Getting Married

Supposed to be simple, the marriage has evolved into a complex, elaborate and expensive exercise in Kashmir’s conservative society, reports Ibrahim Wani

It is a common saying among people that most of what a Kashmiri earns is either spent on a house or marriage.The preparations for marriage start quite early here.

“My mother wants me to become an engineer, so that I get a good match,” says Ruksana, an engineering student of a private engineering college in Kashmir. Her parents pay a good amount per semester to the college as fees. Most of the girls from the college who become engineers do not pursue a job in the field. “For most of my friends it is just for the tag,” she adds.

Ruksana recently attended the marriage of a cousin sister. “Everyone kept asking my mother what she had thought of me. Three day later, middlemen started coming to our house on references from our relatives,” she says.

It was right since childhood she would hear about her marriage. “You will become such a beautiful bride-mahren,” her grandmother used to say. Whenever there would be a marriage in the vicinity, her mother would tell her that her marriage function would be a bigger affair.

She remembers that even during childhood, the games she would play along with her friends would be marrying off dolls, or dressing each other as a bride. “Whenever we would see a bride at a wedding, we crowd around her,” she says, adding, “Such is the appeal.”

“We saw that on the day of the marriage, the bride was the focus of all attention. But what we would wait for most was to see the bridegroom. He would be the absolute superstar, the most important person that day,” she says.

But finding a bridegroom for a bride is not that simple in Kashmir. Marriage is just the culmination of a long process, which often spans years and passes through many stages. The first is to find a match.

Finding a match
“Middlemen is actually a derogatory term. We are relationship builders, an important part of this society,” says Habib Ahmad, the manzimyoor-the kashmiri term for matchmakers.

Matchmakers play the most important role in almost every process leading to the marriage. They have among the most elaborate intelligence networks, where they have information not just about boys and girls of marriageable age in a community, but every detail and job profiles of even the distant relatives, family linkages and lineages, property details, almost everything. “His uncle is a chief engineer, his father’s cousin is in Dubai, his mother’s second cousin is secretary to that minister, his grandfather was this. They are peers, and they are shahs, and they are….They have all the information,” says Ruksana.

“Whenever we arrange a marriage, the family itself asks us to help some relative find a match. Often, it is the relatives themselves, who give us most of the information,” says Habib, who like others in his profession maintains a dairy of the information.

The matchmakers like Habib, who may be male, female or eunuchs, approach the families whom they are referred to, with matches listed in their diaries. “We give them options, they select the most suitable ones, and then start enquiring themselves,” says Habib. Most of the times the suitability depends on a combination of factors like caste, family name, family wealth, job profiles, property, house and so on. Each visit by a matchmaker to a family requires him to be paid. The fee depends on the family. It starts from a hundred rupees and may go into even thousands.

When a family narrows down suitable matches, it then goes about enquiring. In this process of enquiry neighbours are talked to, opinion of office colleagues is sought, relatives may be contacted, inspections are made of the match, the family as well as the house.  Sometimes people just stand outside the house to see what the boy or the girl looks like. At some other times people are more forthcoming and may even visit the educational institution or the office to catch a glimpse of the match.

After deliberations among the family members the choices are narrowed down. The process continues until a match is selected, and both the parties find each other suitable. “This is often the most frustrating part,” says Rashid who was a part of the enquiry process when a match was being sought for his sister. “In this mutual enquiry process, people would enquire about us, and we about them. Then there would be silly reasons for rejections. She is too tall, or she is wearing glasses. One time there was an absurd reason that her way of walking was not liked by someone who had seen her from the boy’s side,” he adds, “Nowadays people even check Facebook accounts.”

When this process of narrowing down finally stops for the family, it is a reason of great happiness, but then another process starts. Until now if it was about making difficult choices, now it is about doing everything that will please or not offend the other party. But from the day there is a mutual understanding of the suitability, the boy’s family has an upper hand. The process now entails formalizataion.

After a match has been selected, the future relation has to be formalized.Traditionally what happened was that some family members from the boy’s side would come to the girl’s house. The girl would bring tea, and after she would leave, the relatives would put some money into the cup. This was referred to as Pyalas Trawun. This meant that the match was now fixed.

But now this tradition is not followed much. Now the two families meet at a restaurant, a park or a shrine for thap. “The girl has to be present on the occasion,” says Habib. Matchmakers are often present at the occasion. The boy’s family presents a ring, or any other item of gold to the girl, either directly or through the matchmaker.

Thap is just the first step and many more follow. After this dates for engagement or in some cases for direct marriage are decided. The engagement may take place within a week to a year’s time.

