Shi’ite Culture in Kashmir Valley: A Study in Marriage PracticesDownload

Shahnawaz Hussain Bhat


The Shi’ite culture in Kashmir valley doesn’t present a much different picture when it comes to marriage practices, from the Sunnis there. Like Muslims of valley and other Indian states, Shi’ite Muslims of Kashmir valley too practice an elaborate set of rites and rituals while solemnizing a marriage contract. The impact of Pandit culture becomes easily visible from the rituals and practices the Shi’ite Muslims perform while contracting a marriage. The Shi’ites of Kashmir valley seem to be part of a wider cultural complex, shared by all people belonging to that region as a whole. The present paper attempts to present the holistic picture of these rituals and practices that have become part of Shi’ite culture in Kashmir valley. The paper is based on primary data, collected through the tools of data collection like participant observation, interview and case study.

Key Words: Shi’ite, Kashmir, khandar, rituals, practices


In Kashmir valley, Shi’ite minority community like Sunni majority community considers Khandar/marriage an important institution of Islamic culture. In essence, Shi’ite Marriage is not different from other Muslim sects. Shi’ites of Kashmir too show strict adherence to the tenets of marriage laid by Islam. The law of incest, payment of mahar, rule of polygamy, field of spouse selection, laws of divorce and widow remarriage, all distinguishing Islamic notion of marriage from non-Islamic notion, are strictly followed. In terms of marriage rituals and practices also, the two communities are not much distinguishable, however, both couldn’t be sighted even at a distance from what is prescribed by Islam. In marriage practices, Shi’ites, like other Muslims seem to be part of a wider cultural complex shared by all people belonging to that region as a whole, and what this cultural complex prescribes to its practitioners goes against the tenets of Islam at many places.

Islam does not prescribe any elaborate set of rites and rituals for solemnising a marital knot, the most important ceremony prescribed being the Nikah ceremony and giving of walima feast in its simplest form is also recommended.


Shahnawaz Hussain Bhat, Research Scholar, Department of Sociology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.E-mail:

Imtiaz Ahmad,( 1976) observes that though the Nikah ceremony, prescribed by Islam for sealing a marital union between two persons, is uniformly observed by Muslims in India, its social and religious significance gets underscored by the series of other ceremonies imbibed from the Hindu culture, that occur side by side to it. Same can be summarised of the Muslim marriage in Kashmir where the impact of Pandit[1] culture becomes easily discernible from the elaborate set of rites and rituals practiced by Muslims in general and the Shi’ites of the valley in particular. The rituals and practices are so elaborate that we need to caption and studied them under three categories. These include:

  1. Practices before khandar: There are number of ritual practices performed by Shi’ite Muslims of Kashmir before the actual day of marriage. These may include:

Initiation of negotiations

Earlier mate selection among Shia’s of Kashmir used to be in the jurisdiction of moal/mouj (parents) and zithe (elders) of the family only. However, now-a-days a belief in the joint selection by parents and children is gradually replacing that monopoly and the cases of individual selections (i.e., selection by children themselves) are not rare. Among Shi’as of the valley, initiation of negotiations starts from the boy’s side. The Initiation of negotiations is usually done through a manzimyor/go-between, who may be a professional in the field of match-making. He brings the two families in contact for establishing the conjugal knot between the two. In many cases, close relatives or friends of the would-be couple themselves work for the match-making. A professional manzimyor gets remunerated from both the parties for the knot he gets tied.

Istikhara and Sitar Bhagnai

Istikhara means seeking opinion and goodness of Allah. Shia’s strongly believe in performing istikhara i.e., asking exalted Allah for his opinion whenever they intend to do an important task. In the process of mate selection, if one or both the parties end up in dilemma i.e., whether to tie the particular marital knot or not. In such a case one or both the parties would approach a moulvi to perform the Istikhara and find out what Allah wishes in that particular case. The moulvi would give the parties a green or red signal depending on what comes out of the istikhara he performs. Some people would also try to explore sitar bhagnai/zodiacal compatibility of ladke/boy and koer/girl for their marriage. The ritual being un-Islamic has been imbibed from the Pandit community of the valley. If the sitar/stars show compatibility, the ladke and koer are tied in to marital knot.

