BALTI MARRIAGES

By on May 9, 2014
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The Baltis are very conservative in the observance of their long established customs. These customs are so deep rooted by continuous observance that these have now the force of law. Any digression or deviation from any of these customs is looked down upon and condemned by the society. Some times the breach of any rule of customs by any member of the community is followed by social boycott and his expulsion from the society.

Customs is respects of celebrating marriages are also very rigid and inflexible. It has been noticed that on many occasions the parents of the bridge/bridegroom sold their immovable property in order to fulfill some customs involving heavy expenditure.

Different tribes and families follow their own matrimonial customs and marriage customs differ from one family to other. The entire population being Muslim, marriage contracts are governed by Muslim personal law but the celebration of marriages is regulated by different customary rules followed by different classes of people:

a)                  The Rajas/Jagirdars of Baltistan

b)                  The Wazirs and Trukchus

c)                  The Kashmiries.

d)                  The common Baltis

The customs of marriages in respect of the above families are discussed separately

CUSTOMS OF MARRIAGES AMONG THE RAJA FAMILIES OF BALTISTAN

The customs of celebrating of marriage in the Raja families of Baltistan are very impressive as well as expensive. In these customs, one would find the real grandeur and glory of the good old days, when the Rajas of Baltistan held absolute despotic power. With the passage of time and change of social environments these customs are also being abandoned due to heavy expenditure. Till the liberation of this area these customs were observed with rigidity. A sharp tendency to introduce modernization and simplicity in the celebration of marriage is spreading fast among all Raja families. The old well established custom of contracting marriages strictly with the families of Rajas, is also losing its customary force and inter marriages have also become common.

Some of the important customs of celebration of marriage among the Raja families are as under:

INITIAL NEGOTIATION

When a Raja selects a suitable girl in the family of another Raja for his son, he sends for negotiations to the parents of the girl a trusted person who holds secret talks with the nearest relative of the parents of the girl who conveys the message to the parents. The parents of the girl then consult their relatives, Wazirs and other trusted advisors and communicate their decision with great secrecy to the messenger.

After acceptance to the proposal has been received, the Raja sends proposal of marriage in writing along with gifts through “HELPA”. In Balti language ‘Helpa’ means “goalkeeper”. Just as a goalkeeper plays a vital role in a game, the success of the marriage depends upon the efficiency and competence of the “Helpa”. The father of the girl communicates his acceptance in writing. The “Helpa” also fixes the date for performing the “Nikah” ceremony.

KHAMITAL

The parents of the boy send presents consisting of the following articles to the parents of the girl through “Helpa”:

i)                  Gold needles                                        2 Nos.

ii)                 Silver needle                                         1 ”

iii)                Marwareed                                            7 (a precious ornamental stone)

iv)                Moti                                                     7 Nos.

v)                 Latha cloth                                            3 pieces (each measuring 7 yards)

vi)                Goats                                                    3 heads

vii)               Sweet bread                                          1 (6” in diameter and 3” thickness especially baked  in hot sand)

viii)              Qund                                                     one block weighing 2 seers and one weighing one seer)

ix)                 Imzash                                                300 to 500 Nos. (Imzash is prepared out of – wheat

flour and baked under a special process.

(It is multi colored “CHAPATI”)

The word “KHAMITAL is a typical Balti term composed of two words “KHA” means tongue and “MITAL” means ‘not to exceed’ meaning that a seal has been fixed on the tongues of the parents of the girl because after acceptance of “Khamital” both the parties are customarily bound by their word of honor and cannot revoke the marriage

RINTHO

The work Rintho is also termed as “Onarin”. In Balti language “Ona” means “Milk” and “rin” means “Price”. This term signifies the payment of the price of milk with which the girl was fed during the period of her suckling. The present of ‘onarin’ is sent by the parents of the boy through “HELPA” and consists of the following:

i)                    Gold – 24 tolas

ii)                   Goats – 24 heads
When the “Helpa” reaches with the presents of “ONARIN”, the parents of the girl invite their relatives Wazirs, religious heads and the elite of the town and in this gathering the “NIKAH” ceremony of the boy and girl is performed in accordance with their religious tenets. The date of marriage is also fixed on this day.

MARRIAGE AND THE BARAT PARTY:      On the day of marriage the parents of the boy send some respectable persons to escort the bride. This team consists of the following:

  1. PACHUNGAS

When the Rajas were independent and despotic, they selected twelve men, one from each influential family of his principality, to advise them about Administrative matters. In fact they acted as Council of Ministers to the Rajas. Among Baltis Pachungas also called “TRAKCHUS” are notable families being next to Rajas in order of precedence.

2.                  GORUE (A nearest relative of the Raja who leads the team.

3.                  Foster brother of the bridegroom.

4.                  The Helpa.

5.                  The Hulchung (Assistant to Helpa)

6.                  Local Band party consisting of seven members.

7.                  Team of sword dancers consisting of 6 members.

8.                  About one hundred men for carrying Dowry.

One of the most fantastic and unique customs is that the bridegroom is represented by an axe. The handle of the axe is decorated with costly cloth and “BALTHOD” is placed on the axe. “BALTHOD” is a Balti term composed of “BAL” meaning “Wool” and “Thod” meaning “Turban”. In marriages of Baltis, the bridegroom wears a muslin cloth on which is placed a crown called “BALTHOD” made of fourteen snow-white woolen pieces stitched together by woolen thread in such a way that seven pieces fall on the left and seven on the right cheek. The axe representing the bridegroom is carried by the foster brother of the bridegroom. All the members of the Barat party accept the band and dancers ride on well decorated horses. The band plays classical music while the sword dancers dance all the way. The inhabitants of the villages situated within the territorial limits of the Raja line up the route with presents of dry fruit and accord a rousing reception to the party.

