A Muslim Wedding in Mauritius  
All Muslims in Mauritius originate from India and as such they follow the same customs and traditions prevailing in the sub-continent. It is difficult to create the atmosphere of such a wedding with words and pictures only. One has to attend all the rituals in person to be impregnated with the feelings and emotions that characterize such a happening. What is written here can only give an idea of how a typical wedding takes place in a traditional Muslim family in Mauritius. Basically there is a lot of exchange of gifts, to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two new families. The gifts may take many forms. One very popular item is a small white envelope stuffed with a bank note, which is offered on several distinct occasions more out of fun than anything else. There will be also a lot of meals served, although, in the pure Islamic tradition, no alcoholic beverages will accompany these meals.

Boy meets girl. Some times this is how it starts but very often, and specially in the country side, the parent of a girl will ask an acquaintance to look for a suitable match for her. The Agwa, as this person is called, will normally find someone in his neighbourhood or will ask for help from his relatives and friends. The basic requisite is that the girl should still be a virgin. Once the match is found, the engagement ceremony, known as Mangni, will be celebrated at the girl's place. Close relatives of the boy will form a cortège and leave his place, with the women carrying decorated trays loaded with gifts such as clothings, perfumes, fruits, candies and pastries. These trays will be exchanged at the girl's place with what the boy will receive in turn. A short prayer (Farteha) is said among the men of both sides and then the boy is seated next to the girl among a gathering of the ladies. After some time the girl will go inside to wear the clothes that have been brought and will come back to exchange engagement rings. Cakes and soft drinks are meanwhile ditributed to the guests. The woman folks from both sides will then move one by one to kiss and congratulate the betrothed, surreptitiously slipping into their hands a small white envelope containing some money. It would seem that each guest has brought his own cameraman to take pictures or shoot on video.
Afterwards, the procession will make its way back, leaving the boy behind to enjoy dinner with his future in-laws.

The wedding date is fixed on a mutual agreement between both parties but cannot take place during the holy month of fasting (Ramadaan). Each side will invite their own guests separately. In the low-income groups, some guests may be invited to the wedding hall only, while others are invited to attend the big dinner as well. The wedding hall may be either a tarpaulin shelter erected at their residence, or a rented reception hall. Almost all weddings are celebrated on Sundays at around two o'clock in the afternoon.

Preparations will start on Friday with the erecting of the tarpaulin shelter wherever there is some space around, some time even in the street. A prayer (Khatam) will be said in the afternoon and dinner served to close relatives.
The Mehendi Ceremony

This is performed on Saturday night.

Women from the boy's side will come to the girl's place with decorated trays loaded with .... etc. They will dress the girl in red and symbolically apply some henna (also called Mehendi) to her hands, although the hands and feet of the girl will have previously been beautifully decorated with henna by expert ladies. The girl will wear a red garland round her neck. All guests will gather under the tarpaulin shelter to watch the ceremony while recorded music and songs are being played. Cakes and soft drinks will be distributed to the guests. Afterwards the boy's relatives will reurn to his place.

Later on the girl's relatives will proceed to the boy's place for the same ceremony, but this time henna is applied only to two fingers on the boy's right hand.

When the rituals are over, there will be dancing, merry-making and some ragging (usually locating an unsuspecting individual and dumping confetti into his mouth).

The rest of the night is spent in preparing the ingrediants that will be needed for the next day's big dinner party.

Hands decorated with henna

Feet decorated with henna
 The Wedding Ceremony

A group of women, known as Daala, will proceed to the bride's place to dress her in the wedding gown and jewels which the boy has offered her. Most of the time the dress is of European style with veil and crown but some time it will be of Oriental style, accompanied by a white garland. The bride will be escorted by an unmarried brother or cousin to her wedding hall where the ladies have gathered for the occasion. The father of the bride (called the Wakil) will choose two other male relatives (called the Gawaas) and will go and ask her if she is willingly consenting to the marriage. All men will then move to a nearby mosque to wait for the religious ceremony to take place.

