Colorful costumes, vibrant settings, happy faces, lip-smacking traditional food-fare and a lot more comprise the extravaganza of an Indian wedding. Gone are the days when one “had” to be in India to have or attend an Indian style wedding. Now more and more Indians expats are choosing their second home, Saudi Arabia, to get married. The process has been facilitated by the increasing availability locally of all that goes into an Indian wedding, be it the authentic Indian food, traditional flowers, bridal dresses and jewelry, and more importantly, a whole community of friends and family.
Indian Muslim weddings are elaborate and typically consist of many functions. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) considered simple weddings to be the best weddings. Although traditions and rituals vary with different states in India, most are generic to all Muslim nuptials in the country. Here’s a rundown through a typical Indian wedding taking place in Jeddah — simple, minus all the opulence, yet rooted in tradition.
Nikah — The marriage contract
This is perhaps the most important part of a Muslim wedding anywhere. What accompanies it apart from the Valima are just customary rituals. The date of the Nikah, which will take place in a mahkamah (court), is set well in advance. Generally, the male family members of the bride and groom take care of this. Jeddah residents can register in their city’s court while some chose to marry in the mahkamah in Makkah. In case of the latter, on the day of the Nikah, both families and relatives start early in the day for the holy city, complete the procedures at the office of the judge, who officially declares the couple husband and wife. The “Wali” (the father of the bride) plays an important role in the ceremony. The boy’s side proposes and the girl’s side conveys her assent, after which the Nikah is complete. This is followed by a “Khutba” by the judge, where he reads out certain verses from the holy Qur’an. The families then usually go to the Holy Mosque, where the bride and the groom perform Tawaf, together for the first time — symbolic of an auspicious start to the married life. In the evening, friends and family come together for a small gathering at the bride’s place to bless the new couple.
Manje — The turmeric ceremony
No word better describes Manje than yellow! From the décor to the bride’s and her friends’ dresses, or to the copious amounts of turmeric and ubtan (sandalwood) that are applied to the bride, it’s shades of yellow or orange, and green in some cases, that dominate this day. The ceremony is much looked forward to and enjoyed as it is usually a women- and children-only event. The female relatives of the bride anoint her with turmeric paste and other herbal mixtures to bring out the glow in her complexion. The event has a festive feel to it with the women singing traditional songs. A series of Manje — two, three or more — take place before the big day.
Sanchak-Mehendi — henna ceremony
A common pre-wedding function, in which mehendi or henna is applied to the hands and feet of the bride, her friends and relatives. Mehendi is a very old custom and an ancient art form in the Asian subcontinent. Professional mehendi designers are brought in, who personalize the designs to the wedding theme or the bride’s liking. The theme of the ceremony is green, the color of the henna, as well as orange and yellow. It can be a small family gathering at the bride’s home or a big event at a restaurant/ hotel, where families and extended families of both the groom and the bride greet and meet each other and exchange gifts. Little goody bags filled with chocolates, nuts and other gifts are given out by the bride’s family to the guests. Traditionally, the families, sans the bride, then proceed to the groom’s place, where the bride’s sisters and cousins apply a dot of mehendi on the finger of the groom and demand money in a playful gesture. This part of the ceremony is called Sanchak, but most families prefer conducting this along with the Mehendi ceremony in a common venue. In traditional families, the bride and the groom are not allowed to see each other during all their pre-wedding functions until the wedding day.
A wedding invitation card is the first interaction between the hosts and the guests. It speaks volumes about the style and taste of the wedding and those hosting it, and hence should not be treated as just another ‘formality.’ Those printed back home are embellished with typical Indian motifs in gold, silver and stonework. Wedding cards can be printed here too.
Factors like price, seating capacities and available services affect the choice of a venue. A cosmopolitan city like Jeddah has many beautiful wedding halls and hotels fit for every size, style and taste. In all honesty, the most humble of these venues look better than many top class wedding halls in India. Some halls here also offer catering, décor, photography and videography services. Most Indian families opt for desi cuisines, which they order separately and hence don’t choose the Arabic and continental food that the venue offers.
Wedding outfits and jewelry
What the bride and the groom wear on the big day and on other festivities of the wedding is decided with utmost precision. While traditional silks and brocades are ideally best bought in India, many stores in Jeddah are stocking up on the latest in bridal wear, be it an Indian embroidered lehenga or a Pakistani gharara, which have become a trend among Indian brides. In Jeddah, specific shops in Kababish and Kandra usually come to the rescue of those unable to bring their wedding outfits from India. Prices may be a notch higher than those back home. Muslims brides traditionally wear shades of red and pink on the wedding day, while green and turquoise are worn for the reception (Valima). The perfect jewelry makes every bride look extraordinary on her wedding day. Gold is predominantly used throughout all the ceremonies, which is sometimes encrusted with pearls, diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other precious stones. The latter is chosen with utmost care so as to coordinate their colors with the outfit. While Saudi gold is best known for its purity, those looking for antique Indian style wedding pieces, such as, jadawi laccha, rani haar, and other traditional jewelry must do that bit of shopping back home.
Apart from ravishing outfits, exquisite wedding jewelry, it is the backdrop of the wedding venue that is essential to enhance the bride’s beauty and enliven her spirit. The wedding flowers are one of the most photographed details. Therefore, choosing them carefully becomes imperative to make the backdrop modern and stunning. Flowers are an integral part of an Indian wedding, from the entrance gate to the stage, dinning tables and chandelier, and as garlands. What needs to be taken into consideration is the theme and décor of the wedding. Floral theme has become a rage. The theme of love involving red roses will always remain evergreen. Although nothing can match the beauty of fresh flowers at a wedding, many are coming up with other elements to substitute the use of flowers. Readymade strands of artificial flowers that bear resemblance to the real thing can also be bought from India.
No one can ever get bored of a wedding album. Filled with candid moments, unusual angles and spontaneous expressions, in the end it all comes down to capturing those special moments. And the only witnesses you will ever have to your wedding are your photographs and videos. So, choosing the right photographer becomes imperative. The bride especially seeks after the services of a female photographer/ videographer. Be it a friend with a passion for photography or a professional, Jeddah has no dearth of female shutterbugs.
It is an important part of the festivities, mainly because in India, the Nikah takes place on this day and the bride is bid farewell on the same day. However, here, the Nikah can take place a few days or even months before the actual Rukhsati (sending off of the bride) takes place on the “wedding day”. The ceremony, hosted by the bride’s side, is generally a well-attended affair. The bride and the groom are initially seated separately but come together once only the close relatives and friends remain while others leave. In the end of the function, the bride is bid farewell by her tearful parents and relatives. In a touching gesture, a sober bride’s father gives his daughter’s hand in the groom’s hand, who then ushers her into the car, which is driven away. A solemn end to all the week-long festivities. Or wait. The end is yet to come.
The Valima reception is the lavish reception that the groom’s family hosts after the Nikah. It is a more relaxed, fun and joyous occasion that brings the two families together. This function marks the end to a big, fat Indian wedding, and is essentially a celebratory start to the couple’s new life.