“HARTAFSUS AND LUMZAN”

The reception party consisting of respectable persons deputed by the father of the bride for receiving the Barat party on the outskirts of the territorial limits of the Rajas is called HARTAFSUS”. This party carries with it food called “LUMZAN” including sweet bread and roasted meat of three goats. “LUMZAN” is served enroute. Each member of HARTAFSUS (reception party) is given a gift consisting of 12 pieces of cloth. The “BARAT” and reception party adjust their timings in such a way as to enter the “KHAR” i.e. the place of the bride after evening time.

When the Barat party enters the premises, of the palace the band plays a special music called “PRASUL” the sword dancers demonstrate their skill.

“TOOQLE – NUNMA”

It is a Balti term composed of two words “TOQLE” and “NUNMA”. Toqle means a big copper plate weighing about 10 to 15 seers and the word “NUNMA” means to press with full power. In the palace premises of the Raja, the full “TOQLE” is placed on a roaring fire made of 30 to 50 mounds of firewood. The bride side selects a strong and powerful man who presses the “TOQLE” with all his might with the help of a long stick. The dancers dance around the fire brandishing their naked swords to the tune of the music. The dancers try to push away the man from “TOQLE” while the latter tries to hold it tight with his stick. The dancers try to play with the nerves of the man pressing the “TOQLE” and adopt every tactic to demoralize him. They brandish their swords very close to his head and taking him by surprise, one of them pushes him away. This is considered to be a customary competition between the bridegroom and the bride. The person winning the game is handsomely rewarded by the defeated party. The scene of “TOQLE – NUNMA” is worth seeing as it creates lot of fun and suspense among the spectators.

The place of the bridegroom from the entrance gate up to the “DIVANKHANA” is tastefully decorated with cloth. The Barat party is seated comfortably in the Divankhana (Drawing room) and the axe representing the bridegroom is placed at an elevated place specially decorated for the purpose. The Latha cloth decorating the path and all the fine and costly pieces of cloth used for the decoration of the seat for the axe are gifted to the foster brother of the bridegroom. When all are seated, presents in the shape of sweets, dry fruit, i.e. dried apricot, dried grapes, apples, almonds, Nibat and apricot kernels are offered to the guests after which they are entertained to a sumptuous dinner. The Barat party stays in the palace for two or three days and is very well looked after. On the eve of their departure they are given the following gifts:

1.                  GORUE

Pattu                                                          2 Nos.

Muslin cloth 30 to 40 yards

Latha cloth 30 to 40 yards

One horse with complete saddle and silver equipment.

2.                  EACH PACHUNGAS GETS

Gun                                                            One

Sword                                                        One

Pattu                                                          One

 

3.                  HELPA

Horse                                                         One

Fine cloth                                                   12 pieces

 

4.                  FOSTER BROTHER

Horse                                                         One

Pattu                                                          One

 

5.                  HULCHUNG (Assistant to Helpa)

Horse                                                         One

 

6.                  BAND MASTER

Horse                                                         One

Pieces of cloth                                            Nine

 

7.                  OTHER MEMBERS OF BAND

One horse collectively and 9 pieces of cloth each

 

8.                  DANCERS

One horse collectively and 9 pieces of cloth each

All other persons accompanying the Barat party get two pieces of cloth per head.

DOWRY

The Rajas of Baltistan are very lavish and generous in giving dowry to their daughters in marriage. Dowry is in shape of both movable and immovable property. In movable property dowry includes gold, silver, precious store, jewellery, fine and costly clothing, swords, guns and 12 sets of house-hold utensils, each consisting of 21items from copper made big size plates to spoons. As regards immovable property, village/villages are given in dowry.

DEPARTURE OF BRIDE

The bride is departed with great pomp and show. Dressed in her bridal robe and decorated with gold ornaments, she is seated in a decorated Zampan (Palanquin) which is carried by four men called “KAHARS”. The father of the bride deputes his own twelve PACHUNGAS, the GORUE and a team of band and dancers to accompany the bride. The foster father, the foster mother of the bride and a maid servant also accompany the bride party but they stay permanently with the bride in the house of bridegroom and look after her. The party leaves for the palace of the bridegroom in the form of a long procession amidst defining music. The father of the bridegroom sends the same number of “HARTAFSUS” with LUMZAN in honor of the bride and the father of the bridegroom in “BARAT” party had sent her party as.