The engagement, which follows the thap, may be a simple one or may be a Nikah Nishani. In Nikha Nishani, Nikah is read, and the relation is fully legalized. Nikha is a civil contract between the two concerned parties, boy and girl, where it is formally asked of them whether they agree to the marriage or not.

Men and women from the boy’s side come to the girl’s house, where a function is held. The girl side also invites close relatives, friends and neighbours.

This is often the first big function, in a series of functions. The women sit with the ‘to be bride’, and give her gifts, usually gold ornaments.

Since the boy does not come to the function, the girl’s side sends a trami to the groom. The girl’s side also sends Kokur daeg-cooked chicken to the boy’s side along with Chochi– special bread. The boy’s family distributes this among their relatives, neighbours etc. this is reciprocated by sweets from the boy’s side. The girl’s family distributes these sweets to its kith and kin.

“See this has important significance. All the near and dear ones come to know of the newly established relationship,” says Zahid.

The matchmaker, makes merry, as he is paid by both the families. The going rate for setting up a match starts from around 10,000 rupees today, plus gifts from other family members.

From engagement to marriage
“The time period between the engagement and the marriage is among the most difficult,” adds Zahid remembering the time when his sister was to be married. “Be it any occasion, Eid, marriage of a relative, even birthday of the ‘to be groom’, or even death, you have to take care of the ‘to be’ in-laws. I have lost count of the number times, we sent tramis, or gifts to the new relatives,” he says.

It may seem funny, but whenever a close relative sees the groom he has to gift him something.

After the engagement some families dispose off the matchmakers. “But many engagements were broken when matchmakers were told to pack off,” says Habib.

The time period between the engagement and the marriage is often the best for the boy and the girl. “I went with my fianc?e on many dates,” says Ahmad Nowsheri who is now married, adding, “We even went to Pahalgam. We felt as if we had an arranged affair.” However, this is not the case with most families where interaction between the fiance and her fiance is limited.

This time period can be very tricky too. “Sometimes, there are small misunderstandings which snowball into big controversies,” says Zahid. “Many a time, these misunderstandings lead to annulment of the relationship,” adds Habib. He says that once an engagement was annulled, because there has been a small fight between the boy and the girl related to whose family was more respected.

“Even the families got involved when they heard this, and this finally lead to such a big problem, that the rishta did not materialize. And the biggest thing was that these two families were related to each other,” he says.

To take the next step, the two families meet to decide the dates for the marriage. This may also be done by the matchmakers, who charge at each step. After the dates are fixed, the preparations begin.

These days there is a fashion that girls go to Delhi to shop. “But it is not just for fashion. There things are cheaper and more up to date, even when we add up the cost of living and the travel,” says Saika, a doctor, who getting married this year.

“The biggest expense is that of jewellery,” say Zahid. Sometimes the mother passes on the gold, which she had brought on her marriage to the daughter, but in most cases, families run huge bills at goldsmiths. “This is particularly difficult because the prices of gold have gone through the roof in the last five years,” adds Zahid.

The preparations for marriage are on full swing now, both at the boy’s as well as the girl’s place. Dates have to be booked with the Waza – the wazwan cook, the tentwala, the decorators, mutton dealers and so on. Cards have to be printed and distributed. Shopping for rice, vegetables, mutton, Wazwan ingredients, and so on has to be done.

The house in most cases is renovated, particularly the room of the groom. Houses are repainted and the work which could not be completed due to one reason or the other is taken up. “This too takes lakhs of rupees,” adds Zahid.

When all the preparations have been finalized the process of inviting people to the feast starts. This too takes around a month, since the close relatives are to be invited personally, referred to as dapne. The close relatives and friends of the family, make arrangements for lunch or dinner, when the family comes to invite them to the wedding feast. Cards are sent to the rest of the people.

The arrival of the guest at the wedding starts a week before the wedding, when close relatives come for ‘tamul tcahtun’- wherein rice is cleaned, then ‘Rahun tcahtun’-wherein garlic is picked.

On ‘Mal-Menzraat’– the day before the Mehendiraat, the wedding function starts. The tent is set up, and the Waza starts the preparation for the feast. On this day, the ‘mas-masrawun’ takes place wherein the hair of the bride is dressed up. Two or three days before this day, the bride goes to a beauty parlour.

The day of the Mehendiraat precedes the day of the marriage. On this day, henna is applied to the bride. The mehndi which is applied to the bride is sent by the groom’s side. Some girls from the groom’s family come with mehendi. This mehendi is referred to as shagun mehendi.

Nikah may also be offered on this day, for parties wherein it has not been offered yet.

