The Engagement, Henna and Nikah in Afghan Marriage Customs
Engagement is an essential part of Afghan marriage customs. The groom’s family members and elders visit the home of the bride on a specified date. They bring with them sweets and gifts for the bride to be and money and clothes for the family members of the bride. The bride’s family hosts a meal and then the request for the hand of the girl in marriage is formally made to the father of the bride by the father of the groom. The groom is then accepted by the father of the bride as “his servant”.
The two parties then discuss matters of dowry as part of Afghan marriage customs. These could include discussions on amount of jewelry the bride will be given, the expenses of the wedding and other necessities that may be pledged by the groom’s family. The groom’s family then agrees upon the ‘mahr’ which is Quranic direction but not price for the girl. It generally consists of livestock, property and money.
The intervening period between the engagement and the marriage
The groom and his family must finance the bride money for purchasing her jewelry, clothes and other trousseau. They may also provide carpets, dishes and other household items to the bride. The groom is also expected to bear the wedding expenses. If the groom cannot afford to bear the expenses, he agrees to live with his future father in law and serve him till the debt is paid. The bride and the groom do not meet during this period, but they can exchange gifts through a family member or friend. The parents of the groom may also visit the bride during festive occasion.
The Henna Night: Takht e Khina
This is a function that is held before the wedding. It may be held a few days before the wedding or on the night preceding the wedding. The expenses of the function are to be borne by the groom’s family. However, the Takht e Khina or the henna party is hosted by the bride’s home. The groom’s family prepares the henna and carries baskets of it to the bride’s home. Children wearing new traditional clothes are pressed into service and they carry the baskets decorated with flowers and candles in a procession that is made festive with appropriate music.
On arrival of the procession, refreshments are served by the bride’s family and the rituals begin. The groom is escorted to the dais to sit by the bride by the groom’s elder brother. The bride is teased by the female relatives of the groom and not allowed to reach the dais unless she pays toll. During the henna party the bride too has her bit of fun. She will close her right hand and refuse
to let them decorate it unless the groom’s mother gives her a gift or the groom promises her gifts or opens her hand with force.
The groom then puts henna in the bride’s hand and covers it with a white clean cloth. He then leaves the party. The female relatives on both sides begin decorating the bride’s hands and feet with henna patterns. All the female relatives who are present will also use henna on their hands and feet. Unmarried girls believe that getting henna on their pinkie fingers will improve their prospects of getting married soon.
The Nikah or marriage ceremony in Afghan marriage Customs
The Afghan marriage customs demand that the festivities are spread over three days. The ceremonies are conducted between 6 p.m and 2 a.m.
The ceremony begins with the bride and the groom exchanging vows in the presence of the mullah or priest. The priest will read sections from the Quran and direct the bride and the groom through the ceremony. This is a family event in which close family and friends participate.
The next part of the wedding is similar to the western marriage reception. This is normally hosted by the groom’s family and a large number of guests are invited to attend. In conservative Afghan families, the female and male guests are separated and entertained in exclusive areas. Lavish dinner is provided and after dinner, the bride and groom walk up the aisle as they are showered with sweets and flowers and a special song is played known as the Asta Burrow meaning “go slow”. The bride and groom then seat themselves on a raised stage. The bride and groom then go through several rituals and also exchange rings and cut the wedding cake.
In the morning, breakfast is served and the bride and groom are conducted to their wedding chamber and left alone.
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