From Bahawalpur to Bradford: South Asian weddings in the UK

Firstly, apologies for the delay in posting, I’ve been oop north in Bradford at my cousin’s wedding. These days, ‘Bradistan’ as it’s fondly (and not-so-fondly) known, has become a symbol of Britain’s struggle with multiculturalism, race and identity politics. I, however, am more interested in family politics. Specifically, those pertaining to three generations of my family – grandparents, aunties, uncles, grandaunties, granduncles, first cousins, second cousins, cousins three-times removed etc, all rammed into two four-bed semis during the year’s one freakishly cold and snowy week.

You might have watched Monsoon Wedding or perhaps Bend it Like Beckham and got some inkling of what Asian’s weddings are like. That’s not the half of it. Bombay or Birmingham, Maharashtra or Manchester, an Asian wedding is a sensory chappal, smacking you around the head with its heady sounds, smells and colours.

So here is a very condensed guide to Asian weddings:

1) People: Lots. There is NO SUCH THING as a ‘small, intimate affair’ when it comes to Asian weddings. Anything less than 300 guests is stingy. And numbers are easy to meet when they include extended family (many jetting in from overseas), friends and neighbours. At my wedding, mum also invited the guy who fitted our conservatory, because ‘he did such a good job, it would be rude not to.’

2) Time: Lots of it, a conservative Asian wedding lasts three days, most, a whole lot longer. On top of the main ceremonies, most people hold numerous ‘dholkis’ (which translates literally as ‘drum’) where friends and relatives hold parties in the run up to the main event. For my cousin’s wedding, we had the Nikah (Muslim marriage), Registration (official registry), Mehndi (Henna night), Shaadi (actual wedding reception, hosted by bride’s family) and Walima (post-wedding reception, hosted by groom’s family).

3) Henna: For the bride’s hands and feet, applied in intricate designs. Normally applied on the Mehndi night which is the closest thing we have to a ‘Hen night’. Traditionally women only, although these days more and more boys involved. Girls sing and dance and generally cause mayhem.

Bride on henna night

4) Sweets: Lots and lots of sticky ones to be consumed at every opportunity. Everyone has a favourite. Traditional wedding sweets include: Ladoo’s (gram flour, saffron flower, rice flour, cardamom, vast amounts of sugar), Gulab Jaman (milk solids deep fried and soaked in sugar syrup with rose or cardamom essence) or Jalebis, (wiggly deep-fried batter soaked in syrup). Deep-frying and sugar syrup feature heavily.

Sticky sweets & henna

5) Plump aunties: see point 4.

6) Kids: Again, lots. Noisy ones. Extremely cute, you will step on at least one during festivities.

Kids and fizzy drinks. Uh-oh...

7) Fizzy drinks: I don’t know if there’s some kind of Coca Cola gene present in Asian people but we love ‘em.

8) Singing: Traditionally to the dholki drum on the henna night. One girl plays the drum while the others clap and sing along. It can turn into a face-off, with women from the groom’s family taking turns against women from the bride’s family.

9) Dancing: As above, to anything from traditional Asian music, modern Bollywood to ahem, Beyonce. Normally executed with varying levels of success. Captured on video, to be laughed at later.

10) Smiling: And laughing. Unless you’re the bride, in which case it’s best to look sombre and slightly nervous. Traditionally, marriage was the point at which a woman left her family home to go and live with her husband and his family. Often, the marriage was (and still is) arranged so the usual form was for the bride to look demure and then have a little cry as she bade farewell to her family. This tradition continues today, with 87.5 per cent* of Asian brides crying when they leave the wedding venue.

11) Bride and Groom. Mandatory.

There’s a whole lot more, but I’m suffering from a post-wedding sugar ‘hangover’ and need to grab a jelabi so I’m off!

*Figure based on my own personal research of 32 UK-based weddings over a period of twenty years. Weddings were of family, friends and ‘people mum knows whose names I don’t remember.’

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4 thoughts on “From Bahawalpur to Bradford: South Asian weddings in the UK

    • Cheers Eidard,

      Really pleased you enjoyed it and thanks to Om for spreading the word! Next blog post coming soon on my attempt at tapping into my innate Eastern ability to dance. Ahem.

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