The groom breaking a wine glass by stepping on it at a Jewish wedding, that “what happens (or doesn’t happen) in bed”

My secret locked, a tale untold,
The only key, within your hand,
Too sacred for them to behold,
Too pure for them to understand.
Tonight I tell that tale to you,
An open book for you to read,
Your book, I yearn to read it too,
And share each breath, your every need.
Gone the lonesome years, weeks, days,
For now our hearts have taken flight,
You look at me with longing gaze,
And I, at you with shy delight.
Love me; love all that I am,
Cherish me as precious treasure,
Teach me with gentle guiding hand
Endlessly seeking His pleasure.

Oddball Indian wedding rituals

in a hollow hallway, in life’s way
He smiled at her,
And unto this day
She swears by that smile.
It took a few dates, a few words of amour
Till she felt love,
The kind he talked about.
She swears that it pumped her heart wild.
Love into marriage. A few seasons went by,
She had a few babies,
So much love, she could cry.
She swears by motherhood. Milky motherhood.
A few late nights, a few hotel bills
Unaccounted for,
No, not until
She flew into a rage. She broke down.
Many sweet words, promises to keep,
Fatty, thirty-something —
Lying in a heap,
From the pretty wife into being a pawn.

One head-banging fit, not a friend in the world.
She left her haven,
No more the girl.
A fifty-something, someone, insignificant speck.
Submitting herself to the world: her asylum.
You whisked away a part of me,
Skirting the issue day by day,
The little emo, the little glee
Was lost. I was on my way
To becoming something better,
To becoming something wise,
No longer tied by fetters,
No need to be Miss Nice;
And then in a moment
Of utter clarity
Was this search for a moment
Where total parity
Could be drawn between us —
I needed to talk.
You didn’t need to give me the “US”
We could just walk…
To tell you and I have to —
To bring closure to me
That as friends do
So shall we..
The wedding is not the marriage. The wedding is a gateway to marriage, a formalised written commitment. Contractual agreements in personal relations are underrated these days. You wouldn’t buy a house or start a job without a contract, but we have romantic notions that a verbal declaration of love is sufficient to entrust our life, heart, emotional and spiritual wellbeing in another person.

Formal, written, structured agreements do have an impact on individuals. Harriet Baber says security is the main reason for marriage, but her argument is a negative one, giving security against what she sees as the minus points of singledom. But I’m arguing that commitment and contracts encourage a more positive state for the couple – otherwise why put in the effort? There is clarity of expectation and direction. There is a clear understanding of joining together in union. There’s the positive mental attitude that says you’re in it for the long haul – and positive thinking is mighty powerful. Marriage in this sense is for the private good.
Having structured units with parameters and responsibilities that society recognises is also for the public good – offering stability, respect and boundaries for that relationship. And marriage seems to be a good thing for children, too. Yet we have no training these days in how to initiate and manage relationships (sex yes, relationships no). It’s all Hollywood and Heat magazine.
Arguments about what marriage is for tend to focus on only one of the three components – the couple, society or children, but the fact is that it’s a little bit of all three. Marriage is a formal written commitment between two people, with clearly spelt out rights and responsibilities on both sides. (That’s the problem with the “expression of love” or “knees up” approach to weddings – instead of focusing on the relationship, it’s all about the party.) These rights and responsibilities are recognised by wider society and enforced either legally or socially. In our culture, one example of these things is usually fidelity. This is usually a clear expectation of both spouses, and wider society is expected to support this. Hence we have the greater (but sadly diminishing) social stigma of having a relationship with someone who is married. Happy, well supported and stable couples mean happier and more stable societies. It’s mutually beneficial.
Marriage has a central place in religion, and Islam is no exception. So, to cover off the religious aspect, here is what Islam says: that marriage is a divine sign in order that the spouses may find peace and contentment in each other, and that love and mercy has been placed between them. In its essence, marriage is for the benefit of the two people involved, creating a tranquil and loving union. But it’s more than that too: to get married is to complete “half your faith”, it is part of fulfilling the human mandate and achieving spiritual perfection. And only then do we get to procreation as the reason for marriage. Islam is big on clear, solid family structure, and children knowing and respecting who their parents are. And it’s also very firm on parents taking clear responsibility for the upbringing and long-term care of their children.
A few months ago I was rummaging through the fabulous second-hand bookshop Barter Books in Northumberland, when my eye was caught (as it is want to do, since I am a writer with a fascination for love and marriage) by a dusty tome entitled Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes. Mainly, I love the word “wooing” and wish we would use it more often. I also wish that as a society there was more wooing going on. First published in 1900, the author travelled through various cultures and brings us stories and pictures of how different peoples engage in marriage. (Particularly good is the one on “Wigwamland”.) The one constant she is at pains to point out is that marriage flourishes in all contexts. This abundance of marriage across time and geography is something that should give weight to this question of what marriage is for and its potential benefits.
More than a hundred years ago, she made an observation that would not be out of place today: “I have found the marriage customs of most peoples strangely alike. And I have found the marriage fact, wedlock itself, almost identical everywhere. […] The highest of all arts is the art of living with others – above all the art of living with those nearest and dearest. How many of our children are ever taught its alphabet?”

