Celebration Simplified

Shrinking free space has fast made community centres and marriage halls find acceptance in an otherwise guarded society like Kashmir. Mohammad Raafi reports the change that is helping people celebrate marriages with dignity

Marriage-Hall-in-Srinagar-Kashmir

Marriages in Kashmir are usually loud and extravagant!  The celebration doesn’t cease at the outer walls of bride or grooms house, but go beyond. There was a time, not so far ago, when vast gardens and courtyards were used to celebrate functions. Every function: from reception of baraat to mehandi raat to lunch was held inside big tents erected in a bride or grooms house. The festivities would often transcend in to bride or grooms immediate vicinity as well.

However things began to change – particularly in Srinagar- when population explosion shrunk open spaces, forcing people to look for alternatives. And the best viable alternative was dozen odd marriage halls run by different government agencies in and around Srinagar.

In one such marriage hall in congested Gaw Kadal area of Srinagar, it is festive time. “I was so tense a few days back that I almost collapsed. The reason being non-availability of space in my house for my daughter’s marriage,” says   visibly relieved Wali Mohammad Lone.

He hails government for constructing such a spacious marriage hall with all amenities in an otherwise congested Gaw Kadal. The marriage hall, which is run and maintained by Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), is new hotspot for all kinds of functions including marriages. “This is a good concept. You don’t have to worry about anything. This marriage hall has everything you need for a hassle free marriage ceremony,” says Lone.

Presently SMC has five functional marriage halls across the city. These halls are rented out to the locals living in the vicinity free of cost. “A few other halls are in the final stage of completion. It will take some time,” said an employee of the SMC.

Come marriage season and you will find smiling faces all around in Bagwanpora in Habba Kadal area of Srinagar. Reason? They don’t have to bother about space for holding marriage ceremonies anymore. Built in 2012 by SMC this marriage hall has hosted seven big marriages so far. “My brother got married in this hall,” says Altaf Ahmad Guroo, a resident of Habba Kadal. “It is both spacious and cheap. I paid just Rs 2 thousand to the local management and that is it.”

Most of these marriage halls are managed by local committees.  They charge just a nominal amount of money for renting out the space to desired people. “It would have caused us a fortune otherwise,” says Guroo.

In impoverished Boatman Colony in Bemina, a Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) constructed marriage hall is nothing less than a blessing for the residents. “It was impossible to hold  a decent function at home, given the crunch of space and huge costs of tents etc,” says Ghulam Rasool Sheikh, who recently got his daughter married at the SDA facility. Sheikh, a class fourth employee in the state government, says he saved at least Rs 50,000 by using the marriage hall. SDA charges rupees six thousand for 24 hours for renting out the space to desired locals. The marriage halls operated by SDA have all the necessary amenities for conducting a smooth marriage. Besides a big spacious hall of 50 by 70 feet, there are two bedrooms, eight washrooms and a guest room for the family. Apart from this, there is enough space for Wazaas (traditional cooks) for preparations of feasts.

“I saved around Rs 1 lakh by booking an SDA run marriage hall in our locality,” says Khursheed Ahmad Shah, a resident of Rajouri Kadal who recently got his daughter married at the marriage hall. “Rates vary from place to place. We fix rates as per the financial condition of residents in a particular area,” said an SDA official. “Besides these halls are for the benefit of the society. We don’t intend to make money out of them.”

Since January 2014, SDA run marriages halls hosted 36 marriages. “These marriage halls are quite a relief for people like us who belong to the lower middle class,” says Sheikh.

In Kashai Mohalla Batamaloo, the government has built a double story marriage hall for locals. “After massive urbanization happened there was hardly any space left in our locality for conducting marriage ceremonies,” says Ghulam Qadir, a local resident who held his son’s and daughter’s marriage in one such facility. “I had to pay just Rs 15 thousand to the local committee managing the hall,” says Qadir. Usually tent and other related accessories cost between Rs 40 to 70 thousand for a night.

Marriage-Hall-Srinagar-Kashmir

But not all marriage halls are meant for lower middle class, there are a few that cater to the affluent class of the society as well.

The marriage halls maintained by Custodian Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC ) charge between Rs 45,000 and 70000 for 24 hours.  The facilities include shed for Waazas, store for keeping stocks, catering services, ample parking space, clean toilets, and other necessities. “These halls are meant for a lucky few. Not all can afford such huge rent,” says a local.

Last year, while 28 marriage ceremonies took place in facilities owner by the Custodian Department, 27 marriages were held in JKTDC owned facilities. The marriage hall owned by JKTDC at Goripora in Rawalpora has been outsourced.

“We provide variety of services and attractions to make marriage a memorable event for the family and friends,” said Nusrat, manager of Samanbal, a marriage hall outside Kathi Darwaza. “Today my brother is getting married and I don’t have to worry about catering, food, lighting, parking etc. My entire family is relaxed and devoting their time to the guests,” says Zahir Syed, who has booked Samanbal for the reception.

With a capacity to accommodate a gathering of around 800 people, these halls are often booked for political gatherings, birthday parties, non-government functions etc. as well. “These spaces are not marriage party exclusives. We are open to all kinds of functions and celebrations,” says Murtaza Yaseen, manager Sir Muhammad Iqbal Convention Centre.

These centres host at least two events in a week besides marriage functions.

“We offer services like catering, lighting, decoration and parking.  Aim is to give our customers a hassle free experience so that they can enjoy their loved ones marriage,” says Basharat, an employee at the Convention Centre.

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