Thaff traven/ pyalas travun:

Thaff traven/ catch-hold or pyalas travun/ putting in the cup is the first ceremony after both the parties agree upon entering in to conjugal kinship. In this ceremony one or two or more elderly members from the boy’s side visit the girl’s side where they are served tea or full wazvan feast. Then one of the guest puts an envelope with 101 or 505 and now-a-days 1011 Indian rupees inside, on the plate containing pyale-cup or simply gives the envelope to the bride. In many cases some gold ornament is also presented to the girl. The two parties become soni/in-laws after this ceremony

Nishani/ Engagement

Nishani/engagement is completed in two phases. First the Boy’s side visits the girl’s side called Nishani, second the girl’s side visits the boy’s side called hazirkhan. Nishani can either be nabad nishani/laket nishani (little engagement) or nikah nishani/baed nishani (big engagement). In case of nabad Nishani, only engagement is done in which boy’s family visits the girl’s side and present gold ornaments, monetary as well as non-monetary gifts, clothing including both bridal and non-bridal to the girl as a token of love.

Nikah/baed nishani

Nikah ceremony may take place before or on the actual day of marriage. In this paper we deal with its occurrence before marriage. Nikah ceremony is held at bride’s house, but the festivities take place at both the houses. At The night before nikah ceremony maenz/mehndi ceremony takes place at both the houses. The close friends of mahrin/bride dye her hands and feet with maenz/mehndi/henna[2] and the friends of groom apply maenz on his right hand’s little finger. All this takes place amidst singing of wanvun-Kashmiri folk songs by the female folk. Next day, the day of nikah one person from the bride’s side visits the groom’s house with maaz diktchi– mutton and chicken filled copper vessel.On the same day a party from the groom’s side visits the bride’s house with Maeve Majmeh– big round trays filled with sweets, candies and dry fruits and also with jaidadh/gold jewellery and vardhan/clothing for bride. The party of many includes one Maulvi also, who officiates the nikah. The groom however does not accompany the party. The party is received at the bride’s house amidst singing of wanvun by the women folk. The party is showered with sweets and candies. The elderly males from both the side negotiate the conditions of marriage contract. The three most important conditions of the contract to be settled are:

Amount and mode of mahar payment

The groom being absent on the occasion is represented by his wali, usually his father or guardian, who negotiate the amount of mahar with the wali of the bride, usually her father or guardian. The bride and groom have very little say in deciding the amount. The mode of payment may be moajjal/paid instantly at the nikah ceremony itself or muwajjal/deferred to the near future. Generally a part of the mahar is paid moajjal and the rest muwajjal. Then a vakeel/advocate who could pronounce the Sigha ofnikah[3]is chosen. The vakeel is a usually clergy who may be or may not be present at the ceremony, or he could be the accompanying maulvi also. The amount of mahar, its mode of payment and the name of the vakeel, the parties agree upon are written on the Nikah namah/marriage document by the maulvi. Then the consent of the mahrin sitting in the bridal attire is sought by the maulvi after loudly reading the conditions of the contract written on nikah namah. The bride shyly gives her consent and puts her signature or thumb impression on the nikahnamah. The audience collectively recite Salawat[4] on Prophet and his progeny and seek their blessings for the couple.The women enthusiastically keep singing wanvun of religious nature. The nikahnamah is then signed by some responsible persons as the witnesses of the contract. The groom’s side then distributesnikah-sheerni/sweets among people present there. The guests are served with the traditional Wazvan feast. The guests present gifts to the bride as a token of love. The groom’s family presentsjaidadh/gold jewellery and vardhan to the bride. On returning back, similar affirmation is then sought from the groom by the maulvi. The nikahnamah is then taken to the vakeel to pronounce the sigha of nikah and sign on it.


Hazirkhan ceremony includes the first visit of the boy’s house by the girl’s family. The family members and close relatives of the bride visit the groom’s house along with haziree/gifts and presents for the groom, his family and even for his secondary and tertiary kins. The gifts for the groom usually include a complete shaving kit, garments, a watch, pair of shoes, groom slippers, golden ornaments including one or more rings, a chain, a tie pin and a brooch for the coat. The Hazirkhan also consists of the maeve majmeh– big round trays filled with sweets, candies and dry fruits.