If you thought wedding ceremonies can’t get more bizarre than the groom breaking a wine glass by stepping on it at a Jewish wedding, or the Finnish bride going from door to door with a pillowcase to collect her wedding gifts accompanied by an old man with an umbrella, think again.

Not only are Baltic or Greek wedding traditions peculiar, some of our very own ritualssurrounding the wedding can be as off-the-wall. True, a wedding brings happy tidings to the family, but it is after all the eclectic rituals associated with it that make for real memories.

The most common perception of a Hindu wedding is the lighting up of the Vedic fire around which the bride and groom walk seven times while the priest chants mantras. Assumingly for the sake of brevity, almost all television series or cinema dealing with a Hindu wedding conjures up an image similar to this. Then what about the many awkward and flamboyant rituals that precede or succeed it, rituals that are unique to every culture, rituals that are perhaps relevant no more but lovingly adhered to.

With the wedding season upon us, let’s vet some truly obscure Indian wedding traditions that evoke emotions ranging from laughter, grimace, scorn, tears, to sheer amusement.

Bengali weddings: That the mother of the bride is not supposed to see the wedding is common knowledge. But did you know that on the day of the wedding, married women from the bride’s family rise at the break of dawn and arrange a plate of aarti complete with sweets, twigs and incense, and go over to invite the Ganges to the wedding of their daughter. The holy river is believed to bless the girl in her future life.

Bihari weddings: This could be a rather curious post-wedding ritual performed by any groom’s-side-of-the-family on bringing the bride home. Here an eager, expectant bride suddenly finds herself grappling with a huge earthen pot set on her head by her mother-in-law. Without losing time, few more pots are added to the pile while she is expected to bow down and touch the elders’ feet. As the dramatic scene is played out, all and sundry gather to see how many pots the new bride actually balances, which is ostensibly an indicator of her skills at striking a balance in the family.

Tribal wedding in UP: Sarsaul, a small town in Kanpur district has given a new dimension to wedding hospitality. In keeping with the tradition, the baaratis here are not greeted with flowers and rose water spray, instead tomatoes and potatoes are hurled at them followed by a round of choicest abuses. Your sides might hurt imaging such a welcome, but the tradition takes root in the belief that a relationship that doesn’t begin on a not-so-happy note always culminates in love.

Rabha weddings in Assam: The weddings of the Rabha tribes of Assam is an aesthetic affair. Performed as per Gandharva marriage tradition, the ceremony involves a simple exchange of garlands – no pheras around the fire, and a lavish feast to round it up with. An extremely patriarchal ritual, the newly wed on their first day together at the boy’s family home is expected to give a hand in cooking the afternoon meal and serve only to the male, elderly members of the family. For the rest, food is served in subsequent batches by the helpers.

