Wedding Ceremonies of Pakistan

Posted on August 22, 2007
Filed Under >S.A.J. Shirazi, Culture & Heritage, Society
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S.A.J Shirazi

Pakistan is a land of thousand faces, a country simply overflowing with cultural richness. Whatever the preferences, a wedding in Pakistan is good display of customs, traditions, many of which are heavily influenced by foreign customs. Marriage is an important social celebration and people participate with passion and enthusiasm. The rites are imbued with a certain sentimental appeal.
Demographically, Pakistan is divided in rural hinterland and urban areas. Common among marriages in rural and urban areas are Mangnee, Mayoon, Mehndi, Nikah, Valima and living happily ever after. But the way these colourful rituals are performed greatly vary.

Rural areas of Pakistan still remain a largely conservative society, where many young people shy away when it comes to marriages. Exceptions apart, arranged marriages are a cornerstone of rural society. It remains the responsibility of parents and marriages are mostly among people within the same tribe, caste, community, family or locality.

This is what happens in rural areas with some minor changes from place to place: After initial understanding and covert messages between families of prospective spouses, the boy’s relatives visit the girl’s family and offer the proposal, on formal acceptance the mangni (engagement) takes place, marriage date is fixed, groom, with friends and relatives goes to the house of the bride in the form of barat (marriage procession) where the nikah (social contact) is performed. The consent of the bride and the groom to the marriage (ijab and qubool) in the presence of at least two witnesses is obtained to solemnize the contract as per the commandment of divine Islam. Guests are served with sumptuous food (notwithstanding what the law of the land says about the feast). Groom brings home his the bride. This is followed by Valima. Life goes on . . .

Moreover, on the arrival of barat, the dowry is displayed for every one to see and at the same place groom’s female relatives show what they have gifted (jewellery and clothing) to the bride. Both sides glorify the gifts. Paradoxically, in Punjab, a night earlier than the marriage date, groom visits homes of his friends and relatives where he is offered money. Other gifts mostly in the form of money (salami) or garlands made of currency notes are presented when groom gets ready for going to bride’s home. Customarily, groom dresses up in attire presented to him by one of his sisters and in return, he gives to his sister(s) what she demands. There are no marriage halls and the congregations take place in homes and or community centres (called Daras). There are no caterers. Local tradesmen prepare food and serve.

As per the available statistics, divorce rate in the rural areas is comparatively lower. The core joint family system is still intact. At the other hand, marriages at very young age, consanguineous marriages, marriages without consent of the partners and cross marriages are also common.

There is not much of a variation in the core marriage ceremonies in urban areas, only the way they are performed differ. In the cities, the assertive sons and daughters of an educated middle-class are finding new ways of meeting their match. Although many still have arranged marriages, it is no longer unheard of for couples to marry after having fallen in love or meting over the Internet or in a TV show. Court marriages are also not very uncommon.

Difference in thinking between modern urban elites and traditional rural families is reflected in marriages in many ways. Norms in the urban society have changed over the years and they are on the constant move. Vulnerable to satellite TV, Internet, higher education and affluence, urban population is open and highly receptive to the waves of modernity. Unlike in the past, the selection of marriage partners now is done from the groups that are similar in social characteristics. In present times, urbanites are now most likely to marry individuals who are in similar social group, educational attainment and social class.

Another interesting pattern that is now visible is the strong influence of the western society, which has now trickled down its norms to our youth who have proudly inculcated them into being ‘ours’. People in urban areas are slowly but surely moving towards the conjugal family system from our traditional and inherited consanguine system. Twenty years ago the scenario in Pakistani cities was quite the contrary.

Families in urban areas are strongly influenced by the environment and by technology in particular. To take a historic overview, as Pakistani society industrialised some 25 years ago, families lost their old patterns and received changed values. This resulted among other things, in smaller families in urban areas of Pakistan. In addition many of the functions, once attributed to the families became the responsibilities of other institutions and individuals. It was because of the shift to a more formal societal structure that romantic love is replaced by economic and social reasons as a factor influencing the choice of a marriage partner. The role of women has also changed as the family is losing control over the destinies of its female members.

Matchmaking by the third party is a preferred way now. This has given rise to match making business. Interested people are asked to provide details of eligible sons and daughters, as well as their requirements from a spouse and matchmakers do rest of he job. Marriages take place at marriage halls and hotels instead of homes.