Visitation on festivals

Both the families keep visiting each other except groom and bride. These visitations are marked by the exchange of gifts between the families. During the course fromnishani to marriage, a number of such visitations are made by both the families. The various such occasions are; religious festivals, social occasions like marriage, a birth of a child or a tragedy in the family, seasonal occasions like wandhe suit/wandhebhog (winter present) for girl by boy’s family that comprises of warm clothes, shoes and kangri[5] for the bride. However, this Kangri now-a-days is being replaced by the room heaters, blowers, and electric blankets. Also every year with the advent of Muharram[6]/ the annual month of mourning for Shi’as, the boy’s family may visit the girl’s family with the muharram bhog/muharram present consisting of black clothing for the girl, she is supposed to wear during the mourning rituals.

Doh ganden/ Fixing of Marriage Day and date

Unlike Sunnis, each day and date is not equally auspicious and recommended for marriages in Shi’as. The prescriptions and proscriptions for fixing day and date for marriage are much elaborate. Generally Shi’as of Kashmir hold marriages in the months of Rajab[7], Shabaan[8], after the tenth day of Id-ul-Azha[9] and the second half of Rabi-ul-Awwal[10]. Shia’s denounce marrying during the mourning months of Muharram, Safar[11], in first eight days of Rabi-ul-Awwal and on the death anniversaries of fourteen infallibles and other members of the house of the Prophet. Like other Muslims, Shia’s also avoid holding marriage in the month of Ramazan[12]. Shi’as do not marry on last two or three days of every lunar month. It is not recommended for a Shi’a to marry on the days of Qamar dar aqrab[13].

Saat Naam

The boy’s side visits the girl’s family with saat naam /document of dates fixed for marriage. Along with the saat naam, is usually a zaen/basket filled with maeve, maenz, mushketujidabba[14]for the girl. A gold ornament is also presented. For the women folk, maenz to put on bride’s hands should come from her waeriuv/husband’s home.

Marriage Preparations

Marriage preparations soon start at both the houses. The preparations include; finalising modalities with Waza/cook, Pujji/butcher for supplying meat, kandur/baker for Kulchi and Sheermal, shopping of the items required for ceremony like spices, edible oil and dry fruits for wazvan feast, vardhan anun/ buying clothing for the couple and other family members. Other important preparatory ceremonial rituals include ziun chatun/ cutting of fuel wood for wazvan feast tomulcharun/ cleaning of rice and dapni nerun/ initiating formal invitations.

  1. Practices at the time of khandar.

Menhdi raat/ Maenzi raat-the night of henna

The festivities at both the houses reach to their zenith at maenzi raat/mehndi raat/the night of henna,in Kashmiri Khandar.  Hustle bustle starts around in the morning itself when preparations and their executions begin. The vasta waza/head cook along with his men builds verre (wooden fireplace) for cooking of grand feast wazvan. The maazwoal­-meat dealer comes with the flock of sheep the pujji-butcher starts slaughtering them to make meat available for the waza. The tentwael/camping agency erects sayiban/tents and the house decorator starts decorations. The ladies engage in cleaning of vegetables for the waza and making Lipton chai-sugar teaand kahwe available for the whole day. The pechhi-guests, including rishtedar-relatives, hamsayi-neighbours and doss-friends start showing their presence to help in the preparations and be part of the ceremony. The women burnIzband[15] in kangri and wish mubarak/felicitations to yezeman/yezeman bayi[16]. Many families organise a congregational recitation of Quran orsome dua-supplication on maenz raat. This is to invoke the blessings of Allah for the would-be couple through the vaseela/intercession of Ahl e bayt-the progeny of Prophet Muhammad. The mahrin takes the ritual bath, puts on bridal attire and her yasse/friends prepare her for the maenzi raat. The groom too remains busy with his own preparations, being assisted by his friends. All the invited assemble in sayiban/tent for wazvan dinner. After the lavish ceremonialwazvan dinner, friends of mahrindecorate her hands and feet with maenz, making eye catching intricate designs. This is a very enervating task as the bride has to remain vigilant and in a single posture for hours until the girls finish the exhaustive decorations. At mahraz’s house, his close friends or brother or cousins wash his hands and feet. Then maenz is applied on little finger of his right hand only. Nowadays, this maenz-dyed little finger is wrapped in the monetary denominations of 100 or 500 or 1000 by groom’s panun tolle-close relatives and friends. All this takes place amidst the singing of wanvun exalting both mahrin and mahraz and praying for their prosperous future.


