Who would think that I would be able to attend another wedding so soon!?
My friend Ayush invited me to the wedding of one of his work buddies, who is Muslim. Of course- how could I resist such an experience! Not sure what to expect, I once again did my research before going.
The only requirement for Muslim weddings is the signing of a marriage contract. This contract includes a meher — a formal statement specifying the monetary amount the groom will give the bride. Marriage traditions differ depending on culture, Islamic sect, and observance of gender separation rules. Most marriages are not held in mosques, and men and women remain separate during the ceremony and reception. The actual Muslim wedding is known as a nikah. It is a simple ceremony in which the couple and two male witnesses sign the contract, making the marriage legal according to civil and religious law. Following traditional Islamic customs, the bride and groom may share a piece of sweet fruit, such as a date. If men and women are separated for the ceremony, a male representative acts in the bride’s behalf during the nikah. After the wedding contract is signed, the celebration begins with the walima, a wedding feast that may last for two whole days.
I also found it interesting that the wedding invitation did not include the brides name at all. It simply stated that the parents of Mohammed Hamed Shareef (the groom) invite the recipient to the marriage of their son with the daughter of the brides parents. While the bride’s parent’s names were included, the brides name was not!
I was not sure how traditional this wedding would be or which parts of the ceremony we would encounter. Ayush was as much in the dark as I was!
Upon arriving at the banquet hall at 8:30pm (a planned thirty minutes late), there was still barely anyone else present. I saw a sign pointing to the Ladies Entrance but ignored it for the time being. Ayush led me to the main tent and we sat down in the seats facing the stage area. On the stage sat the groom, looking fabulous in a white costume, a turban, and a huge necklace of flowers around his neck. A host of other men were sitting with him, presumably the “witnesses” made up of family members. Camera men were quite present as well. The groom seemed to be signing papers so I assume that they were peforming the nikah ceremony. So in this case, since the genders were split up, a male representative must have been been acting on the brides behalf.
While I was receiving some looks from other men, I waited out for a little while longer to observe. When some other work friends of Ayush arrived, we headed over to the Ladies section where I was introduced to some of the women, and took a seat on the other side. This side looked almost identical to the grooms side only the space was filled with women in beautiful saris trimmed in gold. Mohammad’s mother immediately came up to me and introduced herself in broken English. I was touched by her intuition to welcome me! Taking a seat, I observed the bride sitting on the stage. She was sitting so still for the photographers that I honestly wondered if she was a porcelain doll. Her arms were covered in henna and gold bangles. Her bridal sari was elegantly decorated laying in folds around her. But her porcelain face was so stoic. There was no hint of emotion whatsoever, whether happy or sad. As she sat there she reminded me of the virgin Mary, and I mean that in the most respectable sense. This young girl probably has no idea what she is getting into or what her marriage really means at this point. Being an arranged marriage, the couple has maybe met once and possible not at all!
I made my way back over to the men’s side with the other women who were giving a gift to Mohammad. As we stood on stage and greeted him, I was touched when he looked me in the eye, welcomed me, and said, “please, make yourself comfortable.” I appreciated his words and again, was struck by the joy and happiness on his face (in contrast to his bride in the next room).
When we joined the ladies side once again, Mohammad’s mother took me by hand and led me over to a table for dinner, the walima. Upon sitting me down, she immediately began piling food on my plate: chili chicken, tandoori chicken, and roti. The table filled up and we quietly passed around the dishes. As if I didn’t have enough food on my plate, waiters came out with large plates of mutton biryani. Then the dessert came: a slab of ice cream atop a rectangle of sponge cake and surrounded by pieces of fruit, nuts, and custard. It was like dissected fruitcake. The most interesting thing about the mealtime is that no one said a word. Out of ten women at our table, there was no conversation! We passed the food. We ate the food. Period.
We didn’t leave until after 11pm and guest were still eating, milling about, and greeting the couple. According to Ayush, this was still pretty early for an Indian wedding.
So while I did not see much of the ceremony, it was worth the experience to research and observe. I made it home safely on the back of Ayush’s motorcycle, cruising through the streets of Hyderabad. However I woke up with a sore and scratchy throat due to the thick city air.