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Stories of Cloth


Nighat: An Asian engagement and a wedding


An Asian engagement and a wedding

I was married in Manchester in 1989 at the age of 21, to my cousin from Pakistan. We had a civil ceremony, followed by a traditional Muslim wedding a few weeks later.

It all began when I visited Pakistan for a family holiday. On my return home to England, I told my family that I rather liked my cousin Farooq. My parents were pleased and contacted their family in Pakistan to arrange the marriage. It is very common in Asian families to marry a cousin. I returned to Pakistan and chose my wedding clothes, yellow garments for the mendhi night, and shocking pink edged in green and gold for our wedding day. I returned to England along with my fiancé, and he stayed with my family. His mother and sisters joined us for the wedding.

It is traditional to hold two mendhi parties during the week before the wedding, one at the bride’s home and one at the groom’s, but we celebrated together on the Friday evening. I wore a yellow Indian silk sari. I was seated on a chair with a scarf that had been passed down from previous generations draped above my head. The married women from my family placed a ball of henna on my hands, put oil on my head as a blessing and fed me sweets. Coins were placed in the pot of oil and later given to charity to bring good luck to the bridal couple. During the evening we sang songs and the two families exchanged gifts.

In Pakistan the groom’s family select and bring along all the wedding outfits for the bridal party as a wedding gift. The bride’s family makes a banner decorated with the happy couple’s names and bring along various items decorated with henna. At the end of the evening my hands and feet were decorated with henna patterns, hearts, flowers and our initials. I then slept while the henna darkened to leave beautiful designs for the big day.

The wedding took place on a Sunday with more than 600 guests attending the reception. I wore a shocking pink skirt type garment, heavily embroidered in green and gold with a silk chiffon embroidered scarf. Shisha mirror work is one of the embroidery techniques detailed here. It is an Islamic belief that mirrors will trap the evil eye and hold its reflection for eternity, so when wearing mirror work embroidery evil spirits will not trouble you.

The groom wore an English suit from Next (not quite so traditional!). Asian brides always wear a nose ring on their wedding day, a gift from the boy’s family. It attaches with a chain to just above the ear and is often worn with jasmine hanging from the hair. We honeymooned in Paris and returned to live with my family. This is unusual as most Asian brides leave their wedding to live with their in-laws and are welcomed into their new home with a Valima, a welcoming ceremony.

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