Yenniwoal/ Marriage day

Yenniwoal/actual wedding day is a busy day for both the families. The day at bride’s house is earmarked for reception preparations of the baraat/groom’s entourage. The preparations include cooking of grand feast for the baraat, preparing of salad and chetin-chutney, filling of refreshment baskets and erection of a separate white house­­ for the baraat.

At the groom’s house,yenniwaol is a more eventful day. In the morning, salle mohniuv comes from the bride’s side with the formal invitation for mahraz and his entourage. For the mahraz, the busy and frantic schedule starts with ceremonial shaving of his beard and maskasun/haircut in the morning itself, followed by a ceremonial bath. The women keep singing wanvun until mahraz would complete the ceremonial bath. The bride also takes the ceremonial bath called aabshehrun assisted by heryasse/friend or benni/sister.The mahraz dressed in a kurta pyjama leaves for the local maqbarah/graveyard to recite fatiha[17]and pray for the peace and salvation of his deceased relatives. This practice is called as fatiyas nerun. Themahraz accompanied by his friends visit local astaan/shrine to recite fatiha there also. While visiting Imambada, the mahraz recites fatiha on taazi, alam, shabihandother symbolic representations of the memories of the Karbala battle.This is followed byvisiting houses of close relatives and friends on their request, for a glass ofsharbat or a cup ofchai. The mahraz is showered with mithayi/candies and sweets and receives gifts at each house.After day’s long hectic schedule, full swing preparations start in the evening for leaving of baraat.The friends of mahraz help him toput on his nuptial attire, a sherwani-nuptialgown and a pagadi-nuptial garb. Thesallerigroom’s entourage includes his close relatives, friends, neighbours and family members. The mahraz leads thecavalcade and sets for bride’s house.

Welcoming  baraat

The groom’sparty is given a warm welcome at bride’s house.The women sing wanvun exalting mahraz. Flowers, sweets, candies and coins are showered on mahraz. Heis garlanded with ropyimaal-garlands of money and poshmaal/garlands of flowers, by family members and relatives of mahrin. The salleri are made to sit in a decorated hall or white house and the mahraz is made to sit on masnand[18] a specially adorned seat, facing Qabila/Kabba. In case nikah has not been performed till this time, the ceremony then starts soon after the baraat reaches the bride’s house (see nikah ceremony above). And if nikahhad already been performed, then starts the extravagant mahraz saal feast. Mahraz saal stands as the most extravagant among the wazvan feasts served in a marriage. The famous wazvanserved among many are rista, rogan josh, tabak maaz, daniwal korma, aabgosh, marchewangan korma, gushtaba, yakhen, sik kabbab, dhani phoul, meithi maaz, kokur, waza palak, ruwangan chaaman, mujji chetin, daniwal chetin, phirnietc. It is hardly possible for a person to eat up his entire share. Now it has become a practice that extra dishes are packed in well adorned polythene bags prearranged by the bride’s family and taken along with by each salleri. After the lavish dinner, starts the presentation of trousseau to mahraz by the family members and relatives of mahrin.

Rukhsati­-Departure of Bride

After having done with feast, mahrin gets ready for new home. Her close friends help her wear burqa that had come with vardhan from her Waeriuv side. However, the burqa culture is gradually being replaced by lehnga. The moment of her rukhsati fills the ambience with emotions, tears rolling down from her each kin’s eye and all trying to console her and pray for her prosperous married life. The whole ladies camp becomes emotional. The ladies in their wanvun remind and caution mahraz that how much careful he should always remain formahrin. The cavalcade starts for mahraz’s home. On the way back, mahraz’sfriends stop his car at any bridge crossing, and demand Kadletaar/money to cross the bridge from him.

