“Betrothal.” Called in Hindustani mangni. No religious ceremony is enjoined by Muslim law, but it is usual for the Maulai or Qazi to be invited to be present to offer up a prayer for a bless on the proceeding.
The ceremony is usually accompanied with great rejoicings. The following is Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali’s account of a betrothal in the neighborhood of Lucknow:-
“A very intimate friend of mine was seeking for a suitable match for her son, and, being much in her confidence, I was initiated in all the mysteries and arrangements (according to Musalman rule) of the affair, pending the marriage of her son.
The young lady to be sought (wooed we have it), had been described as amiable and pretty – advantages as much esteemed as her rank; fortune she had none worth mentioning, but it was what is termed in Indian society a good and equal match. The overture was, therefore, to be made from the youth’s family in the following manner:-
On a silver tray covered with gold brocade, and fringed with silver, was laid the youth’s pedigree, traced by a neat writer in the Persian character, on richly embossed paper, ornamented and emblazoned with gold figures. The youth being a Saiyid, his pedigree was traced up to Muhammad, in both paternal and maternal lines, and many a hero and begum of their noble blood filled up the space from the Prophet down to the youthful Mir Muhammad, my friend’s son.
On the tray, with the pedigree, was laid a nazr, or offering of five gold mohurs, and twenty-one (the lucky number) rupees; a brocaded cover, fringed with sliver, was spread over the whole, and this was conveyed by the male agent to the young begum’s father. The tray and its contents are retained for ever, if the proposal is accepted; if rejected, the parties return the whole without delay, which is received as a tacit proof that the suitor is rejected: no further explanation is ever given or required.
In the present instance the tray was detained, and in a few days after a female from their family was sent to my friend’s house, to make a general scrutiny of the zananah and its inmates. This female was pressed to stay a day or two, and in that time many important subjects underwent discussion. The youth was introduced, and everything according with the views entertained by both parties, the fathers met, and the marriage, it was decided, should take place within a twelve-month, when the young lady would have accomplished her thirteenth year.
‘Do you decide on having mangni performed?’ is the question proposed by the father of the youth to the father of the young maiden. In the present case it was chosen and great were the preparations of my friend to do all possible honor to the future bride of her son.
Mangni is the first contract, by which the parties are bound to fulfil their engagement at an appointed time.
The dress for a bride differs in one material point from the general style of Hindustani costume: a sort of gown is worn, made of silver tissue, or some equally expensive article, about the walking length of an English dress; the skirt is open in front, and contains about twenty breadths of the material, a tight body, and long sleeves. The whole dress is trimmed very richly with embroidered trimming and silver riband; the deputtah (drapery) is made to correspond. This style of dress is the original Hindoo fashion, and was worn at the Court of Delhi for many centuries; but of late years it has been used only on marriage festivals amongst the better sort of people in Hindustan, except kings or nawabs sending khillauts to females, when this dress, called a jhammah, is invariably one of the articles.
The costly dresses for the present mangni my friend prepared at great expense, and with much good taste; to which were added a ruby ring of great value, large gold earrings, offerings of money, the flower-garlands for the head, neck, wrists, and ankles, formed of the sweet-scented jasmine; choice confectionery set out in trays with the pawns and fruits; the whole conveyed under an escort of soldiers and servants, with a band of music, from the residence of Mir Muhammad to that of his bride elect, accompanied by many friends of the family. These offerings from the youth bind the contract with the young lady, who wears his ring from that day to the end of her life.
The poorer sort of people perform mangni by the youth simply sending a rupee in a silk band, to be tied on the girl’s arm.
Being curious to know the whole business of a wedding ceremony amongst the Musalamn people, I was allowed to perform the part of ‘officiating friend’ on this occasion of celebrating the mangni. The parents of the young lady having been consulted, my visit was a source of solicitude to the whole family, who made every possible preparation to receive me with becoming respect. I went just in time to reach the gate at the moment the parade arrived. I was handed to the door of the zananah by the girl’s father, and was soon surrounded by the young members of the family, together with many lady-visitors, slaves, and women servants of the establishment. They had never before seen an English woman, and the novelty, I fancy, surprised the whole group; they examined my dress, my complexion, hair, hands, &c., and looked the wonder they could not express in words. The young begum was not amongst the gazing throng; some preliminary customs detained her behind the purdah, where it may be supposed she endured all the agony of suspense and curiosity by her compliance with the presscribed forms.
The lady of the mansion waited my approach to the great hall, with all due etiquette, standing to receive and embrace me on my advancing towards her. This ceremony performed, I was invited to take a seat on the carpet with her on the ground; a chair had been provided for me, but I chose to respect the lady’s preference, and the seat on the floor suited me for the time without much inconvenience.
After some time had been passed in conversation on such subjects as suited the tastes of the lady of the house, I was surprised at the servants entering with trays, which they place immediately before me, containing a full-dress suit in the costume of Hindustan. The hostess told me she had prepared this dress for me, and I must condescend to wear it. I would have declined the gandy array, but one of her friends whispered me ‘The custom is of long standing, when the face of a stranger is first seen, a dress is always presented; I should displease Sumdun Begum by my refusal; besides, it would be deemed an ill omen at the mangni of the young Bohur Begum if I did not put on the native dress before I saw the face of the bride-elect.’ These I found to be weighty arguments, and felt constrained to quiet their apprehensions of ill-luck by compliance; I therefore forced the gold dress and the glittering drapery over my other clothes, at the expense of some suffering from the heat, for it was at the very hottest season of the year, and the hall was crowded with visitors.
This important point conceded to them, I was led to a side hall, where the little girl was seated on her carpet of rich embroidery, her face resting on her knee in apparent bashfulness. I could not directly ascertain whether she was plain, or pretty, as the female agent had represented. I was allowed the privilege of decorating the young lady with the sweet jessamine guinahs, and placing the ring on the fore-finger of the right hand; after which, the ear-rings, the gold-tissue dress, the deputtah, were all in their turn put on, the offering of money presented, and then I had the first embrace before her mother. She looked very pretty, just turned twelve. If I could have prevailed on her to be cheerful, I should have been much gratified to have extended my visit in her apartment, but the poor child seemed ready to sink with timidity; and out of compassion to the dear girl, I hurried away from the hall, to relieve her from the burden of my presence seemed toinflict, the moment I had accomplished my last duty, which was to feed her with my own hands, giving her seven pieces of sugar-candy; seven, on this occasion, is the lucky number, I presume, as I was particularly cautioned to feed her with exactly that number of pieces.
Returning to the assembly in the dalhama; I would have gladly taken leave, but there was yet one other custom to be observed to secure a happy omen to the young people’s union. Once again seated on the musund with Sumdun Begum, the female slave entered with sherbert in silver basins. Each person taking sherbert is expected to deposit gold or silver coins in the tray; the sherbert-money at this house is collected for the bride; and when, during the three days’ performance of the marriage ceremony at the bridegroom’s house, sherbert is presented to the guests, the money collected there is reserved for him. The produce of the two houses is afterwards compared, and conclusion drawn as to the greater portion of respect paid by the friend on either side. The poor people find the sherbert-money a useful fund to help them to keep house; but with the rich it is a mere matter to boast of, that so much money was collected in consequence of the number of visitors who attended the nuptials.” (Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali’s Indian Musalmans, vol. i. p. 362.)
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam