Weddings in Pakistan are beautiful, extravagant, and complicated by Western standards. The celebrations last for days, include hundreds of people, and bright, expensive clothes are worn. Families go all out for these weddings, and the results are gorgeous and heart felt.
Marriages in Pakistan are a family affair. Arranged marriages are the most common type, with the couple typically having the last word as to the match. Often the family will find someone they like, and then set up the marriage. Dating doesn’t happen often, especially in rural areas. These days, though, it is more common for the future bride and groom to get to know each other before the wedding. This is especially true for those in cities, where the couple can talk on the phone and exchange emails to get acquainted. Under certain circumstances, the couple can also meet in person.
Most weddings are several days long, with at least three ceremonies. These three ceremonies are the Mehndi, Barat and the Walima.
The Mehndi is the first event of the celebration. This is a day of festivities before the actual wedding ceremony. Traditionally the parties were separate, much like bachelor and bachelorette parties in America, but now it is common for the bride and groom to celebrate together. In this ceremony the bride usually wears yellow and sits as luxurious patterns are drawn on her hands using henna. Traditionally during the groom’s ceremony his hair would be combed with scented oils, though this is less common now. The couple is fed sweets and there is plenty of music and dancing.
The Barat includes the wedding ceremony itself and the procession of the groom and his family. If the Nikkah, the Islamic marriage agreement, hasn’t already been signed, it is signed during this ceremony. The bride traditionally wears red or pink to this event. An Imam, a Muslim cleric, oversees the signing of the Nikkah and the blessing of the couple. After the ceremony, a dinner reception is held for all the friends and family. This event often has around 400 attendees, even more if the couple lives in a rural area or if either is a celebrity or socialite.
The Walima is the final celebration of the wedding. This is a dinner that the bride and groom host as a married couple. This is a large, festive dinner and the point is to showcase the new couple. During the Walima, the bride wears gold jewelry given to her by her husband or her husband’s family. Gold is a huge part of weddings in Pakistan, with the bride decked out in gold necklaces, earrings and more. Guests give wedding presents to the couple. Usually these gifts are money rather than household items since money is seen as more useful to the couple. After this final ceremony, the couple moves in together. Most couples live with their in-laws, usually the husband’s parents.
One special facet of marriages in Pakistan is the Nikkah, the marriage agreement used in Islam. This document is what binds the couple in marriage, much like a marriage license in the United States. Though the Nikkah is often signed as a part of the Barat ceremony, it can be signed ahead of time. This gives the future couple a chance to meet, chat and exchange messages before the time of the marriage. At other times the couple will meet on the day of the wedding, sign the Nikkah during the wedding ceremony and then move in together.
Weddings celebrate a young couple’s new life together. Loved ones gather to bond over a family growing and connecting. These ceremonies are exciting, colorful and exuberant. Weddings in Pakistan are truly amazing celebrations of family.