At the main mehendiraat function, which starts at night, the girls who have come from the boy’s side apply some mehndi to the bride. After this, a trained mehendi beautician takes up the job. The bride selects the designs beforehand.

On this night, singers or ‘bache kat’ keep the gathering entertained, singing and dancing on kashmiri wedding songs. “This is a very entertaining song and dance. The singers who are in high demand charge a good fee. They sing traditional songs and new entertainers,” says Ruksana. The females in the gathering join the chorus, and keep awake all night.

The bride leaves the function when the mehendi dries up, and then she goes to rest for some time. Just before the morning Azaan, the bride goes to have a bath, wherein she is helped by the mother or the sister- called Aab shaerun.

After the bath, the bride wears a traditional pheran, and offers morning prayers and recites the holy Quran. “This is supposed to be a very pious hour, and it is common belief that whatever the girl prays for at this time is accepted,” says Saika.

The day of the Baraat arrives now and is considered the most hectic. People are to be served, arrangements are to be made, all the things and supplies have to be maintained.

The feasts for men and women are served separately. Both are usually served on this day. But the feast at the grooms place is on the next day of baraat called walima.

The serving part of the gathering is rather tough on the young men from the serving side, who have to do a lot of work, like serve water for hand wash before eating, serve tramis, water, chutnies and so on. “For days after serving, the back hurts,” says Altaf, who has had to serve on numerous occasions.

Before the serving of Wazwan, there is another tradition, that of Vartaw. The invited give cash presents to the family. Almost every family in Kashmir maintains a Vartaw dairy, wherein it is written who has paid what to whom at marriages. “Though vartaw helps the family, but now it has turned into a problem for those who give it. Often it keeps on doubling every few years,” says Sakina, a homemaker, who has to attend three weddings in the past two weeks, and has ended up losing 15,000 rupees. “But this will come back when my children will be married,” she adds.

After the gatherings have been served, the wait for the baraat starts. In the meantime, the groom is dressed up for the baraat. Initially a barber would come for the dressing, but now this role has been taken up by male beauticians. After this the groom, wears the special suit or a sherwani, depending on his choice.

In the evening, the Baraat headed by the groom arrives, in a cavalcade of vehicles, wherein the groom’s car is decorated with flowers.

The girl’s side welcomes the Baraat. It is given a five-star treatment. This is the best feast which is served. The dishes are more in number and better.

Sometimes the nikah takes place at this time also. Nikah may be of two types, asalatan (when the bride and the groom are present and give their consent for the marriage in person) or wakalatun (when the bride and the groom give their consent to three adult males one of whom acts as a vakil and two others as witnesses)

After the baraat has been served most of the baraatis leave but the groom and his close family and friends stay back.

The bride is brought to the groom’s car. The bride boards the car along with the groom. Some family members from the bride’s side accompany the bride to the groom’s place.

“It is a difficult moment for the bride. From this moment she leaves the family of her birth and upbringing and becomes part of another family, which is alien to her,” says Shazia, who was married in 2008, and is now settled in Dubai.

During the return journey, the groom’s vehicle is stopped by his friends at a bridge crossing, where they demand money from him (Kadal-e-taar), to allow him pass. “You have to pay at this time. I paid around 10,000 rupees,” says Shahid Khan, an engineer, who was married last year.

When the party reaches the groom’s place, the bride is taken to a room, preferably the drawing room, where a gathering of relatives and friends meets her. The groom’s mother lifts the Gunghat – the covering from the brides face, so that she is seen by the gathering. The close relatives give her gifts. Women in the gathering sing traditional marriage songs.

Next morning, the bride’s brother or uncle goes to the groom’s place with sweets. This is called khabre gasun. Over the period of a week, other relatives come for khabar too.

The next day, the day of Walima, is the day of the feast at the groom’s place. The groom sits among the gathering of men, and the bride in the gathering of women. Vartaw to a groom’s family is paid on this day.

Some guests from the girls are invited too. For seven days, the bride stays at the groom’s place. During this time, she distributes gifts she has brought to the groom’s family.

After marriage, the girl’s family invites the groom’s family again for Phir Saal. Close family members of the boy’s side are invited. The bride visits her house too, but returns with the groom.

After seven days of marriage, the groom’s side invites the bride’s family, including those people who had come for khabar. After dinner, the bride goes with her family, to her house. The period of her stay may range from a week to ten days. Then she returns to her new family.
Even after this, there are occasions like first Eid, when the married couple are invited by the girl’s side. Then the uncles and the aunts invite the couple to their houses. And these continue for many more months…


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