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Culture in Kashmir

The mood is always  exuberant one. Relatives, friends and neighbours are having a cosy get together. The women are singing Kashmiri folk songs called "Wanwun". After exhausting the Kashmiri stuff they shift to popular Bollywood numbers to put more colour to the function. Hindi film style dances and Bollywood film numbers are a new concept to Kashmiri marriages. But you can catch the youth dancing to Bollywood numbers everywhere - at small holiday camps in Gulmarg and other hillstations. The advent of satellite television in the urban areas of Jammu and Kashmir has brought about the change. Though rural Kashmir is still to be blessed with such luxuries. They watch Pakistan TV!

" The groom's sister applies mehendi on his little finger and a hundred rupee note is tied around it. His niece is busy in a photo session with the groom.

The bride in her home, where Kashmiri kehewa (black tea) is brewing up in a samovar and a group of local singers perform popular local songs to the accompaniment of traditional instruments like rabab, sarangi (harmonium) and an earthen pitcher. This continues through out the night during with several rounds of Kehewa served with Kashmiri bread called "shirmal". A local male folk dancer called bachkout dressed in a skirt dances through the night.

It is Mehendi raat (the night of applying the henna). Through north India the henna-night-ceremony is an important one. The bride gets all the attention as unmarried girls from the boy's family apply Mehendi to the bride. She is later decked in all her bridal jewellery. The onus of dressing her up lies with her friends.

Once decked up she is showered with the choicest blessings and gifts by the invitees and relatives.  Prior to the Mehendi night, a function called Muchravum is held at the bride's place. On this day the girl ties her hair in small plaits which is later unbraided by all the married women of the family. In marriages every occasion calls for fun and merriment, and so with Muchravum. The girls have a whale of a time as they unbraid the plaits.

Earlier marriages in Kashmir were mostly arranged but over the years there is a trend of love matches. However, both in arranged and love marriages, the rituals of a wedding are observed.

For arranged marriages, courting and the first meeting itself is a ritual. It begins with the Thap, the first meeting and the first glance. The bride to be meets her dream mate at a ceremony called the Thap. 'Thap' literally means to catch somebody. It is usually held outside the home, in public places like shrines, mosques or even the grand Moghul gardens. The two engage in a tete'-a-tete and decide to either share their lives or part ways. It is organized in a public place to avoid embarrassment if they don't like each other. If the boy does not approve of the girl, it is less messier to part ways in a public park than in a home with all the neighbours knowing about it. As usual it is taken for granted that it is the boy who approves of the girl, the girl having little or no say in the matter.

When both of them agree for the marriage they exchange rings and flowers. The matchmaker  arranges  the meeting. The boy and the girl are given a chance to meet and they share a few words.. Finally the word is out. and both the families converge on the lawns and exchange sweets and greetings.

After the thap, the family of the bride sends the royal Kashmiri cuisine, 'Wazwan', to the family of the groom to be. The arrival of Wazwan dishes at the relatives place signifies the announcement of the engagement of the boy. It is a formal banquet "Royal Wazwan" is an exclusive Kashmiri cuisine. It is prepared by the cooks, called the Wazas, who are master chefs. 'Wazvan' is an exclusive meal cooked with varieties of mutton, chicken, and the list goes on. More than sixteen dishes are prepared with exclusive herbs and spices. Mutton forms the main ingredients of the cuisine. Rista, Roghan Josh, Tabak Maaz, Daniwal Korma, Aab Gosh, Marchwongan or mirchi Korma and Gushtaba.

A middle-class Kashmiri marriage consumes around 200-250 kg of mutton plus about

150 kg of chicken, which means a chef could earn anything between Rs 25-30,000 per day. Wazas cook though out the night in the lawn on the wooden logs in big copper vessels. During the wedding season the chefs are busy almost everyday. In fact it is the waza who gives the final nod to the date of the wedding.

For Muslims the Nikhaah is the actual wedding which makes the relation between the boy and girl legal and Islamic. It takes place a day before the actual ceremony. It begins with the mehandi ceremony. On the wedding day the groom's family present gifts to the bride with jewellery and clothes. Followed by which the 'Nikaah' is read by the 'Maulvi' (priest). After the girl pledges and agrees to the ' Nikaah' the bride's family sends gifts to the boy's house, which is called 'haziri'. Along with the gifts goes Majmas (big copper plates) replete with sweets, dry fruits, and fresh fruits.

Meher is an important part of the Nikkah and without it Nikkah is incomplete. The amount of the meher is fixed at the time of Nikkah. Generally the mehr amount does not exceed rupees one lakh. Meher is a sum of money, which the husband has to give his wife anytime after marriage and in case there is a divorce the amount has to be given immediately. It is obligatory to pay one third of the fixed amount on the spot. hen the groom comes with the baraat or the 'Yenevol' to the bride's house, he wears a special turban and his car is decorated with flowers. The baraatis are given a warm reception and the groom is showered with flowers and garlands. Women sing the folk songs called Wanwun to mark the arrival of the groom.

There is a tradition where the bride's friends or the children of the family steal the shoes of the groom to extract money from him. It is literally a tug of war between the groom's' and bride's friends. The groom's friends defend the shoes while the bride's friends try their best to smuggle it.

While the baraatis have their meals, the bride is getting ready. She finishes her packing and the couple gets ready to leave. The bride is dressed in a colourful. A Kashmiri bride and groom
lehenga, some brides wear traditional shalwar kameez. The bride covers her face with a cloth when she leaves with the groom. At the groom's place, the mother-in-law removes the veil - this is called Muhar. If the mother of the groom is a widow then the cloth-veil is lifted by the eldest female member of the family.

In some cases the groom demands a huge sum of money and car or valuables from his in-laws. Though there are cases of grooms who are against the dowry. Some of them even return the valuable gifts sent by the in-laws. Others opt for simpler marriages. The general feeling is that simpler marriages are better as it cuts down on the expenses..

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