Marriage is a social institution as old as the human race itself. The heart of this ceremony in any Muslim community,- the nikah. Traditions and cultural variation add colour to these joyous occasions, make them unique to the locality and race.
Malabar Muslims in Malaysia have also ‘adjusted’ to the local settings assimilating many of the Malay ‘adat’ associated with the wedding ceremony
Traditional wedding in Kerala
The first step to any wedding is the proposal – ‘Pennu kaanal’ . This is the same as the Malay Custom of ‘melamar’ where the groom’s family will visit the potential bride’s house to ask for her hand in marriage.
If they like each other, a particular day is fixed for “valayidal” or “paranyunischayam”. This date for the function of “paranyunischayam” (engagement) is arrived at through mutual consultations. On this day the family and close relatives of the groom will visit the bride’s house on at prefixed date. Once an agreement has been reached the groom’s family will present some ornaments to the bride hence the name valayidal (wearing of bangles) This betrothal is a contract, not bound by any law or religious custom, and can be broken, if one wishes so.
As the wedding day approaches , both families will make the necessary arrangement. On the eve of the nikah , the ‘Mailanji’ ceremony will be held in the bride’s house. Mailanji (henna in English, Inai in Malay, Mahendi elsewhere in India) will be applied decoratively to the bride’s hands and feet. This night is is usually colourful with ladies singing “mailanji paattukal” ie Mailanji songs.
The nikah itself may be held in the bride’s or groom’s house. As the bride is usually not present during this occasion, the tendency is to hold this majlis in the groom’s house. The actual ceremony is called `nikah’. The father of the bride sits face to face with the bridegroom, clasping each others hands. The Qadi who is conducting this ceremony leads the bride’s father to make the statement to the effect that he marries away the girl to the prospective husband according to the Islamic way. The bridegroom then declares his acceptance of that commitment and that he has married the woman according to the terms specified. The mahar (mas kahwin), or the amount the bridegroom has agreed to pay to the bride will also then be publicly announced. The women do not generally take part in the `nikah’.
Nikah will be followed by a feast. The groom will then leave for the bride’s house preceded by doa. This procession is also very elaborate with songs by those accompanying. In the bride’s house , the groom is received, headed by the bride’s brother. The groom will usually present him with gift – usually a ring. The festivity in the brides house will continue until night. The newly wed will spend a couple of days days in the bride’s house.
After a few days, a party from the groom’s house will head to the bride’s house for ‘ Koottikonduvaral’ – (bringing home). The newly wed couple will be come back to the groom’s house as they begin their new life together
The dowry system which has been prevalent among different communities in Kerala continues in some form or other even today among the Malabar Muslims there although there are laws against it.
There are regional variations particular in the northern district of Kerala where the ‘Ara’ system is being practiced. Here the initiation of the proposal is from the bride’s side whose relatives visits groom’s house with the proposal. The engagement is also done in the groom’s house. After the wedding an ‘ara’ (room) will be provided in the bride’s house for the groom complete with all facilities, separate from the other members of the bride’s family.
Malabari Wedding in Malaysia
In Malaysia, the Malabar Muslim community has assimilated many of the the Malay traditions. As the main functions held are very similar among the Malays and the Kerala Malabaris, only the differences will be highlighted
The proposal by the grooms family to the brides family is known as ‘melamar’. Following this the engagement ceremony is known as ‘pertunangan’. The party consisting of close relatives of the groom will go to the bride’s house for the engagement. Other than the engagement ring, they will bring with them presents for the bride known as ‘hantaran’. Hantaran is usually odd in number consisting of al-Quran, sejadah, wedding dress, handbags and other things necessary for the wedding all beautifully decorateddone up by those who expertise in making hantarans. These presents will be carried by the ladies in the party to the bride’s house. The brides family will likewise prepare ‘hantaran’ for the groom equally well decorated but two more in number than received from the groom. At times especially if the to be bride and groom has already met, ‘melamar’ and ‘pertunangan’ are held together. the discussion will be done by those ones apppointed by each parties, usually the elders, Some adhere to the Malay custom of asking for the bride and receiving through poetries( (‘pantun’).
Berinai ( the henna ceremony ). a more quiet event among Malays is usually held more elaborately among Malabaris. This majlis is however held together with a ‘doa selamat’ on the eve of the nikah.
In the Malay culture, the groom on the wedding day is known as “Raja sehari” ( King for the Day). The costume includes “Baju Melayu and “samping”. The more elaborately dresses will include “Tengkolok” and “keris”. the couple will be matchingly dressed. The bride will be prepared by the Mak Andam ( traditional beauticians) befitting the saying “Bagai Pinang di belah dua” ( Execelently matched couple)
‘Majlis akad nikah’ ( The Nikah ceremony) is held at the brides house of the masjid near the bride’s house. The arrival of the grooms is received by the lady’s relatively accompanied by ‘kompang’ ( ‘duff’), and bunga manggar ( a pole decorated with coloured papers to resemble palm blossom). Decoration in the wedding house would include ‘bunga telur ‘ literally, egg flower- egg decorated with flowers or inside a container as a symbol of fertility
The nikah ceremony can only be conducted by kadis appointed by the state. The kadi will initially get the verbal agreement from he bride from the marriage before the actual akad nikah. The kadi leads the process of nikah where the father hands over the daughter in marriage as mentioned earlier. It is also not uncommon where the kadi with the permission of the father- hands over the bride to the groom. The lafaz (the statement of acceptance) by the groom has to be said in one breath, clearly and accepted by the witnesses present.
This is followed by ‘makan adat'( (ceremonial meal) and ‘bersanding’ (Sitting together) on a pelamin( decorated stage) while ‘tepung tawar'( blessing by the elders) is done by the elders.
Most of the time where the Muslims of whatever background live as a community the cooking and other preparations are done as gotong-royong where the whole community chips in to cook serve and make the majlis a success. The the modern days this is changing when the food is catered or the wedding majlis is held in halls or hotels.