The Pakistani wedding for dummies

  • A concise introduction

The Pakistani weddings are great affairs provided you are blessed with infinite patience. Even better if you are not weighed down with mundane matters such as earning a living or living a life.

It should be noted at the outset that in Pakistan the groom, whether 26 or 66 years old, is always referred to as the ‘boy’, and the bride as the ‘girl’ (no questions asked). We are miles ahead of the west in our crusade against ageism.

The Pakistani wedding broadly consists of mayonmehndinikaahbaraat and valima; with mehndibaraat and valima warranting separate events on separate days. (The mayon may be preceded or followed by one or more dholki events, consisting mainly of dancing and singing.) Friends and close relatives are invited to, and expected to attend, all major events. This format is adhered to surprisingly invariably even though the only strictly necessary part is the nikaah – the official contract of marriage – with everything else merely being cultural or traditional. Also, this format is here to stay, for the parties getting married and their parents will likely continue to struggle to come to terms with the fact that the event is of less cosmic importance than they think.

In mayon, oil and turmeric are applied to the bride’s face and hands to make her look pale and bland; she is also made to wear yellow – all this designed to make her look especially attractive and glowing on the day of the mehndi (in some cases this transformation is reserved for the baraat). It used to be solely a girl’s event but in our enlightened new world it is gender-neutral now, although it’s difficult to visualise how oil can make most men blander than they otherwise are. The guests are served chicken.

Like mayon, the mehndi takes place in the homes of the boy and the girl separately. The goal here is the opposite: to make the bride look especially stunning. This is achieved by henna and bright clothes. On his part, the boy shaves or trims his facial hair. There’s much music and dancing. In the end, everybody eats chicken. In recent times, mehndi functions see young men wearing dopattas, garments conspicuous for their absence when it comes to most young women.

Ladies seem to genuinely enjoy all ceremonies. Most men, however, attend with a grim resolve to have a ‘great’ time, although some men now appear to be defying this generalisation. Whether it’s genuine, or they are scared stiff of the ladies is open to debate

On baraat, the bride’s family is the host, and the groom’s friends and family arrive in a procession (baraat in Urdu). The main events of the baraat are nikaah (if it has not already taken place), some games by way of entertainment, exchange of gift-money (the salaami), the participants getting photographed, followed by everybody eating chicken. Finally, the groom takes his bride home, along with the procession.

On the valima the participants give salaami, get their pictures taken, and – last but not the least – eat chicken. Like the baraat, there’s much hugging all around. This event is hosted by the groom’s family. At the conclusion of the event, the girl goes back to her parents’, which means that the boy again needs to visit that house and escort her back.

On all days, movie-making and photograph-taking seem to be more important than the ‘live’ action taking place. Therefore, before being excused, all couples need to get themselves photographed with the bride and groom, which can be a handful amid all the confusion and competition.

A word on the baraat entertainment, which badly needs an upgrade: The groom’s shoe is ‘hid’ by the bride’s sisters/cousins and is returned only on receipt of some cash. (Cash is very important in all the festivities.) Then the groom is presented milk to drink (in the author’s opinion, something originally meant for calves; definitely not for consumption by human adults) in return for – you guessed it – more cash.

If there’s one word that describes the Pakistani wedding, it’s vanity. Vanity of the bride, the groom, the attendees. The results are interesting. The women never need sweaters, however cold it may be. Also, it’s a cardinal sin to wear anything that has been worn earlier. One can of course argue whoever has the time and energy to recall what somebody wore on an earlier occasion, but one would be wrong: the ladies remember everything. There was a time when the brides went to beauty salons to get ‘groomed’. Later, it became customary for the grooms too. Now it’s almost mandatory for all attending women to at least get a ‘facial’. Tailors, photographers, beauty-salon and wedding-hall/marquee owners are certainly not complaining.

Ladies seem to genuinely enjoy all ceremonies. Most men, however, attend with a grim resolve to have a ‘great’ time, although some men now appear to be defying this generalisation. Whether it’s genuine, or they are scared stiff of the ladies is open to debate.

The wedding videos evoke mixed feelings. On the one hand, one can’t help pitying those whose idea of entertainment is watching their (or somebody else’s) wedding video. One the other hand, there’s something decidedly heroic about somebody able to suppress the cringe response while watching them. On balance however, these videos can be of great prohibitive utility.

The author, many years ago, had his wedding ceremony over in a day with ample time left for one or two other chores. He is still reminded, on a daily basis, about that lapse in judgment. He consoles himself by believing that he was ahead of his time, and that his countrymen will start following his suit in three or four decades’ time.