When the bride and her party reaches near the palace the bridegroom riding on a well decorated horse comes to receive the bride. The “Kahars” place the Zampan slowly on the ground; the bridegroom gets down from his horse and salutes the bride from a distance of about 15 feet from the Zampan. The bridegroom tries to mount his horse and to return to the palace in all haste but he Kahars try to catch the horse and detain the bridegroom. If the Kahars succeed in catching the horse of the bridegroom, they are given one bullock. The procession enters the tastefully decorated and furnished palace. The bride is received in a specially decorated room by the relatives of the bridegroom and is seated at an elevated place. The bridegroom sits very close to the bride. Only the ladies are allowed to sit in the room. The mother of the bridegroom pours one tea spoonful of “SHARBAT” each in the mouth of bride and bridegroom. This custom implies sweet and harmonious matrimonial life. Thereafter she opens the chapter of “SURA-I-YOUSSUF” from the Holy Quran and shows it to the bride and bridegroom. This custom is meant to invoke the blessings and benevolence of God for a happy and successful life to the spouses. She takes a mirror very close to the eyes of the couple so that they may see each other. The bride and the guests are then served with a sumptuous dinner.

The father of the bridegroom entertains for several days the party which accompanied the bride. On the day of their departure the father of bridegroom gives the same items of gift which father of the bride gave to the “BARAT” party.

CELEBRATION OF MARRIAGE OF TRAKCHUS FAMILIES

The social and family status of “TRUKCHUS” (already described under the marriage customs of Rajas) families being higher, their customs of marriage are also comparatively complicated and expensive. These families, however, take price in the strict observance of the time-honored family customs and traditions. Trukchus families consider it below their dignity to contract marriage in families other than their own. Till the liberation of this area on 14th August, 1948 this custom was very rigidly followed but the passage of time and enlargement of social circles, great relaxations have crept in this custom and inter-marriages in Balti families have become very common.

Before sending formal proposal, the family starts with preliminary preparation for marriage as under:

HURSOO – STROS

It is Balti word composed of “HURSOO” meaning ‘Apricot kernel’ and “Stros” meaning ‘warming’ i.e. lighting of fire for extraction of oil from apricot kernel. This function is attended by the nearest relatives.

MARSTRUQ

It is Balti word composed of ‘MAR’ meaning ‘butter’ and ‘struq’ meaning ‘burning. This function is for preparing ghee for the marriage. This function is attended by nearest relatives only.

KWATKAL

In Balti language ‘KWAT’ means ‘big pot’ and Kal’ means ‘to place’. In this function fire is kindled in a hearth and a big pot made of soft stone found in Khaplu is placed on it.

QURAN KHWANI

On this day all the Maulvis, Sheikhs and notables of the village are invited for Quran Khwani and are served with “MARZAN”.

HURMAQZAN

On day earlier a general invitation by proclamation is extended to all the members of public (including women and children) residing within the territorial limits of the Illaqa through the Lambardar and Mutabars of the concerned village, to the feast called “HURMAQZAN”. The following day ‘Zan’ is prepared out of barely flour and layers after layers are piled on planks about 15 feet in length and three feet in width on which are fixed 6 to 8 big cups at equal distance which are filled with ghee. People start coming right in the morning and sit around them and eat. After one group has taken the food, another group would sit around and place and eat. The function comes to an end in the afternoon by proclamation.

It would not be out of context to mention that this function is held only on the first marriage in the family.

ZANLUS

The leftover ‘Zan’ and ‘Ghee’ is distributed among the poor and the needy. A considerable share goes to the servants.

ZANSKAL

This is a custom whereby the parents of the boy send ‘MARZAN’ to the girl and her parents as their share.

THE PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE

The proposal of marriage is conveyed to the parents of the girl through the channel of the ‘Helpa’ (described in detail earlier). The parents of the girl communicate their acceptance or otherwise after consultation with their relatives.

ZANSIS

After acceptance of the proposal a present called “KHAMITAL” consisting of the following is sent through the maternal uncle of the boy to the parents of the girl.

1.                  Wheat / barley                                                        3 ½ mounds

2.                  Butter                                                                     14 seers

3.                  Cloth                                                                      12 pieces

4.                  Fine cloth one piece measuring four yards

5.                  Moti                                                                       7 Nos.

6.                  Silver ring                                                               One

7.                  Qund (sugar in form of bricks)                                3 pieces each weighing one seer

Before the liberation when the trade route with the occupied Kashmir was open the local shopkeeper used to bring ‘Qund’ from Kashmir for sale in Skardu Bazar.

8.                  Silver needle with thread symbolizing establishment of relationship between the two families.

After this custom of ‘ZANSIS’ the agreement of marriage becomes irrevocable.

GONSEM

It is Balti word composed of ‘GON’ meaning ‘Cloth’ and ‘SEM’ meaning ‘Stitching’. On this day the bridal dress is cut and stitched. Only the nearest relatives are invited to this function.

SERMOSING (APPLICATION OF HENA)

The relatives, friends and neighbors are invited in both the houses and entertained to customary food of ‘MARZAN’. There is dancing and singing till midnight when ‘HENA’ is applied to the fingers and palm of the boy and girl. All those present also apply ‘HENA’ on their fingers and palm.

BALTHODHARMOLAWA

On the morning of the marriage, the mother, sisters and other close relatives of the bridegroom visit the home of the bride and prepare ‘BALTHOD’ (already described) Singing and dancing take place on this occasion. After the ‘BALTHOD’ for the bride has been prepared, the mother, sisters and other closely related ladies then visit the house of the bridegroom and prepare ‘BALTHOD’ for him. When Balthods are ready, the bride and bridegroom are dressed in bridal robes and ‘BALTHOD’ placed on their heads in presence of Aghas, Sheikhs and relatives when the entire gathering prostrate before the Almighty.

