By Asif Ahmad Bhat
Marriage is an important institution which has not only received immense approval from the society but also highly regarded in the realm of religion. According to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), “There is no foundation that has been built in Islam more loved by Allah, than marriage”. However, this institution of marriage has been highly degraded in the valley where overspending has become an increasingly norm. Locally termed as Khandar—wedding ceremony and Wazwan is a grand feast, the extravagant one, traditionally cooked and served to guests on marriage. Wazwan is believed to have landed here from Iran. It is an amalgam of dishes of different varieties numbering nine to over twenty prepared out of the flesh of sheep, goat, Oxen, buffaloes and so on. In addition, the dishes of chicken meat served to guests are also the part of Wazwan.
In spite of the fact that Wazwan has become a costly affair it has gained momentum in Kashmiri Society. The basic thought behind Wazwan is to create a mouth-watering dish out of every part of a slaughtered animal. Backbone is served as Kurma and Rogangosh. Shoulders provide Abhgosh. Ribs are cooked as Tabakmaz, muscles and fats are utilized for Rista and Goshtaba. Limbs are carved into Danifal. Some parts of alimentary canal along with left over pieces of meat are used for Methimaz. The soft portion of the thighs are pulverized for Kababs.
Waza (traditional Kashmiri chef of Wazwan) is in fact home and foreign ministry of marriage, so to speak. The unique thing about Waza is that he is not paid on the basis of dishes that he prepares but on the quantity of meet that he has to cook up in a particular marriage. Wazwan infuses a sense of egalitarianism within our society by making rich and poor share same trami( large plate).
However, these days, Wazwan has become a source of expressing and flaunting one’s status in the society. A typical kind of competition has ensued within the Kashmiri society in which people compete with each other on the quantity and number of delicacies served on a Wazwan. By preparing Wazwan with unlimited non-vegetarian dishes and inviting crowds of guests people want to establish some kind of status for themselves. To raise ones status, people spend huge expenditures on marriages which in turn puts heavy pressure on families who cannot afford the same. The pomp and show and the vulgar display of wealth may add to the status of one particular girl but it creates a barrier for thousands of girls who belong to economically weaker families.
This is not all. Wastage of the food is another area which needs to be looked into. Quintals of meat are cooked on marriage ceremonies and most of it gets wasted. It is often being said that the traditional Wazwan and its flavor got diluted not only by the addition of more dishes to it but also by carbonated drinks such as Coca-cola, Pepsi and so on. Most of the religious sects in Kashmir have openly talked against the extra spending on marriages yet this phenomenon persists. The irony is that even our deaths have become a platform where people have to prove their so called status by serving Wazwan.
Governments of various hues have tried to put a check to this extravagance. In its latest announcement, the Jammu and Kashmir government recently announced restrictions on the number of guests to be invited and also specified the number of dishes that can be served at both public and private gatherings, mostly weddings, in a bid to control the wastage of food and essential commodities in such ceremonies.
The authorities stated that it enforced restrictions only after receiving complaints against “injudicious use of essential commodities and extravagant expenditures being made in both private and public functions’’. Whereas, it has been noticed from many that large quantities of food items, besides beverages, sweets, are not only being served during these functions but most of it gets wasted and is thrown into dustbins. However government further stated that order will come into effect only after the month of March this year. While families will be allowed to invite only 500 people for their daughter’s wedding, the number has been restricted to 400 for the male side. The Government announced the limitation of hundred people for smaller functions such as Nikkha, Saathnaam (fixing of day for marriage) and so on. A complete complete ban has also been imposed on sending dry fruits and sweet packets with invitation cards.
The Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to ban big , extravagant weddings seems a welcome step and it must be embraced in good faith. This step must have come out as a shock to those who enjoyed having such extravagant ceremonies. Guest control and allied restrictions would certainly have come as a respite for poor families who could barely fulfill the basic needs of a marriage. Let us hope that guest control endures and society itself introspects and gets rid of this baleful and odious practice.
The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]