The autumn season is about to end in the valley, and we are on the verge of witnessing an end to the wedding season too. However, this wedding season should leave most of us perturbed rather than merely participating in the culinary affair.
We ought to analyze the current structure of weddings, how marriages in Kashmir were altogether different in the past and how they have evolved gradually to the current scenario. And then we got to question whether they are currently a bane or boon, considering the larger good of the society.
During the last few years, the uniqueness and simplicity of our marriages have declined considerably. Today, the marriage ceremonies are nothing but big fat weddings, with opulent décor and sumptuous and lip-smacking cuisines, extensive rituals and extravagant objects of display.
Even if we look at Nikkah (marriage) through the Islamic perspective, we see that the blessed union of two souls is deemed as “celebration of half the Imaan (faith)” and the simplicity of marriage is highly stressed upon. As, Hazrat Uqbah Ibn Amir reported, Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said, “The best marriage is the one that is the easiest”. In another narration, the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said, “The most blessed Nikkah (i.e., marriage) is the one with the least expenses.” However, we need to ponder over what our marriage ceremonies have reduced to, and whether they really help a person come close to their faith, and accomplish the actual marital bliss.
One of the most important constituents of Muslim marriage is “Mehr” – anything material or immaterial that a bride seeks from the groom, upon whose fulfillment the marriage is considered valid. An incident in our history that provides an insight about “Mehr” and how simple a marriage could be is when a companion once communicated to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) about his prospect of marriage, and that he was so poor that he had nothing to give as Mehr. When asked by the Prophet whether he even had an “iron ring”, the companion replied in negation. Then, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) asked him if he has memorized some portion of the Quran, to which the companion replied in affirmation. The Prophet then ordained him to go and help his wife get that portion of the Quran memorized, and that would suffice as the Mehr for him. This incident shows the sheer simplicity of a marriage contract, and that if means do not permit for a grand Mehr or a lavish ceremony, it can be nonetheless carried out without any hassles.
Islam has indeed granted permission of “Mehr” with “no limit”. However, considering the current scenario of materialism in weddings, the Mehr has reduced to money, wealth and jewelry, more often gold, with the bride rarely getting a choice to set her own Mehr, as per her own discretion and choice. From a very private affair, it has reduced to a mere competition, and a show-off. The entire custom thus takes shape of the dowry system prevalent in many Hindu societies in India, and thereby creating pressure on groom’s family. It is noteworthy to mention that while Islam makes Mehr mandatory for a valid marriage, there is no place for dowry or exchanges. However, the current tradition of varied functions and receptions includes exchange of gifts and presents like electronic goods, jewelry, copper-ware etc., in order to satisfy the whims of the society, thereby taking a form of the practice of dowry, though indirectly and unintentionally. And this really needs to be checked.
Currently, weddings have become a booming industry in the valley. From fancy wedding cards to designer attires, from glittery and expensive dry-fruit boxes to massive flowery and neon decorations, from sundry delicacies to grand ceremonies, everything has become a matter of extravagance. The Kashmiri cuisine (Wazwan) is central to weddings here and has been part of our wedding culture since early times, however, it has now gone off the rails.
Even in local weddings, the number of dishes is above a dozen, and when it comes to feast for the groom (Mahraz-saal), it goes much above that, with added number of dishes and a huge variety. Royal and grand preparations are made for the Baarat/Mahraaz-saal, whether it is the set-up or the delicacies and their variety. But people have forgotten that it is in the first place a societal construct.
While publicizing the marriage and hosting Walima, the wedding banquet is highly recommended but restraint on unnecessary extravagance needs to be exercised. On the other hand, the wedding ceremonies have also become hugely westernized or Indianized with different rituals like ‘Haldi’ ceremony, different receptions, exchange of gifts et cetera. From ring ceremonies to the theme-based posh destination weddings, everything is hyped. The social media fantasy, considering the Instagram and Facebook reels which go viral in an instant, has added fuel to the hype, as the new trends and customs get highlighted through the photography, make-up and wedding-planning industries. These unnecessary customs thus gain popularity and get normalized among the masses.
Since the division of resources and wealth is uneven, the elite and well-off strata of the society may argue that they can spend their wealth without any issues on grand functions and diverse rituals and customs, however, the fact that it has huge repercussions in the society cannot be sidelined, although they may be indirect and unintentional.
While all the stakeholders, be it grand hotels or wedding planners, photography or make-up industry may argue that these modern weddings are beneficial in terms of economic aspect and growing professional ventures in the valley, which is no doubt true, the fact that these lavish weddings when hyped prove to be a bane, considering the larger strata of the society cannot be ignored either.
The lavish, extravagant trends and rituals might constitute a dream wedding for many, but one needs to analyze the repercussions that they unleash. Firstly, it has resulted in class and status divide in the society, with often the elites having exuberant weddings and sumptuous feasts, much to the awe of everyone and hence, becoming the talk of the town for a very long period.
On the other hand, those who do not or cannot stand to such expectations in the society are deemed misfits and downtrodden, looked down upon, thereby fostering class divide. Secondly, these big fat weddings are putting an immense pressure on the middle class and poor families, thereby rendering them helpless and putting their economies on a ventilator. We have witnessed some cases of engagements and marriages in which the families had to take hefty loans from the bank or sell their property in order to sponsor a luxuriant wedding function for their child. A two-day function draining everything that one has amassed all his life.
The fulfillment of expectation of a lavish wedding also puts an immense psychological pressure on the middle class and poor families as they begin to hoard wealth from the beginning, only to stand out on the expectations of the society. In contrast, there have been cases in which children, especially females are denied quality education outside the valley or even a dignified family life, merely to keep the wealth hoarded for their future marriages. A friend Shama (name changed) was denied the prospect of pursuing her Masters in the UK only because the degree was too costly. However, according to her, a huge amount of money and jewelry was hoarded for her wedding, only to stand on societal expectations.
Thirdly, the unnecessary trends and rituals nowadays are one of the main reasons behind late marriages in the valley. Financial constraints of a family are in no way a hurdle to marriages since they can be carried out in a simple manner as well. But, the competition and pressure of the latest trends and rituals along with financial constraints change the game, thereby leading to delayed marriages. Even in cases when a match has been made, the wedding still gets delayed owing to the competition in the market and the arrangements to be made for the same to stand out at the higher step of the lavish-wedding ladder. Last but not least, the current trend has put the final nail into the coffin of the cultural wedding set-up – the earlier Kashmiri wedding culture which was relatively simple yet elegant, has largely been diluted due to the existing modern rituals and customs which are defined by their extravagance.
The society has become comfortable with these trending weddings and all that they encompass. People who are affluent and have been blessed with surplus wealth can spend on the weddings according to their means but they need to keep in check things which are merely unnecessary and futile and try to desist from such rituals. Meanwhile, those whose resources are restricted should spend on marriages according to what their means allow them, and desist from getting influenced by modern practices in the society. However, the community at large needs to introspect over what meaning wedding actually entails and what it has been like in the contemporary times. Does it serve the actual purpose? Does it really help a person complete half of his faith or does it actually lead one to the path of innovation and misguidance? Today, celebration of marriages until one’s purse strings are stretched is what is expected by our society. But it is alright to slow down, contemplate a bit and drift from such societal customs and expectations. Marriages are indeed made in heaven, and solemnized on earth, but let’s make sure that we solemnize them in a beautiful manner, in a moderate way – neither extravagantly not miserly.
Meer Nida is an English Hons. graduate from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, while Salman Jeelani is pursuing English Hons. from Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora.
— Courtesy Greater Kashmir