What we stand to lose

Mubashar Naqvi looks at the gradual disappearance of a traditions and rituals associated with colourful Kashmiri weddings

What we stand to lose
I often think of my generation as a vital link – one that bridges a great chasm between the past and present of Kashmir. Indeed, mine is a unique generation that witnessed rich cultural diversity, strong bonds among the social institutions and also their dissolution. It is now heading towards an uncertain future.

Cultural transformation, the collapse of a number of indigenous social institutions and the demands of modern life are running parallel in our lives. We find ourselves convincing our kids about the importance of our social values, traditions and cultural significance – and all the while we are ourselves being convinced to jettison much of it to find our place in the contemporary world.

Undoubtedly, information technology has made our life easier as compared to the past, but it is also a fact that so many valuable cultural traditions appear to be facing a slow death in many parts of the world – and Kashmir is no different.

A Kashmiri bride

Muhammad Ali, a senior citizen, typically of his generation, expresses his concern thus: “I am afraid. If we (parents), state institutions and the society do not try to revive it all, our generation may lose its identity and all the pride associated with these cultural assets.”

Recently, as I was sitting in a marriage hall, waiting for lunch to be served on the Valima ceremony of a relative in the extended family, these thoughts were striking me again and again. I felt compelled to commit them to writing.

In recent years, so much has changed in terms of how weddings are celebrated. The way things were done in Kashmir not long ago and the way they are currently done – the chance feels epochal.

In the recent past, that I well recall, a marriage was an occasion of the greatest delight and merriment. Drawing upon a rich repertoire of traditions, families would celebrate such occasions for weeks and sometimes for months. Now they are only celebrated for a short time. And that, too, is done far from the actual homes: in marriages halls and hotels with a small number of close relatives and acquaintances – a far cry from the immense gatherings of two extended families that once used to take place.

The traditional dresses of brides and grooms, prepared and worn amidst so many rituals, have been replaced by attitudes of individualism and relative isolation.

In the days gone by, Kashmiri people would participate in wedding ceremonies several weeks before and after the actual wedding day and rituals like Mangni, Mayun, Uptun, Dholki, Rasm-e-Hina, Barat, Rukhsati, Mooh Dikhayi and Chothai were part and parcel of traditional marriages. For many young couples today, these are mostly tales of the past: replaced by a great cultural void.

Preparation of special dishes was a vital part of Kashmiri weddings

Sadia Usman, a writer and host of an educational TV programme says wistfully: “I miss all the traditional components that are missing in contemporary marriage ceremonies which, in the past, were the essence of the event.”

Kashmir was known not just for its beautiful landscape, misty valleys, houseboats and beautifully embroidered shawls – the traditional images associated with the valley. The richness of the land was also reflected in wedding ceremonies.

I have often heard it said that Kashmiris – traditionally, at least – have practiced the largest number of wedding rituals and customs as compared to people from other parts of the world. And the best part of these rituals is that they are truly fun!
I have often heard it said that Kashmiris - traditionally, at least - have practiced the largest number of wedding rituals and customs as compared to people from other parts of the world

Some of the fascinating and colourful ceremonies that were observed as a part of the pre-wedding rituals in a traditional Kashmiri wedding were Kasamdry, Livun, Krool Khanun, Wanvun, Maenziraat and so many others.

Kasamdry involves a formal engagement process: in the case of the Hindu community, this was done through the involvement of astrologers to pick out auspicious dates.

Livun is a ritual cleaning of the houses of the bride and the groom. It often turned into an elaborate process involving the distribution of sweets, the setting up of a tandoor in preparation for the nuptials to come and the whole affair was led by married women of the families.

Krool Khanun and Maenziraat are two associated rituals, where the homes of the couple are decorated and the bride’s aunts oversee a process of ritual bathing and the application of henna to her hands and feet. All the while, there are musical sessions and singing to accompany the events.

Singing at a Kashmiri wedding

An important musical event was the Wanvun: with the families of the couple arranging events for friends and relatives to sing together. The guests were kept fresh with servings of delicious pink Kashmiri tea.

For many, as I mentioned earlier, these ritual celebrations from before and after the wedding have become mere tales from the past.

On the issue of culture and preserving it, the best I can do is to conclude with a simple yet beautiful quote from Marcus Garvey, the hero of pan-African liberation struggles. For him,

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.

Mubashar Naqvi is a freelance writer based in Muzaffarabad who regularly contributes for The Friday Times. He may be reached at mubashar_naqvi@yahoo.com