Weddings are often considered as joyous occasions and a time of festivities, excitement, and fun throughout the world. I have always enjoyed weddings, and have always liked the idea that two sets of families and friends come together to celebrate an important person(s) in their lives. For my cultural blog, I wanted to explore some of the different wedding ceremonies and traditions practiced around the world by different cultures. While my parents are from India, my whole family is Catholic (on both sides) and the overwhelming majority of my friends, and our family friends, are also Christian, so up until this summer, I have only attended weddings in churches, and as a result, became very curious as to how weddings varied in different cultures, religions, and countries.
Muslim Wedding (International):
The first kind of wedding I wanted to explore was a Muslim wedding ceremony. Since Islam is the second largest religion worldwide, with well over 1.5 billion adherents and growing, I thought it would be interesting to see how they celebrate marriage, since I have never heard about, nor attended a Muslim wedding.
The typical Muslim wedding is spread out over three days, with a different event/ceremony on each day. The first day, called the Mehendi, is traditionally celebrated by only the bride and all of the women from both sides of the families. During this ceremony, the brides hands and feet are covered with elaborate henna designs, as shown below. Supposedly, the darker in color the henna is, the more the bride’s future husband is said to love her. In addition, this ceremony is filled with songs, dances, and music and is considered one of the most lively parts of the wedding. I find the Mehendi to be a fascinating ceremony and very similar to a bachelorette party in which all of the women gather together to have fun with the bride before she is married. I also think that the henna designs are so beautiful and add a sense of elegance to the bride’s outfit and overall appearance.
The second day of the wedding, called the Nikah, is the actual marriage ceremony between the bride and groom. As pictured below, during this ceremony, the couple signs an “agreement” or “wedding contract” in front of witnesses and others present. Also, the bride’s head must also be covered, and the groom is expected to wear a traditional outfit. An example of the Nikah is in the picture below. I find it interesting that a physical agreement is actually signed, though I suppose it is no different than signing a marriage license or certificate. I also find both the bride’s and groom’s outfits to be incredibly beautiful and was suprised to learn that there is no “traditional” color that the bride is expected to wear (as opposed to the white wedding gown that is commonly worn in the US and other places).
Finally, the last portion of the wedding is called the Walima, and is performed the day, or week, after the Nikah. The Walmia is the Muslim version of a wedding reception and is filled with food and music, similar to a traditional wedding reception that we all know. I find it interesting that the Walima is so similar to our traditional idea of a wedding reception, with the exception of the wedding guests wearing the traditional outfits of their cultures. I have enjoyed learning about a Muslim wedding and the various parts that encompass it. I find it interesting that their weddings are not as different from a typical American/Christian wedding than I thought, and would love to be able to attend a Muslim wedding sometime in my life.
Hindu Wedding (International, but mostly India):
Hinduism, the main religion in India, and other parts of South Asia has over one billion adherents. Due to the vast number of Hindus worldwide, I felt that it is another marriage ceremony that I needed to discuss. Additionally, this is one type of wedding that I have a personal experience and connection with. This summer, I was fortunate enough to attend my cousin’s Hindu wedding ceremony to her boyfriend, (of over seven years) and greatly enjoyed experiencing my first non-Christian wedding. Since I was lucky enough to be able to experience this first hand, I have included pictures that i took durng the acutal ceremony. (These followiing photos were taken on iPhone, so the pictures may be a little grainy.)
Hindu ceremonies vary based on the background or culture of the family, but the most important parts are the Kanyadaan, Panigrahana, and Saptapadi. (I have included pictures below of the ceremony guide that go into a little more detail about the other parts of this particular ceremony, if interested.) The Kanyadaan, is the when the father gives his daughter away to the groom. The Panigrahana is when the bride and groom’s hands are tied together over a fire. And the Saptapadi, the most important part of the ceremony, is when the wedded couple takes seven steps around the fire with each step symbolizing a different vow. In addition, the bride and groom’s outfits were tied together to symbolize that they are now one “soul.”
I found a Hindu wedding ceremony to be so unique and completely different from any kind of wedding I had ever seen or heard about. One of my favorite parts of the wedding was when the how the bride entered the ceremony on a “chariot” carried by her male family members-I was unfortunately unable to find any pictures her entrance, but I have included a couple below of the ceremony and the couple’s exit afterwards. In addition I found some of the traditions such as the seven sacred steps and the tying of the bride and groom’s outfits together, (the white bundle in the groom’s hand shown in the picture below) to very meaning and unique. However, it was funny to watch them try to maneuver around the crowded reception hall while being tied together. I love how these customs can be seen as a sort of physical manifestation of the vows and commitments the couple are pledging to each other. Seeing this wedding has made me want to go to another Hindu wedding, though I doubt it will occur anytime soon, since no one I know is considering getting married anytime in the forseeable future.