Malayalee weddings: How much the rest of the world frets about keeping the auspicious time for the wedding, tell this to the Nairs of Kerala and you’ll manage a wry smile out of them. For them, the auspicious time is when they set out from their homes to marry in a temple or the ancestral home of the girl, and not the actual muhurat of the wedding. Like all Malayalee weddings, this too happens at daytime. A serene white wedding with a generous flash of gold jewellery, the bride and groom walk around the mandapam thrice – not seven times.

Kumaoni weddings: The use of flags in the marriage ceremony sets Himachali weddings apart. Traditionally, a white flag called ‘Nishan’ leads the marriage procession representing the bridegroom, followed by drummers, pipers and a white palanquin carrying the groom. The last man of the procession carries another flag, of red colour, representing the bride. When the marriage party returns from the girl’s home after completing all ceremonies, the red flag takes the lead followed by a red palanquin of the bride, succeeded by the white palanquin of the groom, and the white flag at the tail end of the procession.

Tamil Brahmin weddings: At an Iyer wedding, just as the groom is about to step into the mandapam for the actual wedding ceremony, he has a change of mind and decides to pursue ‘sanyaasam’ (asceticism). An age-old Brahmin tradition ‘Kasi Yaatrai’ this, the bride’s father too plays his part of a distressed father by reaching out to the groom and convincing him to take up ‘Grahastham’ (family life) with his daughter who would in turn support him in his spiritual pursuit. Umbrella, Bhagwad Gita, hand fan and sandals are the props used by the bride’s father to win his would-be-son-in-law back.

Emirati love guru Widad Lootah is not your typical marriage counsellor. She is an ultra-conservative Muslim who wears the full veil and talks a lot about sex, often quoting the Muslim holy book the Koran.On the eve of Valentine’s day, Lootah is calling on Muslim and Arab women everywhere to “embrace love and love making.””Don’t shy away from it, don’t feel ashamed by it. Enjoy it, you’re supposed to,” she said in an interview with AFP, adding that she is trying to break common misconceptions that sex in Islam is only about conceiving children.”It’s also about having fun,” she said.Dressed in a shroud of black revealing only her eyes — a choice, she says, that allows her to emulate the Muslim prophet’s wives — Lootah was frank and explicit about the importance Islam places on a healthy sex life.”It’s at the core” of a happy marriage, she said.

Marriages where you never even got to see your husband till the wedding night, to being able to meet the prospective spouse prior to marriage, to being able to choose your own spouse in an arranged set up, all the way to inter-caste, inter-racial, inter-faith marriages, and finally the era of love marriages.

But now, it seems even love isn’t a good enough measure to be married. Couples now seem to want to check out being married without being the pressure and finality of being married. Living together may seem exciting to some, unnerving to others, unethical to some and “the right way to go about things” for others. Living together is a time where you will reveal your faults and quirks, which so far you may have masked excellently over lunches, dinners and perhaps even short holidays together. Maybe you didn’t realise mornings are happy for you, but grumpy for them, that you prefer to brush and bathe post breakfast and they, before! It could be as inane as you wanting to read in bed before bedtime, and him wanting to watch sports. If you truly want to use living-in as a test patch for marriage, first understand that despite growing acceptance, it’s not the norm yet in India, and a section of society will “judge you”. If you’re planning to live in together, I advise you to be clear that you are willing to accept that the relationship may not culminate in marriage. And also, that given the role playing of provider and nurturer, you first openly discuss issues of money, cost sharing and division of responsibilities at home, before you move in together.

My parents had a very bad marriage and a messy divorce. It was an arranged marriage and apart from caste, it seems they had nothing in common. I am in love with a man since the last two years, but every time he asks me to marry him I freeze. I don’t want to endure what my mother went through. My mother is keen I marry him as I am now 25 years old. Please advise me.

I can understand the trauma you associate with marriage but not all marriages end up in disaster. You have known and loved this person so there is no harm in taking it to the next level. Given that he is pushing for marriage, I would suggest a period of living together, if it makes you feel better and more confident about your lives together. It’s something that requires money, trust and courage and is a huge leap of faith. But at least the exit clause is easier in the eventuality that it is a disaster. Having said that, don’t enter it with apprehensions; believe it to be the start of happy long future together. Make it happen!