On the groom's side, the mother will make him drink a glass of milk at home after a short prayer, and will then go to welcome her guests at their wedding hall. A cortège of men, called the Baraat, will accompany the groom to the mosque mentioned before. The groom will be escorted by his father. At the nuptial ceremony, called the Nikah, the priest will first ask the father of the bride if he accepts to give her daughter in marriage. Then he will turn to the groom and will ask him if he is accepting the bride in marriage. All questions and answers are repeated three times, after which a prayer is said to bless the union. The groom will be offered a glass of sugared water of which he must drink half. The rest is quickly taken to the bride for her to drink, together with an envelope containing an amount of money called the Moharr. This money is symbolically offered by the groom to the bride to start her financial independence. The men will then disperse after being served with cakes and some of them will accompany the groom to the bride's wedding hall. The groom (or Dulha) and the bride (or Dulhine) will be seated next to each other on a raised dais and will exchange wedding rings while music is being played. Meanwhile cakes will be distributed to the assistance. Group photos will be taken as well as video filming, and gift envelopes exchanged. After about one hour the groom and bride will take leave to proceed to the groom's wedding hall, and the bride will be accompanied by a chaperon. Usually the bride sheds one or two tears while saying good-bye. There the meeting will last for another hour, with group photos, video, gift envelopes ... etc. At last the groom will take the bride to his residence and the guests will disperse.
In the afternoon both sides will receive their guests for dinner. Now, not only close relatives, but distant ones, as well as friends, neighbours and other dignitaries will be invited. In some way this is the best part of the wedding celebrations, as it is an opportunity for all relatives to meet and have a chat after dinner. The festivities often last well into the night.
The meal served for dinner is called Briyani and is cooked in large copper cauldrons or Dègues. It is sometime believed that the success of a wedding is measured in terms of the number and size of these Dègues. This Briyani is a highly spiced dish with rice, potatoes and meat expertly prepared by special cooks known as Bandaris. The preparation is such that the highly-seasoned meat, potatoes and spices lie at the bottom, with layers of boiled rice added on top. The lid is sealed to the cauldron with dough and retained in place with a weighty stone. The whole thing is then left to be vapour-cooked. Afterwards, the top layers of rice are removed and placed in a separate pot. Before being served, portions of rice, meat and potatoes are mixed in a large aluminium tray and then distributed in plates to the guests. Salad made with carrot and cucumber, as well as sour pickle, complement the dish.

Dègues containing Briyani

Unmixed Briyani in the dègue.

Briyani being mixed in large aluminium tray.

Tarpaulin shelter in the street.
After dinner there may be more merry-making. Some of the girl's parents may come to pay her a visit. On the night of Sunday, the bride will sleep in a separate room, accompanied, or rather closely guarded, by her chaperon, also known as a Lock-Knee.
Honeymoon

On Monday the groom and the bride will spend the day at the latter's place for the last celebration known as Chowtari. A delicious lunch will be served to close relatives, followed by sweet dish known as (Kheer). Again photos, video, envelope ... etc. Boy and girl will then wear new clothes offered by the girl's parents. Early in the afternoon the newly married couple will return to the boy's residence, leaving the Lock-Knee lady behind, but carrying suitcases filled with the girl's clothings and other belongings, and carton boxes containing the presents she has received for her wedding. Now the girl will sob and shed more bridal tears as she hugs her parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and neighbours.

Once at the boy's place, they will wear simpler clothes and will proceed to enjoy their honeymoon either in a rented bungalow at the seaside or in a big hotel. They usually take along with them a small stock of fortifying foodstuff and drinks.

On Tuesday morning the husband will send news to his parents that the marriage has been consummated without any problem. Two or three lady relatives from the boy's side will then proceed to the girl's residence to announce the good news to her mother, who is then offered a garland and sweet dishes.

The wedding is over. It is customary for the couple to now pay a visit to their relatives to thank them for their attendance, and also to offer some of them a small gift. In return, these relatives will invite the couple for dinner at some time or other.

That used to be the traditional way to celebrate such a wedding. People have now become too busy to be able to devote three or four days for attending ONE such complete wedding ceremony. So nowadays the Nikah is celebrated on Friday nights with only the men attending. The Mehendi ceremony has almost vanished. There is also a tendency to have the big (Briyani) dinner organized by a catering agency. Guests are politely requested not to offer boxed gifts; the reason is that after the wedding, the couple find themselves with a lot of identical gift items which are commonly available in every gift shop.
November 2013

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