BAKFO THALA PHEUNGMA

The bridegroom in his full bridal dress is conducted to a common meeting place of the villagers called “CHANRA” where all the public has assembled earlier. He stands facing the public and starts lowering his right hand slowly till his palm touches the ground, then starts lifting it up slowly and gradually in harmony with tune of the music and salutes the public by touching his forehead with fingers. He repeats this three times. Thereafter he is seated at a special dais and then dancing starts in which all the relatives of the bridegroom take part.

NOTE: (This customs is now being abandoned but is still prevalent in Kharmang valley only)

SQONTHUK

The bridegroom goes to the house of the bride under formal invitation along with his relatives and notables of the village invited by his father especially for the occasion. There is no limit to the number of guests to be invited on this occasion. The father of the bride also invites his relatives and other notables of the village in honor of the bridegroom and his party. When the bridegroom and his party enter the gate of the house of the bride a goat is slaughtered and its meat is given away to poor people. The party is comfortably seated in a well furnished room. The bridegroom takes his seat on a specially decorated and elevated place.

Lunch consisting of ‘MARZAN’ KHURBA’, Meat, Phur Phur’/rice and saltish tea is served. ‘MARZAN’ is composed of two Balti words i.e. ‘MAR’ meaning butter or ghee. Wheat or barley flour is boiled in water and stirred till it is converted into paste, which called ‘ZAN’ which is served with Ghee. ‘Phur Phur’ is a sort of vermicelli prepared out of wheat flour boiled in water. ‘KHURBA’ is a special kind of round shaped bread 3” in diameter and ½” thick.

Presents in cash and kind are offered to the bridegroom. This offer of presents is called ‘SQONTHUK’ and the present meant for those other than the bridegroom are called ‘FIAKSTUD’. After the presents have been offered and accepted, the bridegroom pays homage to his in laws. The bridegroom and his party take leave of the hose and return to the house of the bridegroom.

THE DEPARTURE OF BAHMO (THE BRIDE)

In the evening the ‘Helpa’ and three notables of the village specially deputed by the parents of the bridegroom visit the house of the bride for finalizing departure arrangements of the bride. When the bride is made ready, she supported by an elderly lady takes leave of her parents and relatives amidst cries and weeping. The maternal uncle of the bride with the haste comes forward lifts the bride on his back and takes her out. Some persons selected from among relatives and notables of the village called ‘SENEWPA’ escort the bride. The number of ‘Senewpa’ is always double the number of the persons who attend the ‘SQONTHUK’ function on behalf of the bridegroom. At the gate a goat/sheep is slaughtered and the meat is distributed to poor.

SALWAAT AND DAROOD: are recited which marks the departure of the bridal procession. The bride is either carried in a ‘ZAMPAN’ (PALANQUIN) or she rides on a well decorated horse. A close lady relative of the bride called ‘MANA also accompanies her and remains with her for a week so that she may not feel homesick. ‘MANA’ is sent back after a week with presents in shape of cash and clothes. The arrival of the bridal procession at the house of the bridegroom is also marked by the resounding voices of ‘SALWAAT’ and ‘DAROOD’. A goat is slaughtered and the meat is distributed among the poor before the procession enters the house. No sooner does the bride enter the house than the fingers of her right foot are washed. The bride and the escorts (SENEWPA) are comfortably seated in a well furnished room. The bridegroom comes to the door where an attendant waits with a cup of milk in his hand. The bride comes forward to receive the bridegroom when the latter dips the fingers of his right hand in the milk and sprinkles it on the face of the bride saying ‘BZANGMO’ expressing his happiness. The bridegroom then enters the room, the bride following. The entire ‘SENEWPA’ stand in respect till the couple is seated. The mother of the bridegroom comes in with Holy Quran, opens it and shows it to the bride and bridegroom. Thereafter, the mother exchanges the ‘BALTHOD’ of the bride and bridegroom. Meal is then served which includes ‘MARZAN’, bread, meat, rice and few varieties of curries. Saltish tea is served last. The mother and sisters of the bridegroom distribute sweets, almonds, dry apricot and nuts among the gathering. The ‘SENEWPAS’ depart and only the lady friends of bride and close friends of the bridegroom remain behind. They suggest specific questions to the bridegroom to be put to the bride and at the same time suggest answers to the bride to be given to the bridegroom. The object of this custom is to remove shyness of the couple so that they may become informal to each other from the beginning.

MONOR

‘Monor’ means dowry given to the bride at the time of marriage. It consists of movable and immovable property. In movable property clothing/cash for all the relatives of the bridegroom, household utensils, horses and cattle are given while in immovable property agricultural land is gifted to the bride.

POST MARRIAGE CUSTOMS

On the next morning, all the women folk of the village call on the bride and bridegroom and present sweets, dried apricot, nuts etc. to them a share of which is returned to them as ‘KHAZOS’ (described in detail earlier). After seven days the parents of the bride invite the bride and the bridegroom along with his parents and family members. Similarly on some other date the parents of the bridegroom invite the parents of the bride and their family members. These feasts are called ‘SLUMGRON’ i.e. the feast of in laws.

