Costly Paradise: Culturalism making marriages financially un-heavenly

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By Syed Safa Chishti

Over the past years, weddings in Kashmir have inherited an alluring set of authenticity in their rituals and ceremonies; wazwan playing the highlight of any function. Guests relish their delectable dishes comprising Tabak Maaz, Rista, Goshtaba, Rogan Josh etc. However currently, commercialization of varied rituals having entered the Kashmiri wedding tradition like haldi, DJ’s, wedding shoots, drone shots etc., have boosted the wedding industry to new heights.
In an interview to CNBC-TV 18, CEO of Matrimony.com, Murugavel Janakiraman expected the wedding industry to become a $0.5 trillion market in the next 10 years. The ramifications quite clearly reflect in Kashmir as well. Kashmir Valley recently witnessed a sudden hike in hosting destination weddings.

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The amount of variations in a Kashmiri wedding journey has been noteworthy. Before the outbreak of social media on our finger tips emerged, wazwan was considered the most worrisome part of a ceremony. Now however, things have differed massively.

“Past four to five years have encountered with growing trend, with people coming in with their desirable ideas of Afghani style weddings, grand buffet, animations, laser lightings”, shares Dawar Farooq Nath, President of a leading generation based event planning company in Kashmir. “10 years ago, no such concepts in weddings were prevalent. Things are getting upgraded because of changing times. A lot of extraordinariness that have been desired by people today used to be confined for only corporates meetings, bureaucrats”.

Dawar informs how event planning in Kashmir now has progressed with the advancements in technologies that assure a society’s needs suitably. He reveals that the competition between wedding planners from outside J&K too have given a good client base in Valley which has broken the market, boosting it to develop progressively.

Hailing from Srinagar, Faisal Bhat, a wedding photographer agrees that in order to cater to the “distinct preferences” of clients wedding planners work relentlessly hard to match their requirements. “As a wedding photographer I think it has given rise to many event management industries. Of course a simple Nikkah would be the best way to go about it but then one need to understand that people differ in their tastes and preferences”. He further adds, “Clients want their wedding to be memorable and to leave an everlasting impression, being a once in a lifetime experience. I firmly believe as long as it not forced or done under societal pressure or a show off, it’s all good”
Weddings in Kashmir centers most of the lifelong earnings of an average Kashmiri. The incorporation of several other rituals even prior to the weddings like Thaptravin (catchments), ring ceremony, engagements and post weddings functions like Phirsaal, Satem Doh (seventh day), that could be negotiated, have sent off the budget of an average Kashmiri beyond their savings marks.
Dawar too agrees with the conclusion stating that such situations raise hurdles for the wedding planners too. “Usually the events depend on their budget, but yes people are getting to showcase sometimes going off their budget as well possibly due to social demands. When clients with low budget approach us with a desire to organize heavy loaded wedding that has tempted them in a photo or video but simultaneously struggle to pull them off financially, it becomes complication for both the parties”.

In Dawar’s opinion, Nikkah in Kashmir now is in fact exorbitant due to the social demands of people which to them are alluring to include in their lives along with the extraordinariness involved. He suggests people to pursue their dreams to witness their fairytale event but not at the expense of their unaffordability to meet social expectations.

“Extravagance in weddings should be surmounted, not legitimized socially”, he suggests. He believes that everything has its pros and cons and so does the wedding industry too.“It boosts the wedding industry that will cover tourism as well. I have two to three early bookings of destination weddings with 50 people in one event and 17 people in other covering travel, accommodation and décor. It generates revenue for not just event organizers but for all the sectors. Tourism and destination weddings become beneficial for the industry and tourism both. So yes it comes with, both pros and cons”.

Cautiously managed finances in a wedding with utmost deliverance of a vision perceived, though rare, but in some cases are also believed to ensure accomplishing results with less wastage.

Farah Malik (name changed) 34, too believes that when it comes to making a day memorable, one must strive for it strategically rather than overburdening with it. Farah got married in a beautiful Nikkah ceremony in Srinagar in 2018. She reveals how since her childhood, she always dreamt of making her wedding day the best day. “And so it was”, Farah declares.

“I realized as a teen, that in Kashmir back then we didn’t have the kind of means or supplies that could transform my dream into a beautiful reality. But it was the only happiness I ever chose for myself. I began saving and earning money for the only thing that mattered to me and by Almighty’s grace even Kashmir soon became a center for destination weddings. My husband and I still reflect back on that picture. It reminds us of the best day of both of our lives”, Farah said. “But I wouldn’t suggest anyone not being able to afford or planned economically it to burden oneself with it. I see many families organizing lavish weddings just for relatives and guests and falling into debts. I did what I did for myself staying within the budget that I could afford”, she said.