The affluence and wealth makes a large difference in wedding ceremonies, in rural as well as urban areas. The more people have, the more elaborate are the rituals. But spirit everywhere remains the same

Note: This article also appeared in The Nation

15 Comments on “Wedding Ceremonies of Pakistan”

  1. Yousaf says:
    August 22nd, 2007 12:03 pm

    pretty informative article. Thanks

  2. Saleema says:
    August 22nd, 2007 2:45 pm

    Also very enjoyable is the sehra bandhi just before the baraat leaves. The sisters would tie the sehra and sing songs. Not to miss the joota chupai, when the groom’s shoe is ‘stolen’ by the salis & co. and only returned after some money. Another custom only seen in villages in ‘ghroli bhurna’ did any one participate in that? A close sister and a younger brother, the shah bala, perform it together. I have a picture of that somewhere.

  3. Allah Wasaya says:
    August 22nd, 2007 3:07 pm

    Great article, how about the most integral part of the ceremony, capturing all the memories on video. I remember a very funny 50/50 sketch on it too, Zeba Shehnaz (dulhan’s mom) had to do the whole rukhsti number over again because the video guy arrived late!

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    August 22nd, 2007 5:23 pm

    Photo of a Pakistani ‘dulha’ and ‘shahbaala’ from a 1976 wedding here.

  5. August 22nd, 2007 5:42 pm

    Some say shaadi hai barbadi others say no life without wife, I agree with both!

  6. Tina says:
    August 23rd, 2007 6:18 pm

    I have a hard time being happy at weddings where the bride and groom are complete strangers or hardly know each other. Marriage is hard enough without knowing the person you are marrying and having no feeling of love for them. Sometimes, even often, the young man or woman is even pining for some other person they cannot marry because their family doesn’t like it for some reason. Great start to a marriage, to be brokenhearted.

    “Living happily ever after” common among Pakistani marriages? I don’t think so. Please do not quote a lot of divorce statistics to try to prove things are worse in the West. Just because two people die under the same roof does not mean the marriage was a “success”. As for those Westerners who do divorce, a majority of them find happiness (or at least a better situation) in second marriages.

    Of course Pakistanis and Westerners expect different things from their partners and the marriage institution generally. I’m reminded of Edward Bellamy’s book “Looking Backwards”, written at a time when arranged marriages were the norm in the West, especially in the upper class. Marriage was arranged based on money issues and getting the best financial outcome/contacts and alliances for the family, something that still plays a role in Pakistan today. Modern day matchmakers are just the computer age version of this. Grooms must have such and such an education and be earning such and such a wage, brides must be fair skinned and educated to such and such a level but not having any plans to use this schooling for anything. The prospective in-laws family must be such and such as well. It’s the same old thing.

    The narrator in Bellamy’s book speaks longingly of a future time when men and women will be able to find and choose their own partners based on their own interests and all the positive results that would follow. Bellamy wrote this in the late 1800s, not really all that long ago. Nowadays things have changed, of course–and things have turned out pretty much as Bellamy predicted, and some things are different than what he imagined.

    I used to think all weddings were festive but the older I grow the more my viewpoint has changed. I have a hard time even going to weddings now. I know very few happy couples and I think that’s the reason. Most of them after a few years just sort of ignore each other. I don’t know so many Western couples to compare but at least they are making their own decisions going into it and they are often more emotionally “there” for each other, which I think is nice.

    You can go ahead and get after me for saying this if you want, and of course somebody is going to drag premarital sex into it. That’s fine. I’m just expressing my observations having seen both sides.

  7. Ghaus says:
    August 24th, 2007 5:47 am

    And if I try to give an Islamic point of view then,

    Mehndi is Haram in Islam. Fireworks, dancing, songs during weddings are all Haram, and it is part of our culture.

    Ignoring that all these above mentioned things are Haram is a sign of doomsday too.

    Should i write more ?

  8. Saleema says:
    August 24th, 2007 12:55 pm

    Mehndi is not haram it is sunnah of our beloved Prophet. The way we observe this function is haram. I have attended beautiful Mehndis which start with dras about married life and obligations of different parties and then move on to putting henna on every one and yes some singing……
    Also Tina forced marriages are forbidden in Islam and a very repulsive part of our culture but I found my arranged marriage a perfect way to find someone very compatible. We met for few minutes a couple of times and then got married about fourteen years ago. I looked for decency and education and a solid family. ..and am very happy with the way things turned out.

  9. Eidee Man says:
    August 24th, 2007 1:32 pm

    Tina, as someone has already mentioned, forced marriages are completely against Islam and it is extremely unfortunate that too many of them still continue to happen.