GRONZAN

After “SLUMGRON” each relative and notable of the village who participated in the marriage invites the bride and the bridegroom to his house for feast. Presents in the form of cash and kind called “FIASTUD” are presented to them.

KASHMIRI MARRIAGE

The village Sukimaidan of Town Area Akardu is predominantly inhabited by Kashmiri families whose ancestors migrated from Kashmir to Baltistan in pursuit of business. These families have till to date retained all their cultural heritage and family traditions. The salient features of the customs of celebrating their marriage are as under:

THE PROPOSAL/OFFER OF MARRIAGE

The proposal/offer for marriage is initiated by the parents of the boy as it is considered a matter of disgrace for the family if the parents of the girl search out a suitable hand for their daughters. A close relative or a respectable man of the Mohalla (village) is sent by the parents of the boy to the house of the parents of the girl with the formal proposal of marriage. If the proposal is accepted, another close relative of the boy or respectable man of the village visits the parents of the girl with a present consisting of sweets, one seer almond, one seer sugar and some silver ornaments on a suitable day and date. At this stage the parents of the girl confirm their acceptance of the proposal.

THE NISHANI

This is one of the important rudimentary stages of the Kashmiri marriage customs. On a day previously fixed by the parties, the parents of the boy send the following presents to the parents of the girl through a close relative preferably the paternal uncle of the boy:

 

1.                  Bread (specially cooked in round shape about four inches in diameter)

2.                  Boiled meat about ten seers.

3.                  Special bread called “kapse” (kapse’ is bread 8” in diameter and 3” in thickness prepared in one piece out of 10 seers of

4.                  wheat flour, butter, eggs, baking powder, salt or sugar. It is baked in hot sand under a special process.

5.                  Sugar one seer

6.                  Silver ornaments or cash in accordance with the financial status of the parents of the bridegroom

This custom is called “NISHANI”. When the person along with the NISHANI enters the gate of the house of the girl, he is offered a glass of water that in turn puts one rupee coin or more in the glass as a tip. This custom is called “AABDOL”.

‘Kapse’ the special bread is meant for the girl who gives it away to her girl friends. The other bread and meat are distributed among the relatives of the girl and the neighbors who are to be invited to the marriage ceremony. Whosever gets a share of the bread and meat stands invited to the marriage and no further formal invitations are sent. Utmost care and precaution is therefore exercised by the parents of the girl in distributing the bread and meat of “NISHANI” as anyone left out in the family feels disgraced and does not attend the marriage even if invited later on. No amount of argument, pardon or apology would convince the aggrieved party. It is said that many a time the non-receipt of “NISHANI” bread meat has been the cause of serious family rivalries. After the Nishani, contract of marriage becomes absolute and irrevocable.

DAPUNY

“Dapuny” in Kashmiri language means ‘to call or invite’. After a month before the marriage celebrations, the parents of the boy and girl send out deputation to the houses of their nearest relatives who are informed well in time of the dates of the visit and number of persons forming the deputation. The gathering is entertained to lunch or dinner the thereafter in the presence of guests, the person leading the deputation conveys the message of invitation to the host and his family members for participation in the marriage. The host then offers contribution to the marriage expenses in the shape of kind/cash which duly accepted. The main object of this custom is to raise funds for meeting the marriage expenditure but at the same time it is entirely a give and take business because whatever is received from any quarter as result of ‘DAPUNY’ is compulsorily repayable to the concerned relatives at the time of marriages of their sons / daughters. This custom of ‘DAPUNY’ appears to be sound one as it provides financial aid to the parents of bride and bridegroom who have to incur great expenditure in the celebration of marriage.

HENABUNDI

The custom of ‘HENABUNDI’ is observed with great enthusiasm on the night preceding the marriage ceremony. Relatives and neighbors are invited by each side and entertained to sumptuous feast. After dinner the parents of the boy send one seer of ‘Hena’ and salt and sugar in equal weight to the girl. The person who carries this present is offered a glass of water at the gate of the house that after drinking it puts a rupee coin or more in the empty glass.

This is a night of joy which is spent in dancing by young as well as aged mothers, grand-mothers, fathers and grand-fathers. At midnight Hena is applied to the boy and girl in an atmosphere of serenity. The sobriety of the occasion is heightened by humble prayers and good wishes of the near and dear ones from whose eyes tears of joy and happiness trickle down.

GURSAIR

‘GURSAIR’ in Kashmiri language means an outing on horseback. A few days before the marriage the parents of the boy invite all their friends, relatives and neighbors. The guests neatly and cleanly dressed assemble in the house of the bridegroom early in the morning along with their horses decorated for the occasion. On this morning the boy wears his bridal dress and becomes ‘THE MAHARAZO’ i.e. the bridegroom. He also puts on ‘SEHRA’ AND ‘GUNDU’  a stick eight inches in length and half an inch in diameter wrapped in peacock feathers stuck in ‘SEHRA’ is called ‘GUNDU’.

After he has put on the bridal costume, the bridegroom offers prayers to God. Thereafter, he visits his father, mother, uncles and sisters and tenders apology for the inconveniences caused to them in the solemnization of his marriage.

After the guests have been entertained to morning meals, the bridegroom rides on a well bred and specially decorated horse with a person in attendance. All the other participants follow the bridegroom in procession, which passes through important villages, main streets of the town and return to the house of the parents of the bridegroom, in the afternoon. After taking the evening meal the guests disperse to their houses.