Muslim Religious Scholar, Mohammad Imran Zargar construes one of the main aspects of Muslim weddings, Haq Mahr, as the belle of Nikkah ceremonies. “The frugality in Nikaah ceremonies is a reflection of the basic pillars in our Shariah. When Prophet (S.A.W) mentioned the best forms of Nikkah ceremonies are the ones which are the easiest ones to ensue with least amount of spending, the message signified towards witnessing more of a union between two people than what we witness today.”

Highlighting how even the celebration part too can occur with utmost moderation, Imran Zargar also emphasized the bigger need for people to understand the responsibility that comes whilst offering feasts in weddings. “A prudently arranged wedding feast on affordable grounds with nothing going to waste ( usually ditched around dumping sites) in order to satisfy close ones invited to Nikkah ceremony surely is well thought manner to attend and treat guests well. However even when performed in extravagance and out of the basic teachings of our religion, what gets depleted from a society’s ideologies is keeping the affordability conditions of people from varied backgrounds living in the same societies into consideration.”
Many wedding planners in Kashmir offer cost effective ranges of events for economic friendly clients. But not even majority of the approaching clients relate to a low budgeted wedding involving simpler items, at the hands of social expectations and culture card.

Adnan Mohammad Mattoo started his event planning company named Zool Production with an aim to offer proper management and to help level up the tasks in a Kashmiri wedding. “Kashmiri people save their lifelong inveterate earnings for two events, to build their house and to arrange a wedding. The biggest challenge faced in the process is to manage the expenses with alertness as to where the money gets consumed. That’s where an event planner steps in”
Adnan states that his production company attempts to offer the best things within the budget of a client be it least or most. “We try to deliver them their best day. Our packages can go as low as 1.5 lakhs to as much as client’s wish. Our flexible propositions deliver the best possible results keeping our client’s at ease as we take all the responsibilities of the wedding hustle and bustle”.

Adnan also believes that despite all of this, overall contentment of a client to stay within their capacity to afford such planning could ensure rhythmic procedure not just for the clients but for the planners as well. “One must prioritize their own happiness over social demands unwanted cultures. Remaining contented with one’s own capacity to afford purchases has more to do with one’s ability and less with the relatives or surrounding society. Be the budget more or less, we care for their hard earned money without any judgment”.

While many planners concur for the ‘extravagance’ part to have both bane and a boon of its own, Srinagar based wedding photographer, Basit Ali strongly rules out the existence of extravagance of any kind from weddings entitling such inclusions as a part of “Kashmiri culture”.

Basit defines “wedding planning’ as a medium to ease up the hustle, coming with a “price tag”. “The best part about having a wedding planner is that the family gets to enjoy the wedding spend time with the ones who have come from a far to attend the wedding”. He concludes, “So from either a photographer’s point of view or a layman’s I don’t see anything wrong here”.

Basit blames the ongoing rising trend over the subtle “class” clashes happening in the society. “Elite class don’t care about middle class who in turn are stuck with a tag of being elite when the reality is he is not” He believes that people from middle class are habitual of being in denial of being in upper class and eventually “screw themselves up”, all in the “pursuit to be accepted by elite”.

He treats the optional requirements in Kashmiri weddings, a part of the Kashmir’s “rich culture” which mirrors in those extra ordinaries, be that in cuisines, artistry, carpets, shawls, etc. “All these things are expensive yet are an important part of our culture and tradition. Wedding functions and rituals are a reflection of the culture that we have inherited. As we begin to modernize, the culture takes on new hues and colors”.

Vehemently sharing his opinions on extravagance, he rhetorically continues, “What do we consider extravaganza? Gifting gold? We may look at it from a narrow prospective where and when we look at it as a luxury or waste of money. Here also it is a personal choice of an individual, how expensive they want it to be. At the end of the day no one puts a knife on ones throat to get things done against their will”.

