Quite often we have come across social media campaigns advocating simple marriages. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said: “The best of marriage is that which is made the easiest.” The Ulema keep telling us to make Nikah easy and Zina (illicit sexual relations) difficult and not the other way round. This directive to make weddings simple is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
A RARE WEDDING
More than three decades back, I had attended the wedding of an affluent cousin of mine which can truly be called a “simple wedding”. On a Wednesday, my cousin and his family went to see a girl, liked her, and gave a proposal for marriage which was promptly accepted. The wedding was fixed on the very next day to be solemnized after namaz-e-asar in a nearby mosque. No shaadi mahal, no stage decoration, no printed invitations, no garlands, no photos, and no videos. The close relatives were invited over the phone to attend the Nikah in the mosque. Neither the bride nor the bridegroom had time to buy a new dress and came for the Nikah wearing the best dress they had in their wardrobe. The Nikah over, the bridegroom arranged a simple Valima dinner in his house for his first cousins after two days. The couple is leading a happy married life. In contrast to this, I have seen so many grand weddings attended by more than a thousand guests and with lavish arrangements, yet the marriages ended in disaster.
Frankly speaking, I do not have the courage of conviction that my cousin has. Moreover, I do not have the moral authority to write on this topic since I have celebrated the marriages of my children with the usual fanfare. But I am emboldened to take a look at this subject since it is extremely important to understand the underlying issues which compel even a person who does wish to celebrate a simple wedding, yet becomes helpless and has to fall in line with the usual practices. There are a huge number of people who strongly believe that ostentatious weddings should be stopped, yet are unable to implement the same when their turn comes.
MODALITIES OF MARRIAGE
Once a marriage alliance is decided, the elders from the bride and bridegroom’s side hold talks to work out the nitty gritty of the marriage. Generally speaking, the boy’s side will put forth that an engagement ceremony should be arranged by the girl’s side, the Nikah could be solemnized in a mosque and thereafter the bride’s side should arrange a grand function in a big shaadi mahal, the function should be in the evening with lights, there should be a well-decorated stage with costly flowers and for the dinner, the menu should have this and that item. Strangely, many times, the bride’s side will be insisting on a grand wedding and do not mind footing the bill. The bridegroom’s side will invite most of their guests for the Nikah hosted by the bride’s side but will invite a lesser number for the Valima which they have to arrange. A huge amount is spent to buy dresses for each and every event for the men, women and children of both families. The extravagant dresses of the bride and bridegroom cost a fortune, but they are used just once.
FRINGE EVENTS OF WEDDING
Apart from the main events, there will be many other sub-events like sending Dulhe ka naashta (breakfast for the bridegroom), Haldi, Mehendi and Shukrana. It is astonishing that a boy who is getting married cannot arrange his breakfast and his in-laws have to send a special breakfast; not only for him, but for the other guests too. If this is a custom, why can’t the boy’s parents send breakfast to the bride similarly? Some people even insist that the bride’s parents should provide their invitation cards! I was once invited for what they called “samdiyon ka milaap” (get-together of in-laws) which is fast becoming another add-on event. After marriage, the dulha (bridegroom) gets VIP treatment in his in-law’s house, but not all dulhans (brides) will be lucky enough to get similar treatment in their in-laws house. Post marriage, the bride’s side have to host many dinners for various ceremonies like seventh day ceremony, jummagi (five Fridays after marriage) and so on.
The arguments put-forth to arrange such lavish weddings are usually the following:-
1) The bridegroom is our only son or the bride is our only daughter and we have so many desires to be fulfilled
2) We have attended so many marriages and have taken food and now we have to invite them all
3) This is a prestige issue for us (izzat ka sawal)
4) We have spent huge amount for our daughter’s wedding, now let the bride’s people spend in our son’s wedding.
5) If we arrange a simple wedding, relatives and friends will call us misers (kanjoos)
6) If we arrange a simple wedding, our daughter will be taunted throughout her life by her in-laws with statements like: “your parents could not even arrange a grand wedding for you. Look how the parents of X, Y and Z have arranged a lavish wedding”
7) A big function with many guests is a good opportunity for relatives and friends to meet since the custom of visiting houses is on the decline due to busy schedules and long distances
Any campaign for advocating simple marriages cannot succeed unless the above issues are tackled head-on and counter arguments are presented. Merely arguing from the religious point of view or telling that we are setting a bad precedent for the poor and consequently burdening them will have no impact.
THE EVENTS CONTINUE
Once all these ceremonies are over, the bride’s side who are not financially well-off can now heave a sigh of relief. But not for long. The bridegroom’s birthday comes soon enough and another party and costly gifts have to be arranged by the bride’s side. One year passed after marriage, now the onus will be on the bride’s side to host another party for the wedding anniversary and a gift to follow. I am not talking here about the dowry, vehicle, furniture and household items which the bride’s side are expected to give. That is a bigger ball game altogether.
Life goes on and the events continue to happen. The bride gets pregnant and all the expenses from the time of the pregnancy test up to the delivery of the child have to be borne by the bride’s parents since this is the first child. Who drafted these rules which unabashedly favour the boy and his family and which are religiously followed by us as sacrosanct? Then follow the post-birth ceremonies like sathvasa (seven days after birth of the child) and chilla (forty days after birth of the child). The bride’s people have to do all this happily since they are becoming grandparents (naana and naani). It is forgotten, at least as far as the expenses are concerned, that the boy’s parents have also become grandparents (dada and daadi). The responsibility of the father of the child is not at all in the radar. What an irony that he becomes a father of a son or daughter, but his in-laws have to foot the bill!
The bride’s people who are rich will bear all these expenditures un-grudgingly and they even enjoy the joyous occasions. But for the bride’s parents who are in financial straits and have taken loans for their daughter’s marriage, all these practices cause so much strain on their finances. When we speak of arranging simple marriages, let us also keep under scrutiny the fringe events which are no less taxing for the bride’s parents.