A week after the engagement ceremony of Shahana and Adil I found myself taking a slow, careful drive through the winding narrow roads of Matia Mahal in Old Delhi to attend my friend Shahana's haldi ceremony. Variously called manjha or haldi the ceremony traditionally follows the same ritual where ubtan (paste) of popular kitchen herbs from India such as turmeric etc is applied to the bride's face and body. According to Ayurveda a paste of turmeric brightens the complexion and hence the practice is being carried on in most Indian weddings regardless of religion. In a Muslim wedding, the ritual also marks the customary barring of the bride stepping out of the house or meeting the groom once her haldi ceremony is done till the time of the nikah. Back at the Mirza household, the ladies are dressed in traditional salwar kameez with Shahana wearing a dull yellow salwar kameez. She is made to sit on a silver pedestal with bowls of ubtan around her. Her friends and cousins and elder ladies of the house surround her. Amidst songs being played from Bollywood, her younger brother is the first person to smear the ubtan on her face. The ladies one by one come and apply the haldi ubtan and give her duas (blessings) for a fulfilling marriage. If up till now the mood at the upcoming Shaadi has been sober, it looks like the cousins have now decided to make their presence felt. After the ubtan and dinner, there is an impromptu DJ console that is set up by one of the cousins and the youngsters are on the floor jiving away to the latest Bollywood and often shaadi type numbers.
I am told that back at the Beg household, a similar ceremony is being held for Adil, the groom. The boy's side of the family too smears an ubtan on the groom and there is some singing and dancing to mark the celebrations. The groom is often also tied a safa (turban) around the head to distinguish him from rest of the crowd. The day after is the mehendi (henna) ceremony and everyone is already talking about what they will be wearing on mehendi. In a traditional Muslim wedding there is no concept of a cocktail party as the religion forbids them to consume any alcoholic beverage. The Mirza household is all decked up on day 3 of the ceremonies with fairy lights all over the house and in the front balcony. Today Shahana is wearing a green sharara and all the ladies of the house are getting henna patterns done. Shahana's henna is the most elaborate one. Traditionally this is also the day when the groom's side of the family sends over the dress and jewellery that the bride is supposed to wear on the day of the walima or the wedding reception thrown by the groom's side of the family. Now everyone is waiting for the big day – the day of the nikah. The mehendi and traditional wedding songs, often coupled with some religious naats (hymns) are sung by ladies till late into the night as everyone awaits the real celebrations.