Maqbool Rahman (name changed), however differs with the above insinuation. “I work as an official in a government sector and I married off my daughter in a lavish wedding. I followed so many rituals which my relatives kept terming ‘culture’, be that gold, gifts, clothing etc. The wedding was grand and every detail was designed by some of the most talented designers I had employed.”
But Rahman soon realized the bitter part of the journey. “I realized my fallacy when majority of the guests including the one’s playing the “culture card” still criticized every part of the wedding.Later, I observed post wedding; how my daughter’s in laws began making subtle demands that soon became huge and loud. Calling even ‘dowry’ a culture they kept saying that since I was able to afford such a lavish wedding, these small demands should not come in the way of my daughter’s married life”.

Rahman regrets on falling for people’s interpretation of culture and says his relatives still haven’t been happy with the Wazwan taste at the wedding. “The word culture has ruined us all and we have the nerve to defend it and feel proud of it”.
Molvi Imran Zargar too condemns the remark, “Our Hadith and teachings for love and affection certainly tell us to be affectionate with people around. Gifting them is a beautiful gesture to increase affections amongst one another. But how have people conveniently made it a part of marital culture? We keep a track record in long registers, making lists and lists of people who gifted us what accessories, how much amount has returned to us back in the name of gifts or wartav. This ideology ultimately impacts relationships on a deeper level” .

He mentions how these gestures harm the very piousness of companionship too. “The social pressure of gifting for instance a gold ring to one person eventually compels the other person, with initial desires to opt for a simple ceremony into preparing gold rings out of his early wish and so on. That is not culture. It is enforcing culture on a poor man into believing that he is deemed to pay for these optional in a marriage. Which is why, taking care of other people should be the right culture instead of burdening them”.

In Kashmiri weddings, huge comparisons are drawn out from one Baraat reception to another. The term simply means a receiving the groom’s family from the bride’s family post Nikkah after which the groom takes her new wife to his home. Laced under the word Mehmaan Nawazi (hospitality), heights of extravagances like varieties of dry fruits, juices, soups, sweets, appetizers even before the arrival of Wazwan which also have also amplified with new additions like “Sarposh” meat layering on a Tramis with limitless dessert variations for over 100 plus guests, taking ‘culture’ on a new road to profligacy.

Molvi Zargar informs how such reckless overspendings invent troubles for everyone living in society. “An event organized by families on a larger scale, naturally inflicts its effects over the ones present in the same community possessing the means to regulate simpler forms of ceremonies but due to rise in such optional functions, temptations rise within the society. In order to live and survive within a society, a helpless man gives in to exist. Much like the guests, let’s say, who burden the host to be attended the same way as they may have witnessed being treated at a much richer wedding invitation”.

He further adds how advancements and modern ideologies have been adapted in the name of culture too. “Earlier the Haq Mahr was the only form of basic foundation laid mandatory for a wedding. Now that the number of bricks one’s bank balance can afford to build skyscrapers over this foundation have emerged, it becomes very convenient for people to call everything a part of culture. The more the people advanced with time the more everything got termed as a part of culture. Indeed wazwan is in our culture, but anything that can harm some people in a community to meet the same requirements in the name of culture when in reality they are ineffectual to fulfill such luxuries introduced by the ones who opt it openly, culture then becomes a boon”
He further explained how extravagances become the causing factor for many evils rooted in the society. “These temptations become a consequence of shameless demands that no household is ever entitled to. When so many such materialistic temptations infect a society, it becomes another part of ‘culture’ to continue making demands. That’s how dowry came into this frame too. Let’s recognize the actual cycle that needs to be broken over convenient choices”
In Basit Ali’s opinion, none of the extravagance exists. “There is no such thing as over the top. Culture is in accordance to time. In earlier times cigarettes were seen a symbol of prestige, they were served in wedding on grooms arrival. In today’s time it may be considered absurd. Likewise, if we take the trend of hiring high end photographers and high end makeup artists it cannot be tagged as over the top addition. It again serves as per ones capacity. Yes it can definitely be treated as optional. We cannot impose our views on anyone”, Basit said.

