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Monday, February 18, 2013

Beneath Burqa, a Mangalsutra and Chooda

It is good to read these pieces and hope more and more people highlight the commonalities, so we all can relate with each other as opposed to building a barrier around us.
I am amazed at the Times of India story, as if Mangalstura and chooda are a new thing. It's been around. My mother, sister and my late wife wore the mangal sutra, it is a beautiful tradition where the husband puts the black bead necklace around the wife's neck, almost identical to the rings exchange ( I have included a few pictures below). The bindi (dot on the forehead) is not common among Muslims, but is prevalent, see the pictures of a Bangladeshi Muslim or Hindu wedding, you cannot differentiate between a Muslim and Hindu.. why should you? 
Culture is an external manifestation, faith is internal for most people, but some of them wear it on their sleeves. The Punjabi Sikh, Hindu or Muslim women nearly dress alike, in the respective places of worships, they nearly have the same tradition of pulling the pallu (part of the saree or a scarf) over their head. Our culture, i.e. the culture of the subcontinent is fairly similar with variations in regions and sub-sects and religions.
As an interfaith wedding officiant (minister), I have performed some unique weddings - between a Jewish woman and a Christian man, Jain boy and a Muslim girl; a Hindu girl and a Christian man.... it is not a religious wedding, but a social wedding with religious flavor, so the family and friends feel a sense of wedding. there is a Sikh and Muslim wedding in the making... but I don't think they should marry, I have advised them against it, there is no compatability, the guy is pushing her to convert and any compulsion in relation is bound to affect them in the long run. There is a Jain and a Hindu wedding coming up, the family just wants to hear my unifying sermon, ... .  so they asked me to do it for them and God willing, I will. So many kids feel a sense of in-completion when they get married because their Rabbi, Pastor, Pundit, Gyaniji or Imam declines to perform the wedding. No one should feel that, there is a need to be fulfilled and I am pleased to help out the kids.

If you attend at least a few Bengali, Malayalee, Tamilian, Gujarati, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Punjabi, UP, Bihari, Kashmiri and south Indian weddings and focus on similarities... all rituals are designed to prolong the process... ... Wedding is a time for every one to be a part of it... you will enjoy each one of them. I am blessed to have attended just about every wedding.. However, I have not attended an Arab wedding, but have Vietnamese, Chinese, Latino and other weddings
Enjoy, there is more common between people than we can see.
Beneath burqa, a mangalsutra and chooda
By Maria Akram, TNN | Feb 2, 2013, 01.48 AM IST

Young Muslim women in India, and even Pakistan, can be increasingly seen sporting the chooda, mangalsutra and often the sindoor.
NEW DELHI: As burqa-clad Sumaira walks past the streets of Jama Masjid, there's nothing really striking about her. That's until she flashes the bright red bangles she's wearing — the kind that newly married Hindu women have around their wrists.

Young Muslim women in India, and even Pakistan, can be increasingly seen sporting the chooda, mangalsutra and often the sindoor. And they see no taboo in it, taking it as a fashion statement, something that adds to their 'just married' look.

''Wearing a chooda doesn't make me a Hindu or a lesser Muslim," says 21-year-old Sumaira. "See, among Muslims there is nothing that differentiates married women from those who are still single. I have been fascinated with choodas ever since I was a kid. So that was one of the first things I bought after my engagement. In fact, my cousin Saima, too, wore one at her nikah." So did Huda Ahmad, also from the Jama Masjid area here, when she got married last week. To her surprise, none of her relatives objected.

It's not only the chooda. The demand for mangalsutras is picking up, and not just in India but also in Pakistan where many of those who ask for it attribute it to the influence of India's enormously popular saas-bahu soaps.

Two years ago, when Naseema Aziz, a resident of Karachi, visited her relatives in Delhi they were startled to see her buy seven diamond-studded mangalsutras from Karol Bagh. "Mangalsutra is a beautiful neckpiece and goes with every suit," Naseema explained over phone.

"If one is wearing it out of choice, there's nothing wrong in it. In Pakistan everyone knows I am a Muslim. Merely wearing a mangalsutra won't have me confused for a Hindu."

Jewellers in Delhi confirm this trend. "In the past two-three years, we have seen a growing number of Muslim women, some in burqas, ask for the mangalsutra," says Ankit Kohli, owner of Raj Jewellers. "They prefer the ones that have diamond pendants."

With the mangalsutra and chooda finding favour among Muslim women, how can the sindoor, that eternal sign of a married Hindu girl, be left behind? But while most Hindu women prefer red sindoor, Muslims tend to go for orange. Interestingly, in parts of Kolkata the two different shades have come to distinguish women from the two communities.

Rizwana, who works as a nanny in Kolkata, has seen her mother with orange sindoor. She followed suit when she herself got married in 2010. "Hindu women use red and we orange. Don't women in Delhi do the same?" the 24-year-old asked. In Bihar, however, many Hindu women also use  orange sindoor.

This confluence of cultures can these days be witnessed during Muslim weddings too. Some of them come complete with what resembles the sangeet ceremony.

Omar's wedding in Delhi is on February 23 and he's busy not just with his shopping but frenetic dance rehearsals. "Though the wedding is on the 23rd, the nikah will take place on the 10th. And there is a sangeet-cum-mehendi function with dance performances by relatives and friends. Both Hina, my fiancee, and I will be performing," says the excited man.

When asked why the nikah was being held before the functions, he says, "If we perform together before the nikah, some of our elderly relatives might not like it that the girl and boy are dancing away without even getting formally hitched."
In Indian tradition, the bride is prepared for marriage in a few different ceremonies. The Chooda ceremony is an intimate gathering of the bride’s extended family.   It begins with a havan or puja performed by the pandit.  In traditional families the oldest mama and mami will keep fast until the chooda.  The set of 21 cream and red bangles, the chooda, are not shown to the girl until just before the ceremony.  Historically they were made of ivory, however, since it is banned they are now made of plastic. The chooda is then placed onto the brides wrist by her uncle, and everyone at the puja are suppose to touch the chooda in order to offer their good wishes to the bride. Kalira may be tied to the bride’s wrist at this time as well. 

Chooda 1 copy

Depending on your family this may be the extent of the chooda ceremony, or the chooda ceremony may be preceded by a mauli ceremony.  The Mauli is when a holy sting is tied by the pandit on the bride's wrist, and four lamps are lit.  She is then seated in front of them.  Oil is constantly added to the diyas providing a beautiful glow to the bride's face.  A paste of tumeric powder and mustard oil is applied to her body and then the bride is given a bath in holy water.

Chooda 2 landscape copy

Conventionally, an indian bride dresses in her bridal attire, the bridal lenga or sari.Which  per tradition is given by her maternal uncle. US brides often choose to have the chooda ceremony a few days before the wedding.  Newlywed brides will wear their chooda up to their first anniversary. Since that might not go over well with your work clothes, you can keep them in your temple at home.
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Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place and standing up for others as an activist. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at www.TheGhousediary.com. Mike has a strong presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News, fortnightly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site www.MikeGhouse.net indexes everything you want to know about him.

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