‘WURDEN’

The bridegroom sends presents consisting of clothing for the bride numbering between ten to twenty suits, silver ornaments or equivalent cash through a lady closely related to the bridegroom before the departure of ‘BARAT’.

The lady who brings ‘WURDEN’ is presented, glass of water at the gate and is properly entertained. The maternal uncle of the bride then displays the articles of ‘WURDEN’ to the gathering.

THE BARAT

The next important state is the departure of ‘Barat’ for the house of the bride. The strength of the ‘Barat’ party depends upon the financial and social status of the parties. It is also customary that the parents of the bride invite guests equal to the ‘Barat’ party. Under custom the Barat party does not leave for the house of the bride until a special messenger from the bride side invites them. Having received the formal invitation, the Barat party leaves for the house of bride in a procession. The bridegroom dressed in full bridal attire rides on a decorated horse and the other members of the Barat follow on foot. At the time of departure of Barat verses of Holy Quran are recited, ‘Salawaat’ and ‘Darood’ are recited, slogans shouted and fire works displayed.

When the bridegroom enters the gate of the house, he is offered a glass of water. The bridegroom tips the person presenting it. In the ‘Divan Khana’ (big drawing room) the bridegroom is seated on a specially decorated dais. All the member of Barat is also comfortably seated in the Divan Khana. No smoking is allowed till green tea is served with ‘Kulcha’. Then dinner served. In Kashmiri marriages ‘Pulaw’ is unknown. Boiled rice is served with seven different varieties of dishes known as ‘HAFT RANGEEN’ which are described below:

1-                 Boiled rice

2-                 Kabab and Methi

3-                 Roghan Gosh

4-                 Qorma

5-                 Abjosh

6-                 Do-piaza

7-                 Yakhni

Kashmiri dishes are very tasteful and delicious. Food is served in large copper plates at the ration of one plate of three guests. Three plates containing all the varieties of the dishes are places before the bridegroom who tastes the food only out of one plate and the remaining two plates go to the hair dresser and Syce under custom.

SHABTOG

Before serving the last course of saltish tea the ‘Waza’ i.e. the cook in order to get recognition of his services, sends through a relative of the bride a plate containing all the items of dishes served to the Barat, which he places before the father or in his absence before a responsible member of the Barat party. If the varieties of dishes are up to the satisfaction of the Barat, then the cook is offered some cash which the representative of the ‘Waza’ goes on refusing till a handsome amount, some times hundred of rupees, is paid to him. It is said that on many occasions Barat Party has been detained for hours pending settlement of reward to ‘Waza’. Saltish tea is served and thereafter the custom of presentation of ‘BAKSHISH’ (Gifts) commences. ‘BAKHSHISH’ is usually in form of cash and kind and is normally presented to bridegroom, his father, and the nearest relatives depending upon the value of ‘WURDUN’ received from the bridegroom. The member of Barat is served with sweets, Nabat and dry fruits.

MEETING OF BRIDE AND BRIDEGROOM

After presentation of ‘BAKHSHISH’ the bridegroom accompanied by his best friends and hairdresser are conducted to the room of bride. The bridegroom puts off his shoes outside the room. The sisters/aunts and girl friends of the bride try to steal the shoes, which the best friends attending the bridegroom try to protect. The bridegroom has to pay reward for the return of his shoes once they are stolen.

The bridegroom sits very close the bride his knees touching hers. The mother of the bride pours one teaspoonful of Sharbat made of water and sugar in the mouth of bride and bridegroom implying sweet and harmonious matrimonial life. Thereafter she shows ‘Surra MARYUM’ to the bride and bridegroom, thus invoking the blessing and benevolence of God for a happy and successful life for the spouses. Finally she takes a mirror very close to the eyes of the couple so that they may see each other.

GULMUTE

All the women and grown up children participating in the marriage celebrations visit the bride and bridegroom turn by turn and tip them quietly with cash, depending upon the degree of relationship and friendship with the bride and bridegroom. The bridegroom comes out and is joined by the member of the barat for ‘RUKHSATI’ of bride.

RUKHSATI OF BRIDE

The scene of ‘Rukhsati’ is quite heart rending. The weeping bride takes farewell of her parents and nearest relatives. It is the moment when the bride severs her connection and authority in the house-hold affairs of her parents. The parents and nearest relatives weep like infants. The atmosphere in the room becomes very tense with weeping cries, painful sighs and choking voices. The maternal uncle picks up the bride on his back and walks to the door of ‘ZAMPAN’ (a specially decorated palanquin which is carried by four men). When she is seated in the Zampan the four carriers lift it on their shoulders. The Barat party proceeds in a procession, reciting ‘Salwaat’ and ‘Darood’. About thirty to forty men specially invited to accompany the bride follow the procession. These persons are called YANIL. A lady closely related to her also accompanies the bride. She is known as ‘PASSAN’. She stays with the bride for about seven days so that she may not feel homesick.

At the time of ‘Rukhsti’ of the bride, her father/mother delivers to her all the keys of the house-hold which she returns from inside the Zampan after covering a distance of seven paces from the gate. The underlying idea behind this custom is to create an impression in the mind of the bride that she still remains the mistress of the house and has full authority over the affairs of her parents.

