This winter, I went back to my home country of Pakistan to attend my cousin’s wedding. Weddings in Pakistan are full of color, culture and tradition. The preparations begin months in advance and culminate in a series of events that celebrate the matrimony of the bride and groom.
What makes these weddings especially memorable to me is the array of customs that I get to experience.
The first event is called the Mayun. When it came time to perform the ceremony, my cousin and his bride sat on a stage. Their family and close friends took turns dabbing ubtan — a yellow paste of sandalwood powder, turmeric and other herbs — on their faces.
Ubtan makes your skin glow, so this is a way to make sure the groom’s skin is glowing for his wedding day. After this, I circled some money above the couple’s heads and put it in a pile, which was a collection for charity. Then, I fed a tiny spoonful of mithai — a South Asian sweet — to the bride and groom as a celebration of their union.
As each person performed this ceremony, the couple indulged in the attention of their special day.
After the first ceremony was finished, we all smeared ubtan on each other’s faces, starting a playful fight. It was like a paintball fight with our hands as the weaponry. And after it settled down, we proceeded to the dance floor where we spent the rest of the night on our feet.
Two days later, the couple’s female friends and families gathered at their homes, where we had henna tattoos applied to our hands and feet. Henna is a plant-based dye mixed into a paste form.
The designs were intricate and varied from person to person, from floral designs to geometric patterns. This is a form of decorating our bodies before a dancing ceremony called the Mehndi.
Everyone wore their best clothes the next day and showed off the dance moves they had been practicing for two months.
Watching my friends and family on the dance floor, busting moves until 4 or 5 a.m., was the most joyous part of the wedding for me.
Finally, there was the Shaadi, which incorporates the actual wedding ceremony, as well as some playful traditions.
The bride’s relatives removed the groom’s shoes and hid them. In return for his shoes, the bride’s family asked the groom for a large sum of money. Then we — the groom’s cousins — tried to negotiate a lower price.
These negotiations are just for show. In the end, the groom paid the bride’s cousins a predetermined amount. This money, a symbol of goodwill to the bride’s family, is used to treat the cousins and friends of the bride to a night out.
After this, my female cousins and I rushed to the groom’s house to decorate it for his bride. The bride and groom arrived shortly after and were welcomed by the rest of the family.
The groom’s elder sister brought out a deep clay tray with rose petals, and the bride and groom each put one foot in it. The groom’s two sisters and I washed their feet to show how much we treasure the bride and welcome her into our family.
It was now our turn to ask the groom for a large sum of money. This time, the bride’s family advocated for the groom and tried to negotiate. This is another comical tradition. In the end, my cousin paid us the amount he had planned. The money would treat our family to a night out.
The last custom of the Shaadi was the feeding of kheer — a rice pudding from the subcontinent — by the bride to the men of the groom’s family. The brothers and male cousins of the groom came to eat the kheer from a spoon in the bride’s hand.
The bride had to move the spoon and tease each man as he tried to taste the kheer. She even smeared it on their faces, but they had to keep trying to get a bite. This custom is a symbol of the playful relationship between the bride and her husband’s brothers.
Because I live in the United States year-round, celebrating with my family in Pakistan feels especially meaningful for me. The customs, extravagantly embroidered clothes, bangles, music, food and — above all — dancing make a Pakistani wedding an extraordinary celebration.
At the same time, it feels like home.