Disapproving the above statement, another Muslim Scholar, Mufti Qazi Imran emphasizes the need to regulate one’s own ideologies. “Allah Subahanwa’tala said in Quran: Follow me and My Messenger. If you love me, Allah will love you too. Why are we so hesitant and reluctant to follow what the greatest personality of this universe did? Rather we blindly follow the stupid and pathetic traditions in our wedding ceremonies”.
He further draws attention over how defensively people normalize such distractions in the name of culture. “The acts of Jahliya, the acts of shamelessness and the acts which lead to fitnah can never make your marriage successful and blessed. Don’t obey your culture or your desires; don’t follow such people or the society. Rather obey and follow the Golden path shown by Allah and His Prophet peace be upon him”
Molvi Zargar highlights how the normalization of such ideologies is in fact proportional to the level of awareness and consideration one has for the overall society in their hearts “It’s simple. A heart that fears Allah at all times will know what these advances can do to a society. When you choose Allah’s will over the societies will who need to be satiated with materialistic things at all costs, you rise in rank and in respect.It’s never too late to learn, as long as people intend to learn rather than defending their intentions”
Basit further weighs on the need of such weddings that ensure many opportunities other than known. He stresses that since wazwan, shawl gifting, chefs, artisans etc., involved ultimately provide a means of livelihood to people, and thereby it maintains a “source of income” from the trend. “You are an educated person. You will be left jobless and eventually become a burden to your family and if we carry on with the same ideology the world will come to a halt”, he declares.

Mufti Qazi Imran disapproves of such conclusions “The ceremony has no positive effect on the life of the couple. Reported by Bayhaqi the Prophet (SAW) said: ‘The marriage which is most greatly blessed is the one which is the lightest in burden [expense]. However, if people are well catered for, without extravagance and show, there is no problem with that either”. He further mentions, “For sure, marriage an occasion to celebrate, but why waste enormous amounts of money on a celebration? It’s definitely not how our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) celebrated. In fact, wasting Allah’s bounties is something Allah has warned us against: “But waste not by excess: for Allah loves not the wasters.”(Quran, 6:141).

He stresses that instead of defending and normalizing such trends, the responsibility to ensure simplicity guarantees and quality life. “It can be difficult to swim against the tide of fancy and extravagant marriages, but surely, it’s worth swimming against the tides that go against Allah’s command and the example set by the Prophet (SAW)”.

Haji Musadiq Hussain Manhas, Chairman of Jaffari council, initiated a movement to alter the ideology of how weddings have been portrayed in the Valley. About 55 underprivileged couples tied the knot in a mass wedding held by the Jaffari Council in 2022.

“Our Prophet’s message to his Ummah was make Nikkah the most beautiful event not through extravagances but through intention. Extraordinary things are not imperative; only Haq Mahr that too only reasonable grounds. Even the attire need not be heavy or exquisite. These things become a Biddat and yet people take proud in it. Our Prophet says in this respect: He who innovates something that is not in agreement with our matter (religion), will have it rejected” he said.
Abolishing anything that hurdles the way of educating the people about how marriages should be perceived, Musadiq Manhas reveals the worst outcome that come out of these extravagance that plague our society. “We began this initiative to eradicate the demands of dowry that a girl’s family spends their lives on. Jewelry, cars, high panda, feast for 100 people in baraat from the groom’s side, has become a grave issue for the underprivileged families with unmarried daughters. The increased demands for holding expensive weddings caused them so much of distress that we set out work on a plan to lessen it”.

Musadiq Manhas shares that during the floods in Kashmir, they collected cases of many girls whose families had gathered many clothes, jewelry and stuff for their dowry but got washed away in waters. “Many girls were distressed. So we set out to find more cases like these to come to their aid”, he said.

About 38 cases in Sonwar tehsil were noted down and arranged with a mass wedding at the Higher Secondary School, Nowgham in 2015. “The event brought relief to the families. Since then we continued with this initiative in 2016 having arranged 70 marriages, then 75 marriages in 2017 at Amar Singh College and 105 mass weddings in 2018”, Manhas highlighted.

A total of 495 simple Nikkah vows have been taken through the Jaffari council’s initiative. “Alhamdulillah we will continue if people too support us in this cause too because unfortunately our society is sleeping. My appeal to people in particular to those who spent 20-40 lakhs on their children marriage is to look for such cases in their own neighborhood and inform us or marry off only one such underprivileged case and standout from the crowd”.

With the arrival of 2023, the numbers of wedding revenue, like every year though expected to rise, do raise some questions relating to whether the social trends of extravagance will ever slow down or keep meeting the social standards of ‘hospitality’ that families out of fear of survival give in, in order to co-exist within the same people.

Mufti Qazi outlines his opinion, suggesting, “Let’s save all that money and keep it for better uses. That money is sure to be in demand once the honeymoon is over and the actual daily routine sets in”
He further summarizes,” If we do that with the right intention, we’ll end up saving money and at the same time, we’ll be adding to our good-deed account as well. After all, who can’t use some extra cash, some extra good deeds, and a greatly blessed marriage, since the most greatly blessed marriage is the one that lightest in expense.

 

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