Reception of mahrin at Groom’s house

The cavalcade reaches mahraz’s home where mahrin is received by former’s close female relatives. She sits on masnand with her head down, surrounded by women folk; all singing wanvun and waiting for mohar tulin-veil lifting ritual, a formal welcome ritual, herhushh/mother in law is supposed to perform. Thehushh burns izband and showers flowers, sweets and candies and coins on mahrin. She then lifts the veil, kisses mahrin on her cheeks and forehead. This is followed by exchange of gifts between the duo- hushh and noshh. The hushh usually gives a gift in cash but receives a golden ornament called hushh kaent from mahrin. It is worth underscoring here that the hushh doesn’t performmohar tulin ritual in case she is a widow. In such a case, the veil of the bride is raised by some other female relative viz. sister or maternal or paternal aunt of groom and after thathushh takes the ritual further on. The women keep singing wanvun, welcoming and praisingmahrin and seeking blessings of Allah for her. After sometime, mahrin is taken to groom’s room for shab e zufafa-the night of consummation. The room is specially decorated for the night.


  1. Rituals and Practices after khandar


Next morning, the bride’s family sends a present called kahwekhabar to their daughter. The present customarily consists of a Samavar[19], sugar, tea, green cardamom, cinnamon and some sweets, but new items are being added slowly and gradually in this ritual also. The Kahwa khabar was customarily used to be presented bymaam-maternal uncle of mahrin and thus was also called as maam khabar. The purpose of sending kahwa khabar lies in sending felicitations for the successful consummation of the marriage by the couple.


Walima is the feast given by the groom’s family on the next day of marriage. It is called wathal in Kashmir. The groom’s family invite close relatives, sometimes the bride’s family also on this feast. Though both the mardhe sabb/men feast and zanaan sabb/women feast are given, the feast is specially meant for ladies as the bride is the centre of focus on this day. The guests give gifts to both mahraz and mahrin.

Satim/ seventh day

Earlier this ceremony was practiced on the seventh day, but nowadays after the third or fourth day of the marriage. In this ceremony, a party consisting of mauleun/parental family members of mahrin, and other relatives and friends visit her Waeriuv/in-laws’ house to fetch her back. The party brings along with them a huge cache of trousseau for the bride. These gifts are called khabarand usually consist of various household items, electronic goods, gadgetry and more traditionally a trame sanduk[20]etc. The party is served a lavish feast, almost equivalent to mahraz saal. The mahrin then leaves for her mauleun after asking for the duerukhsat/permission from her hushh/mother in law and haherbaab/father in law. The mahrazeither accompanies his wife, or is separately invited on the next day to his hovur/in laws house. The couple returns back after staying there for few days. The system of ceremonies and functions from both the sides comes to end after phir saal ceremony, when the couple is invited again by the bride’s parents after few days of satim/seventh.



Ahmad, I. (1976). Family, kinship and Marriage among Muslims in India. New Delhi: Manohar.

Lawrence, W. R. (1895). The Valley Of Kashmir. London: Oxford University Press.


[1] Hindu community of Kashmir valley

[2]Maenz is a dye prepared from the plant Lawsonia Inermis, also known as  the henna tree or the mignonette tree

[3] A set of phrases and sentences recited at the time of Nikah to give religious and legal cognizance to the contract

[4] Allah’s blessings on Prophet and his progeny

[5] Traditional kashmiri fir pot

[6] 1st month of Islamic calendar in which grandson of the Prophet was martyred along with his 72 companions in the battle of Karbala, Iraq in 680 A.D.

[7] 7th  month of the Islamic calendar

[8] 8th  month of Islamic Calendar

[9] Eid of sacrifice hold on 10th day of 11th  month of Islamic calendar every year

[10] 3rd month of Islamic year

[11] 2nd month of Islamic year

[12] 9th month of Islamic calendar, the month of fasting

[13]when the moon is in the constellation of Scorpio

[14]Incense sticks

[15]Burning Izband (Peganum Harmala) is part of both Hindu and Muslim cultures in Kashmir. According to folklore, smoke from izband seeds fills the ambience and wards off the evils and an evil eye. It is used at ever auspicious moment

[16] On marriages, the father of mahrin/mahraz are called as  yezeman and the mother as yezemanbayi

[17]Recitation of surah Al-Fatiha the 1st Surah of Quran followed by three times recitation of 112th surah Al-Ikhlas

[18] Masnand is a raised place with usually mattress for groom and bride on marriage.

[19] Famous kashmiri copper kettle

[20] A tin box full of copper utensils