I am a 15-year-old boy. I moved from Mahim to Andheri two years ago and miss my colony friends from there. I have tried to make friends in my new building but am finding it hard. There is a group of boys who are a few years older but whenever I try to talk to them or mingle, they try to bully me. The leader of the group is a boy named Sahil and he often calls me names or taunts me in front of the others. I don’t want to complain to my parents but am not sure how to handle the situation. Please help.

Forget them! Who wants to hang out with rude bullies just to fit in? Make some super friends in your school, join a club/gym and make some wonderful friends there too. Get them over to your building to hang out with you, so the building kids see you as someone who isn’t needy of them, but someone popular in your own circles. Keep it warm with the building guys. Remember, if you are nervous around them, they gain a sense of false power and their aggression loses value and impetus if you confidently smile.

I am a 24-year-old unmarried girl. My parents have been searching for a match for me since the last few months as they are keen that I marry soon. There is a man that I like and have got to know in the past month. He lives in my locality and is 25 years old. The only problem is he belongs to a different caste and is still studying. He says he doesn’t want to marry for another 2-3 years. Should I tell my parents about him or is it better to forget him and find someone else?

Your focus seems to be marriage, so don’t get into a complicated love situation and create confusion. There is no harm looking around, but find someone that fits all the necessary criteria. Tell your parents you’re happy to marry the man of their choosing, but of your liking!

Widad Lootah

Lootah noted that her 11 years as a marriage counsellor at the Dubai courthouse made her realise that “what happens (or doesn’t happen) in bed” is the main source of marital problems in the United Arab Emirates.Public, and in many cases private, discussions about sex are still taboo in much of the conservative Muslim world, a reality she says contradicts Islam’s approach to the subject.There are only two simple rules for sex in Islam: you must be married “and anal sex is strictly forbidden,” Lootah said.”Everything else, including all sexually intimate acts below the belly button, is allowed. Feel each other, touch each other, kiss each other all over… it’s OK.”The problem is, “there is so much shame and disgrace” associated with the enjoyment of sex in the Arab world.Lootah is an adamant believer in bringing the discussion of sex out into the open, although at times doing so has proven it can be a risky business.In 2009, she published the much-debated Muslim sex guide “Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples.”Her book, and her comments in interviews on the subject, initially triggered a slew of insults, condemnation and even threats against her life.”They called me all sorts of things: crazy, vile, immoral, criminal,” she said. “Some even called me a traitor and spy for Israel and America.”Today, Lootah is probably the UAE’s most prominent marriage counsellor, known by her clients as “Mama Widad.”Lootah has also vigorously lobbied her home government to introduce sexual education in Emirati schools.For older teens, “it’s very important that we educate them, both males and females, about sex… we have to prepare them psychologically and emotionally for it, and we have to teach them about the act itself.”But first, we must “educate the teachers so they can educate the students,” said Lootah, adding that such education would also help protect young children from sexual predators.They have to be “taught what form of adult-child interaction is appropriate and what’s not,” she said. “We need to teach them so they know to recognise the danger when it’s there.”She said the taboos surrounding sex have also contributed to high divorce rates in the Emirates and to generally unhappy marriages.In about a month, Lootah plans to submit her second book, “Top Secret Volume Two,” to the government censors, and in traditional Lootah style, its pages will contain a lot of sex talk.But this time, the topic of discussion is forbidden sex under Islam.”It’s about homosexual and lesbian relations and their effect on the institution of marriage,” said Lootah, adding that she had to tread carefully given the sensitivity of the subject and intense emotions it stirs in the Muslim world.When asked why she has taken on the cause of love and sex in Islam, Lootah argued that it was an issue of “women’s rights.””I can’t fix everything… but I can try and fix the role of women (in sex and marriage) in the Arab world.”As for her opinion of Valentine’s day, she says Islam forbids the celebration of non-Muslim holidays.”But if you consider Valentine’s day as a mere reminder to show one’s love to another, then why not? I don’t object to it,” she said. But “if that’s the case, then every day should be Valentine’s day.”Any last words of advice?”Experience love… even before marriage, that’s OK. But don’t do anything forbidden by Islam.”


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