ARRIVAL OF BRIDE IN THE HOUSE OF BRIDEGROOM

As soon as the bride steps in the house of bridegroom the entire atmosphere is resounded with recitation of ‘Salwaat’ and ‘Darood’. The thumb of the right foot of the bride is washed at the gate, a goat or hen is slaughtered and the fingers of her right foot are stained with the blood. When the bride reaches her room, the sister of the bridegroom locks the door from inside, and opens it only when the bridegroom has agreed to fulfill her demands.

THE END

The party accompanying the bride is served with food. Sweets and dry fruit distributed among the guests after which they disperse. During the first seven days of marriage all the relatives of the bride send bread and meat to the house of the bridegroom turn by turn and on the seventh day the bridegroom with all his family members call on the in-laws where they are served with evening meal. The spouses stay there for a few days and thereafter the parents of the bridegroom invite the parents and all the family members of the bride on reciprocal basis. Thereafter all the relatives of the bride and the bridegroom invite the bride and bridegroom with their families to lunches/dinners.

CUSTOMS UNDER PURE BALTI MARRIAGES

The customs of celebrating of the marriage in pure common Balti families are very simple and economical. These customs are rigidly followed and deviation from any of the customs brings discredit and disrepute to the family. During rivalries between families, the fact of breach or violation of any of the customs, no matter, the breach having been committed manner. The various customs observed during celebrations of Balti marriage are as under:

‘MARTANGMA’        (Proposal and its acceptance): The proposal of marriage is initiated by the parents of the boy after consulting an Agha or Sheikh about the day suitable for conveying the proposal of marriage.

Almost all the Baltis including the educated class believe that all the days in a week and all the dates of a month have different effects and impacts on a particular work which is to be undertaken on that particular date or day. According to their belief some days and dated are good and some are bad. They, therefore, never undertake any venture unless and until they consult some Agha or Sheikh and are fully convicted that the day the date is suitable for the purpose.

On the selected day and date the parents of the boy send an elderly member of the family or a respectable and influential person of the village called ‘Helpa’ to the parents of the girl with a proposal or marriage. After having conveyed the proposal for marriage the ‘Helpa’ is advised to wait for a reply. Meanwhile the parents of the girl consult their relatives and if the proposal is accepted ‘Helpa’ is informed accordingly. This initial stage of the proposal and its acceptance is termed ‘MARTANGMA’.

It would not be out of context to mention here that in Balti marriages parents and their relatives select the girl or boy. But under custom they are to abide by the decision of their parents irrespective of the fact whether they like it or not.

Very often the father or grandfather of the girl and boy not only conclude marriage agreements during the infancy of the boy the girl but also perform their ‘NIKAH’ under their guardianship. About early marriages, CUNNINGHAM WRITES:

“The musalmani girl is married at ten or twelve year of age, and becomes a mother before she has acquired either strength or stature of women”.

After performing the Nikah ceremony the minor girl is sent to the parents of the minor boy where she stays till she becomes of age when she is brought back and actual marriage is celebrated in accordance with the local custom known as ‘HALZOKBAKSTOON’. In Balti language ‘Halzok’ means “to return” and ‘Bakstoon’ means “marriage” meaning thereby that the marriage is to be solemnized again.

KHAMITAL

After acceptance to the proposal is received a present called ‘KHAMITAL’ consisting of Khurba (50 specially cooked bread of round shape 3” in diameter and ½” thick), Cholimar (Two seers of oil extracted from kernel of apricot), one goat, 20 seers wheat/barley and 12 pieces of cloth are sent by the parents of the boy to the parents of the girl on a day previously fixed by them. After ‘Khamital’ the parties are customarily bound by their word of honor and cannot revoke the marriage. Before receiving ‘KHAMITAL’ the parents of the boy and girl can break the agreement.

The present is placed before the parents of the girl, relatives and guests and Khurba (the bread) is served with saltish tea.

NIKAH KHWANI

An Agha/Sheikh obtains formal consent of the boy and girl and performs ‘Nikah’ in presence of relatives and guests invite to the occasion. The guests are served with food and sweets and dry fruit is distributed.

DATE FOR MARRIAGE

The Helpa consults the parties for fixing of a suitable and appropriate date. In Baltistan, Baltis prefer to celebrate marriages during the Qamari months of Rajab and Shaban for manifold reasons. Firstly, these two months are considered the most pious and blessed one as the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him) is celebrated on 13 Rajab while on 27th Shaban the birth day of Hazrat Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and Shabe-Barat are celebrated. Secondly, during this period the people are financially better of because by this time they have stored food grains and other necessities of life. Thirdly they are free in these months.

PRE – MARRIAGE FUNCTIONS

The celebration of marriage starts with ‘Majlis – I – Quran Khwani’. In both the houses, relatives, Ulemas and neighbors are invited for recitation of Holy Quran. The guests are served with ‘Marzan’, bread and meat. It may also be of great interest to note that on the occasion of Balti marriages it is considered a matter of great family pride and prestige if guests are served with ghee preserved since decades. It is said that in remote villages in the interiors of Baltistan, some families have still ghee preserved by their great grand father. Ghee is preserved in two ways. By the first and most effective method, mounds of butter are made into shape and size of tyres and then wrapped in the leaves of birch tree locally know as STAKPA. It is said that the leaves of birch tree do not decay for centuries. The butter is then buried under ground and allowed to remain there for decades. The second method of preservation is that butter is put in earthen pot the mouth of which is mud – plastered and then buried under ground.

