Ismaili Wedding Traditions

Nikkah: The nikkah is a religious marriage ceremony with the bride and groom in accordance with the Islamic custom.  In traditional and historical Nikkah ceremonies, the bride and groom actually sit in separate spaces.  The Qazi, or the one who recites the nikkah, first approaches the bride to ask if she accepts this marriage.  She must accept the marriage by saying “Kabul” three times.  Then the qazi does the same with the groom.  At this time, the qazi informs the groom of the “meher,” which is a lump sum amount that the husband must pay the wife if there is a divorce situation, in addition to whatever is deemed by the law of the land.  The bride and groom are kept separate so that the woman can freely decline the marriage if she was forced into it. 

More modern ceremonies have the bride and groom sit next to each other as the "mukhi-saheb" (similar to a priest/member of clergy), reads the marriage contract.  The Nikkah is recited in Arabic by a member of the community, or a family member or friend.  However, the marriage contract contains similar clauses as the traditional and historical ceremonies. 

Mandhvo:  four men, preferably the bride’s uncles (mother’s brothers) bring pineapplies or sugarcane to the bride’s house and place them in the four corners of the room.  This is meant as a symbol of protection from evil entering the home. 

Ponkwa: The ponkwa ceremony is meant to bestow blessings. The person who is doing the ceremony (often the bride’s/groom's mother) first places a “chandlo,” a dot of saffron water, on the person’s forehead, representing good luck. Rice is then placed on top of the chandlo to represent bounty and blessings.  Then colored rice, or more modern flower petals, are showered over the person three times, again representing bounty and blessings. Finally, a sweet is placed in the person’s mouth, to wish them sweetness in life.

Pithi:  A paste made out of chickpea flour, turmeric, sandalwood powder, herbs, aromatic oils, rose water and other ingredients. The pithi ceremony is a joyful, playful and fun occasion in which family members and friends bless the couple with well wishes by rubbing the pithi paste onto the bride and groom’s arms, neck, face, hands and legs. The paste is believed to be an excellent cleanser for providing skin glow, soft skin and shine. They may also perform the ponkwa ceremony.

Puro: In the puro ceremony, the groom’s family brings gifts for the bride to welcome her to the family.  The trousseau trays are carried by the groom’s sisters and female cousins. They are greeted by the bride’s mother and her family and each girl carrying a tray is “ponked” by the bride’s mother as she enters the hall. The girls then receive a gift in exchange for the tray.  Traditionally this is cash or a gold or silver coin, but modern ceremonies offer the girls small gifts such as earrings or pendants.

Mehndi (Henna): An art/practice of painting elaborate designs/patterns using a paste made from ground leaves of the mehndi tree, which is then combined with tea water and clove oil. During the celebration of the wedding mehndi ceremony a professional henna applicator is called to the bride’s house to apply mehndi onto the hands and legs of the bride. The first application of henna is put onto the palms of the bride, and then onto her arms and legs. The evening is filled with laughter, dance, music in which all family members and friends participate and henna artists are also available throughout the eve to put mehndi for guests attending the event. The celebration of the wedding mehndi ceremony is believed to be an auspicious occasion for the bride and groom as it symbolizes happiness, prosperity, love and strength in marriage. The mehndi continues to remain on the hands and legs of the bride all night to ensure it comes out darker for her wedding day. As legend has it that the “darker the mehndi the deeper the love”.

Gari: The word gari actually means vessel in Gujarati, and thus, this ceremony centers around a special vessel, decorated with beads and symbols.  The bride’s brothers must go to jamatkhana to collect holy water in the gari. The gari is then covered with a coconut, which will eventually be crushed under the grooms car after the shinda ceremony. Once the bride’s brothers have collected the gari, they are not allowed to speak until the gari is handed over to the bride’s mother, in order to maintain the purity of the water. When the bride’s brothers arrive home with the gari, they are welcomed by the bride’s mother, who ponke’s them for handing over the gari and they receive a small gift in return.

Saapatia: This ceremony centers around sapatia, which are small, covered clay plates filled with lentils; symbolizing abundance and bounty, silver; symbolizing wealth, sugar; symbolizing sweetness and harmony, and turmeric;  symbolizing good health. Two sapatias are placed in front of the couple, one in front of the groom and one in front of the bride.  The couple must break the sapatia by stepping on them, thereby releasing the gifts they contain.  It is said that the first person to break the sapatia will rule the household.

Swastika (Sathiyo): Swastika is one of the world’s oldest known graphic symbols which is designed as a cross with four arms of equal length, and each arm is bent at a right angle. The word Swastika means “all is well” in Sanskrit, and the symbol is known for bringing good fortune, peace and harmony. This symbol is therefore considered a lucky charm and is commonly used in Hindu art, and major part of decoration for festivals and special ceremonies like weddings.  The swastika is often made out of colored rice and placed under the chair while the bride and groom are going through the pithi ceremony.  Modern traditions replace the swastika, mistaken for the Nazi symbol, with a heart.

The Number Seven: This number is significant because it represents seven levels of heaven, and guiding principles of life are also said to be blessed in seven numbers, such as; may you be blessed with an abundance of food, may you be strong and complement one another, may you be blessed with prosperity, may you be eternally happy, may you be blessed with healthy children, may you live in harmony with the seasons and enjoy longevity and may you always be the best of friends.

Shinda: This is an official sendoff for the bride by her family, and loved ones come to bless the couple sweetness and harmony in their new life together. The person who is doing the ceremony (often the bride’s mother) places her hands on the sides of the couple’s heads and then places her knuckles on either side of her own head and cracks them. This ceremony represents the removal of dukh, or pain, from the couple. The bride’s mother then wraps a betel nut in the bandni, or a traditional wedding shawl and holding the betel nut in her hand, makes seven circular motions around the bride and groom. The betel nut is then cast off and thrown behind the couple.  This ceremony is repeated three more times, with the betel nut thrown to the three remaining cardinal directions (betel nuts are used because they were traditionally a rare and valuable food, used for ceremonial offerings). This ceremony is meant to dispel evil spirits to the four corners of the Earth and usher the couple into marriage auspiciously. The bride and groom then prepare to leave and a coconut is placed under the front wheel of the car by the bride’s brother, to be broken when the car drives away, this symbolizes prosperity, generosity and blessing to the start of a journey together.