Hennabandan is the night before the wedding, known as the Henna Night. The bride and groom are brought together and they paint henna on each other’s hands; after this, all the guests paint their hands, too. The groom’s family brings enough henna for all the guests to the bride’s house, and designs the presentation by putting the dish of henna ink in a silver tray with candles all around. When they arrive, the bearer of the henna comes to the middle of the room and dances with the dish, then hands it to other close relatives to do the same. The groom’s mother puts henna on both the groom’s and bride’s hands. Before and after the henna painting, there is dancing and celebrating.

The wedding is stressful, both for the bride and the groom. The girl’s family starts preparing at least six months before the wedding in order to make the house ready for a wedding party (or book a restaurant). The groom’s family has to pay for these preparations as part of the money they give to the bride’s family. Both sides start making new clothes, including team clothes for dances such as Afghanistan’s national dance, the atan, or any other program they may include in the ceremony.

On the wedding day, the bride and groom come from the beauty salon and are treated as the king and queen of the party. The close relatives stand in the doorway—girls on one side, boys on the other—to welcome the guests. The guests are dressed in their very best finery and jewels. Musicians play and a film unit is set up, and much more, depending on the groom’s financial situation. In every party, the families change their brightly colored outfits up to three or four times.

The music always stops during the azhan—the time for prayer and dinner. An abundance of delicious food is brought to the table by servants—kebabs, qabli palao, chalaw, vegetables, fruits, and all other kinds of things including side dishes like torshi and sticky rice. The way the servants work is very interesting, as they are very fast and have so many things to carry. They work very professionally, and when the guests are done, they clear out quickly.

After lunch or dinner, the couple cuts the cake, and more relaxed music plays as the guests are served by the families. They then play faster songs for dancing, which continues until nekah, when the mullah comes and the bride and groom’s families mutually enter into the contract of marriage. It is a “social contract between bride and groom,” and the pair must confirm that they have accepted. The bride and groom are put under a shawl, and the bride reads a few verses from the Holy Qu’ran before the groom lifts her veil to see her. Years ago, this was the first time that the bride and groom would see each other.

Asata boro, mahe man asta boro” means “walk slowly my light of night go slowly.” It is an old, traditional, sad and beautiful song that musicians play when the bride and groom arrive and depart the wedding hall. Before the bride and groom leave, they do the ayna masaaf. The close relatives of the groom hold an intricately woven blanket over the heads of the newlyweds and look at each other in the mirror while reading from the Holy Qu’ran. After they lift the blanket up, they feed each other a dessert called malida. During the wedding, they perform the atan.

Mostly, brides cry when they leave the wedding hall and when they play the song. When the bride and groom leave, they go straight to groom’s house, but before entering, a chicken, sheep, or cow is killed in front of the bride and groom’s feet and the blood is spread on their shoes. The bride’s family comes from the wedding hall to the groom’s house, and leave only after having tea; then, early in the morning, the bride’s family brings breakfast to the newlyweds.

Often the bride’s family has very high expectations of the groom, such as hosting 2,000 guests in the hotel and providing very expensive jewelry. Most of the time this leads to conflict between the families, which can be a bad start for the bride in the groom’s house—especially when they have to repay the cost of the wedding. After the marriage, the bride lives with the groom’s family. In families with co-wives, every wife has their own room, kitchen, and belongings. The relationship between two wives can be like sisters, or like enemies—which will turn the house into a battlefield for each other and for their husband.

Regardless of everything else, almost every mother-in-law will want the new wife to be pregnant within three to four months!

By B. Fatima A.