Reverting to the subject, the function concludes with saltish tea and distribution of sweets and dry fruit.

On the following day the relatives and notables of the village are again invited and entertained with green tea and Kulcha followed by. ‘Marzan’ bread and meat, after which the most popular food called ‘PHUR PHUR is served. It is prepared out of wheat flour cooked in boiled water and served with curry. It is just like vermicelli. In the end guests are served with saltish tea. The guests offer presents to the father of the boy and girl in form of cash and kind. Presents in kind include wheat, butter, goat and clothes etc. the presents are a sort of contribution of the marriage expenses of the parents of the boy/girl and are returnable reciprocally on similar occasions.

SERMOSING (APPLICATION OF HENA)

It is similar to ‘HENABUNDI’ discussed under Kashmiri marriage. One day before the actual marriage, the relatives, friends and notables, of the girl/boy are invited in both the houses where they are served with evening meal after which the notables disperse but the friends of the boy and girl stay back, dance and sing Balti songs. At about midnight ‘SERMOSING’ (HENA) is applied to the fingers and palm of the boy and girl. All the relatives and friends also apply ‘sermosing’ on their fingers signifying sharing of joy and happiness of the occasion.

SKONTHUK

The bridegroom is dressed in the bridal robe in the presence of relatives, friends and respectable persons of the village invited to the occasion. He pays the first formal visit to the house of the bride (BAHMO) under a formal invitation from the latter.

BALTHOD

This is unique custom of Balti marriage. Balthod is a Balti term composed of two words ‘Bal’ and Thod means Bal means ‘wool’ and Thod means ‘turban’. The bridegroom wears a Muslin turban on which is placed a crown made of wool. This crown is called “Balthod” which is made of fourteen snow-white woolen pieces stitched together by woolen threads. It is placed on the turban in such a manner that seven woolen pieces fall on the left cheek and seven on the right. The bride also puts on “Balthod” on her bridal skull cap studded with silver ornaments. “Balthod” is considered to be the most blessed item of bridal robe and is preserved by parents in their houses as long as possible.

The bridegroom after having put on the bridal robe offers prayers, after which he pays homage to his father, mother and other nearest relatives.

SKONTHUK

The bridegroom mounted on a horse followed on foot by his relatives, notables, and friends, leaves for the house of bride in the form of procession reciting ‘Salwaat’ and ‘Darood’. Sweets and apricot nuts mixed with coins are thrown among men and children assembled on the route to witness the procession. In the house of the bride the guests are seated in a well furnished spacious room while the bridegroom is seated at a specially decorated seat slightly elevated from the other. Green tea with ‘Kulcha’ is then served. Lunch starts with the usual courses of ‘Marzan’, bread, meat and ‘Phur Phur’. At the end tea is served. Presents in cash and kind are given to the bridegroom and are called ‘SKONTHUK’ while the presents given to the nearest relative’s bridegroom are called ‘FIAKSTUD’. The bridegroom pays homage to his in laws. He along with the party begs leave of the host and returns to his house.

In the evening the bride is dressed in full customary bridal costumes wearing locally made ornaments. All the nearest relatives gather to bid farewell to her who all along weeps bitterly. When the bride approaches her parents to say farewell, the pent-up feelings of all dear and near ones burst out into weeping cries. The maternal uncle of the bride intervenes and lifts the bride on his back and takes her on his back right up to the house of the bridegroom followed by procession of about 30 to 50 men consisting of the relatives of the bride and respectable persons of the village. The men forming the procession are called ‘SENEWPA’. A lady attended called ‘MANA’ also accompanies the bride and stays with her for at least a week so that she may not feel homesick. In the house of the bridegroom ‘Senewpa’ are extended the maximum hospitality and best treatment.

Before entering the gate of the house the fingers of the right foot of the bride are washed. The underlying idea of this custom could not be ascertained in the house, the bride and bridegroom are seated very close to each other at a specially decorated place. The mother of the bridegroom comes in and exchanges the ‘BALTHOD’ of the spouses. She opens “Sur – I – Noor’ from the Holy Quran and brings it very close to their eyes. Thereafter, she gives one teaspoonful of sharbat to each. The underlying idea behind all these customs is to invoke the blessing of God for a successful marital life

DOWRY

In pure Balti marriage no dowry worth the name is given. Only 12 items of household utensils are sent with the personal effects of the bride.

POST MARRIAGE CUSTOM

On the following day of the marriage the women of the village and friends of the bridegroom call on the bride and bridegroom. Sitting together in a room and offer presents of dry fruits. The girl friends of the bride and friends of the bridegroom demand ‘KHAZOS’ from them i.e. reward for the successful solemnization of the marriage. The newly wedded pair give sweets and dry fruit to them.

In the evening the parents and all the family members of the bride are invited to a feast at the residence of the bridegroom. No outsider is invited. This feast marks the end of the marriage celebration. Thereafter each relative of the bride and bridegroom invites the spouses along with their parents and entertain them to feast, termed as ‘GRONZAN’. On this occasion the hosts offer presents to the bride and bridegroom in form of cash and kind.

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