Gerewol (of the Wodaabe People of Africa)
While researching different types of weddings I came across the Wodaabe, a group of nomadic cattle herders in Africa. While their version of a wedding is vastly different from the “traditional” definition of a wedding, I found it to be very interesting and decided to include it in this blog.
The Wodaabe people all have an arranged marriage that has been determined since birth, or while they were very young in age. But, they also have what is known as a Gerewol, (also known as their version of a love marriage) in which the woman is allowed to pick another husband with who she can replace her original with. For the ceremony men paint their faces and dress in ceremonial clothes, as shown above and in the video below. The qualities that the women look for in a potential husband are height, white teeth, and a symmetrical face. During the ceremony, the men perform a traditional dance known as the Yaake to demonstrate their skills and eligibility to show that they are a worth husband. Then, the men all line up and three winner are picked by a panel of three women ( traditionally, the daughters of past winners). These winners are now considered the most “eligible” males of the group, and will be the ones most likely to be picked as a husband. Once the ceremony is finished, a woman can choose her new “husband” and they can start their lives together. I have included a video, shown below, that demonstrates the Yaake performed during the ceremony, the clothes the men wear, and how they paint their faces for the Gerewol.
I find it fascinating that in this culture, the women are the ones who pick a second husband, since in most polygamous societies it is usually the male who has multiple partners. In addition I also think it is interesting how the males are the ones who must “dress up” and accentuate their looks instead of the women. While may find the Wodaabe’s idea of a “wedding”odd, I personally love the idea of this ceremony since it is so different and unique than anything else that is found anywhere in the world. In addition, the Gerewol provides all of the power to the women of the tribe, something that has been unusual regarding marriages throughout the histories of almost all cultures and societies worldwide. In addition, the Gerewol has not been as popular as it used to be, due to the movement of more of the Wodaabe people to the more urban areas of the country. Therefore, I believe traditional ceremonies such as the Gerewol, need to be as celebrated and embraced as much possible before they disappear forever, even if it doesn’t fit in the idea that most people have of a “traditional” wedding.
Baumstamm Sägen (Germany)
Finally, I wanted to end with a quick wedding tradition from Germany. My best friend, who I have known since middle school, was born in Germany and when I decided to research the subject of weddings, I knew I had to include a tradition from here since we have always said that we would be in each other’s wedding party. The tradition that interested me the most is known as Baumstamm Sägen, or log cutting. After the wedding ceremony, traditionally as soon as they exit the church, the bride and groom must cut a log using a two-handed saw, as shown above. This cutting of a log symbolizes the fact that the couple will be able to work together to overcome any obstacles or difficulties they may face throughout their lives. I love this tradition, because as soon as the couple is wedded, they must work together to accomplish a challenge, something that they must do for the rest of their lives together. Also, I believe this to be very useful, since the couple will already have a positive memory of a time when they came together to overcome an obstacle and succeeded. This positive memory may give the couple the strength to power through anything they may face in the future.
I have honestly enjoyed researching the unique wedding traditions and practices of these different cultures. While all these weddings have different traditions, ceremonies, customs, or even outfits, they all are meaningful and special to each culture. In addition, while these customs may seem “odd” or “weird” to some, if you look at why these things are done, you will find there are deep and meaningful reasons for all of these traditions. At the end of the day, a wedding is about the union of two people, and that is the only thing that is important, no matter what kind of ceremony they had, or what kind of customs were incorporated. I have enjoyed learning about these different ceremonies and learning abouthow humans develop and grow, and different changes faced as we go through life that we have discussed in this class.
Cultural Fun Fact (USA):
Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, the United States observes one of its major holidays called Thanksgiving. Traditionally (and somewhat controversially), Thanksgiving has been taught to have originated in the 1600’s when the Wampanoag Indians taught the newly migrated Pilgrims how to farm, fish, and essentially survive in their new home. As a result, the pilgrims and the Wampanoag came together to share an “autumn feast” that we now call Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is usually celebrated with friends and/or family, and traditionally and includes the consumption of a turkey, along with other traditional dishes such as pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving was declared national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln, though it has been recognized and celebrated long before the United States even existed as a country.