditionally organized by the bridegroom and/or his family thus, without his parents, this ritual normally cannot be performed. So to make walima valid, the parents' blessing and presence is the most important factor. The groom's family, specifically his parents, invite all of the bride's family and their guests to their home for a feast. More commonly nowadays, this is held in a marriage hall or hotel instead. The Valima 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. The groom normally opts for a formal Western suit or tuxedo. It is at this ceremony that they are formally and publicly showcased as a married couple.
Main article: Pakistani wedding songs
Wedding songs are performed typically during the Rasm-e-Heena function. These songs are mainly traditional folk songs, but may also include pop songs.
Main article: Wedding_photography § South Asia
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Invitations & Wedding Cards
Main article: South Asian wedding card
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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.
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 (برات) is the procession of the family, relatives, and friends of the groom who 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 decorated horse or car and the “baraat” 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. Baraat is common in Sindhi and Punjabi weddings.
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, western 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 is finish 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.
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 feet of both of the bride and groom.
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, doorway blocking
- 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, 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. 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.
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Wedding ceremony in Pakistan is full of striking, sensational and eye-catching traditions. It continues for several days. Normally, arrange marriages are in practice but love marriages are also becoming acceptable. Pakistan has vast variety of cultures and traditions, which varies town to town. Here I am trying to elucidate some common traditions being practice in wedding ceremonies in Pakistan.
Everybody is familiar with term engagement, as it’s the exchange of rings between would be husband and wife. This is stated as Mangni in Pakistan. This ceremony has also some unique traditions to be followed here in Pakistan. It is a small ceremony. The families of both, would be bride and groom, get together at same place, mother or sister of would be bride, places the ring on would be groom’s finger and mother or sister of would be groom, places ring on would be bride’s finger. Then, they are bestowed with gifts and blessing. After that wedding date is decided.
This a tradition in which bride goes into the state of solitude. She is not allowed to see his would be husband until the wedding. Same is for groom. Some, rituals and traditions of prettifications of bride get started. The mother, sisters and cousins of groom bring Ubtan, which is a paste of turmeric powder, sandalwood powder and aromatic oil, for bride in a decorated tray. They rub it on the face and hands of bride. Similarly, bride’s mother, sisters and cousins bring Ubtan for groom and rub it to his face and hands. While performing this ritual, some traditional songs are sung. This continues for eight to fifteen days till wedding.
Mehndi or Rasm-e-Hina
This tradition is stated as both, Mehndi or Rasm-e-Hina. It takes place just a day before wedding. Bride wears yellow dress and floral ornaments. Mother, sisters and cousins of groom bring mehndi(hina) for bride. It is applied in beautiful floral way on her hands, sometimes, groom name is also written in her hand by Mehndi. In some parts of Pakistan, mehndi tradition is carried out for groom also. But mehndi is not applied on his hands. Dinner is served after that.
Barat is the tradition of groom, taking his way to bride’s home, to bring her to his home and life. Traditionally, groom used to sit on a decorated horse, but now this tradition has been replaced by a decorated car. The whole family, relatives and friends of groom accompany groom in this beautiful journey of his life. Bride’s family welcome barat by throwing flowers on them, usually rose petals are used.
Nikkah is the legal bounding between the bride and groom. Traditionally this ceremony of wedding takes place after the arrival of barat, but now a day’s nikkah is held before barat. Islamic Imam, called as moulana saab, recites some verses from Qura’n and performs the Ijab-o-Qabool, which is proposal and acceptance. Moulana saab and witnesses goes to bride, who sits in a separate room along with her female family members and friends, read nikkah namaa(a legal document) to her, she accepts nikkah by saying “qabool hai” and signs the nikkah namaa. Same process is performed with groom. Fathers of bride and groom act as witnesses (walis). Alongwith bride and groom, witnesses and moulana saab also sign the nikkah namaa. An amount of meher is written on nikkah namaa by mutuall agreement of both the families; this amount is due on groom to pay his bride. This is an Islamic compulsion on groom and considered to be a financial security for bride. After nikkah, dinner is served to theguests by bride’s family.
After nikkah and dinner, groom and his family leave with bride. This tradition is called Rukhsati. Usually, this is the most emotional moment as bride says goodbye to her parents, brothers and sisters. At the time of departure, eyes of bride and her family becomes wet with emotions, traditional emotional songs are played.
This is last and compulsory ceremony of Pakistani (Islamic) wedding. Groom and his family throw a dinner party to all relatives and friends as an announcement of his wedding. This is a grand reception. Usually, walima is performed the next day of rukhsati but sometimes it is held after few days. After walima bride and groom leave for honeymoon.