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The Kerala Wedding Experience III: Muslim

The Kerala Wedding Experience III: Muslim

December 18, 2010

For the final part of the series, a view from somewhere near the inner family circle - but not quite inside...

The Hindu and Christian weddings I wrote about earlier were the ceremonies of the more ubiquitous and integrated faiths of Kerala. If a visitor stays here for any length of time longer than a month, he or she will invariably be invited to a Hindu and/or a Christian marriage by some open and welcoming new friend, such is the ease of meeting and befriending members of both faiths. Kerala’s Muslims, on the other hand, live their lives largely behind closed doors – as a group they are both ostracised and withdrawn, generally living in segregated communities. Grand old mosques dot the landscape and announce their presence five times a day over a loudspeaker, but in public, their faithful tend to keep a dignified and impenetrable silence.

I am fortunate that my good friend Shibu, who works in the tourist trade on Varkala’s cliff, is Muslim, and has invited me into his life in every manner possible, including the marriage of his youngest sister last year.

In contrast to the Hindu and Christian weddings I have been to, where I was merely an observer, this time I was invited to be an active part of proceedings. Shibu’s family is not wealthy, so the function was to be held at his home in a small village near Varkala; this meant a full night’s work for almost everyone. A couple of cousins joined the catering team and made a massive batch of parathas, the bride-to-be (in her sparkling wedding sari) sat cross-legged and made flower garlands of all colours, and Em and I helped the older kids decorate a bedroom for the new couple. We spent hours taping paper streamers and bright plastic decorations to the walls.

All this was done with an overriding calmness and lack of fuss, even by Shibu as he flitted from station to station checking on progress and performing all unfilled tasks. This carried through to the next day, when I was asked to join the men of the family as they travelled to the groom’s house and formally invited them to come for the ceremony. Before that, however, came an important prayer to remind everyone that we owe all of this to Allah and hope that he will bless the occasion. A priest led our select group, sitting in a rough circle on plastic chairs in Shibu’s yard, his voice deep and barely above a whisper. As he gently intoned his words of praise, the other men quietly responded with ‘Insh’Allah’ and other phrases where appropriate. These were a few moments of near stillness and utter peace; all sounds in the neighbourhood seemed to cease.

We left, and 45 minutes later we arrived at the groom’s house to formally invite him. An economy of words were spoken on either side; everyone seemed to know their lines by heart. After a quick cup of pink water, we 12 piled back into our minivan, and the groom’s extended family clambered aboard four full-size, brightly coloured buses bearing slogans like ‘Total Travel Solutions’ and ‘Executive Coach’. Another 45 minutes and we’d arrived back at Shibu’s, where half of us were dropped and the other half – Shibu and a few seniors – headed to the nearby mosque to meet with the groom and his respected elders to carry out the marriage proper. Neither the congregation nor the bride were present, which I suppose makes the Muslim wedding the shortest of all I’ve been to from an observer’s point of view.

With both sides of the congregation together at Shibu’s, we milled about under a huge tarp drinking water and exchanging a few words, while the children played (mostly) nicely. As with the Hindu and Christian ceremonies, the women of the congregation wore saris of all colours and designs, while the men stuck to plain pastel dress shirts and starched white mundus. The colour that was so prevalent at the weddings of those other two faiths wasn’t the same here; it was in the trees that surrounded us in the open air. Looking at some of the elderly women sitting patiently, it struck me that perhaps the colour of this particular wedding lay not in the here and now, but in the pasts of their weathered faces.

A short while later the couple arrived, the bride having first gotten married in absentia then met her husband for the first time on the street round the corner. They walked slowly and silently past us, looking very young and uncertain, but a flicker of a smile crossed the bride’s lips as she glanced at her friends and family watching her pass. The couple were seated next to each other at a specially decorated table and served a helping of parathas and beef. As the rest of us moved to sit at the other tables, a chatter started up and grew into a happy, noisy ambience: the calm and dignified air lifted. At last, it was time to eat, to talk, to laugh and to celebrate.


  • Shoaib Najeeb
    Shoaib Najeeb
    23.03.11 03:53 PM
    Hi Morris,
    I think you should have done a little more research before you wrote this article...
    So I am going to try and straighten out a few things you mentioned in your article:
    Ostracised and withdrawn – Kerala is probably the only state in India where Muslims are mainstream. Muslims are not backward here unlike in other states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and almost all North Indian states. The community has active participation in government, politics, cinema, Law enforcement and education.
    I really think you should make a visit to the Northern part of the state AKA Malabar Region. I am pretty sure you would change your perception of Muslims in Kerala after the visit. This region houses the oldest community of Muslims (Moplahs/Mappillas)in India as Islam found its way here in the 7th century AD and the community has had its influence on the Culture, Language(distinct dialect), and Cuisine(largely Non -veg).
    Make a visit to Calicut sometime and I am pretty sure you would find plenty of things worth writing about. Come try out the some meat dishes or different styles of biriyanis on offer.

    Shoaib Najeeb.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    06.01.11 10:52 AM
    Thanks, Rajiv! How did it go?
  • Rajiv
    28.12.10 02:24 AM
    Wonderful description Morris,
    Haven't been able to capture Muslim wedding yet. but my colleague is getting married on 2nd Jan'11 and I am to be part of the wedding.Like you this will be my first experience of this kind and first in Kerala. Shall update after that.

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