    If a guy or a girl is naive enough to leave his entire future up to the whims of a couple of family members, then I guess it serves him/her right for being careless.

    You said you don’t know too many Western couples; I do. I can tell you that your observations about Western couples being overall happier are not correct. Personally, from having lived in the U.S. for a long time, I am of the opinion that the issue you are referring to has a lot to do with economics. Among the middle-classes in Pakistan, there is an overall feeling of acceptance of one’s circumstances: you can’t count on having electricity, a day of rainfall might cripple or even destroy your mobility, your financial future is never really as safe as you’d like it to be. Ironically, this lack of resources/stability gives rise to a strange kind of contentment.

    I do not like generalizations but it seems to me that Westerners are rarely ever content. All day long they are bombarded by advertisements inviting them to upgrade and enhance every aspect of their lives. That attitude of self-adulation might lead a Westerner to get bored of his spouse and lead him to think that he can do much better.

    The Pakistani couple is more likely to see through the “meant to be” b.s. and accept the fact that nothing is perfect and that they have to make the best of what they have.

    One important caveat: I’m in no way saying that married women should try to stick out even if they are getting abused.

    Interestingly, couples belonging to the wealthy and “elite” class of Pakistan, are more similar to Western couples than they are to other Pakistani couples. The reasons are probably the same: they are brought up with the mindset that they are special and that entitles them to the best of everything.

  10. Mahmood says:
    August 26th, 2007 3:10 am

    Tina:”I have a hard time being happy at weddings where the bride and groom are complete strangers or hardly know each other…..

    As for those Westerners who do divorce, a majority of them find happiness (or at least a better situation) in second marriages.

    So do you think westerners are doing better in relationships?

  11. Tina says:
    September 9th, 2007 8:30 pm


    long term? Yes. There is more acknowledgement of individual feelings, needs, and desires. People are less likely to settle for whatever is dished out to them (some of the posters above think that is a good thing). In the long run I believe they are happier. Their dreams of love don’t die once the honeymoon is over. And knowing that you made your own choice mitigates a lot even when things go wrong. The exercise of free will also makes people work harder.

  12. Ibrahim says:
    September 10th, 2007 12:11 am


    There could be two opinions on mehndi as I see it: if it’s proven that it is a hindu-religion practice, then it is haram–no doubt. But, as far as I understand, if it is a purely cultural (urfi) then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it as long as nothing unislamic is done because there is NO religious significance to mehndi ceremony. This is so because in Islam the general rule is anything in a culture is allowed as long as it doesn’t oppose the laws and commands of Islam. However, it is good for people to not do israaf and should avoid such celeberations.

    What sister Saleema is describing mehndi as is definitely forbidden because this is an innovation in the religion and something being attached to Rasoolullah’s (saw) sunnah when it’s not the case (mehndi is NOT a sunnah), and making a point of reading Quran or dars for this specific celeberation is a bidat. Allahu Alam

    sister Tina: I think you’ve lived too long outside of a Muslim culture. If the way marriages are carried out in Pakistan (as far as bride and groom not meeting “enough” before marriage—not the wealth/jahaze problem) were a problem, this way would not have been prescribed or sanctioned by Allah–no way!

  13. UmmNadia says:
    November 28th, 2007 1:48 am

    I am a muslim woman born and raised in the west married to a Pakistani man. The problem doesn’t lie in arranged marriages or those where partners “barely know each other”. The problem is the criteria that many families use to find mates for their children. When you base a marriage on something so superficial as skin color, career, or family caste then your bound to miss what’s really important. As muslims we are to choose our mates for their deen or risk being a loser; something that many people forget in the midst of looking at all their gifts and trying to impress their neighbors by telling them what a successful doctor their daughter snagged.

    As I mentioned I am from the west, and have lived here all my life. I have seen many couples marriages fail here for many of the same reasons…choosing their mates on superficial reasons. Falling in love (or the illusion of it) before marriage is no guarantee for lasting success. Tina, by your own admission you don’t know very many western couples so I’m not really sure what you’ve based your opinion on wa Allahu alim. I know many happy muslim couples whose marriages were arranged. Success and happiness does not mean the same things to every person. Perhaps there needs to be more thought put into what constitutes happiness for you and whether or not that idea can be realistically achieved in marriage???

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    October 31st, 2008 5:21 pm


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  15. Google says:
    September 5th, 2011 9:56 pm

    Fantastic site for wedding information and wedding planning too………….

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