By Quayyum Raja

Iran-Kashmir cultural similarities 

August 14, 2019

MASHHAD - On first of August 2019, I had been invited by a PhD Persian student of Ferdowsi University named Zeinab Salhi to attend the wedding of her brother Raza in their home village Ghohestan in Rostamoun.  It was a 6 hour drive from the Holy city of Mashhad.  I had never attended an Iranian wedding before. So, I was very excited. 

I spent many years in the United Kingdom after the Islamic Revolution of Iran, where we used to hear that the Iranian Revolution has negatively changed many things in Iran. People were oppressed and they lacked a freedom of choice in all aspects of life including marriage, female education, and jobs.

 It is unfortunate that the Muslim countries have lost so much trust in each other that the harsh visa restrictions have made the communication and cultural exchanges between them very difficult. Therefore, they don’t have first hand information about each other. Despite the fact that I had been very interested in Iranian culture and history, my visit to Iran has elucidate many things I heard from secondary sources about Iran’s cultural values.

 All I knew that Farsi was our language of instruction until the British occupied the subcontinent though it was still taught in Kashmir as a second language until mid 1960s. There are many official documentations in Farsi, including the Amritsar Agreement of 1846 between the British and the first Dogra ruler of Jammu Kashmir, Mahraja Gulab Singh.

  As the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatullah Khamenei highlighted in his speech in 1985 about Dr. Allama Iqbal’s contribution to Persian literature, Iqbal never visited Iran, but his poetry showed as if he was born, brought up and educated in Iran. Dr. Iqbal is called in the sub-continent as Allama Iqbal honoured with a title by the people as the Poet of East.

 He was a Kashmiri by background, but lived most of his years in Lahore. Therefore, Iran calls him Iqbal Lahori and I have seen among other things, a metro station in Mashhad after his name.  The Father of Islamic Revolution of Iran, Ayatullah Khomeini also had a family connection in Kashmir. 

Back to the Iranian wedding, I thought I had to book a room in the hotel from where I would go to the ceremony and then back to Mashhad, but I was warmly received by the family of the groom at the bus station and taken home, where I was introduced to the hosts and guests alike. I was treated like a family member.

  I was very impressed by the unity and spirit of the extended family seen as foundation of society. There were relatives from many different parts of Iran lloking after the matters exactly they way we do in Kashmir. The villagers have a shared “Mehman Khana” or the guest house, which was an equivalent to a marriage hall in some countries. The difference between a marriage hall and a mehman khana is that in marriage hall, people just come at the time of dinner where they eat and go.

 Whereas, in Mehman Khane, there is so much of sharing and caring, where people get to know each other well.  The order of wedding events in Kashmir is Mahndi, Baraat, Dowli and Waleema. The Iranian terms for these customs are “Shaam-e-Aroosi and Waleema-e-Aroosi”   

There is no forced marriage in Iran. The matter is discussed by the both families of bride and groom to reach a consensus and the priority is given to the wishes of the bride and groom. All the other customs such as Aqad, Jhehaz or dowry and Mehar are similar to those in Kashmir.   The Baraat goes (groom with families and friends) to the bride house to bring (the dowli) her home, where new life starts with new aims and challenges. There are similar emotions in the family with a mixed feelings of happiness and sadness when bride leaves her parents and brothers and sisters. 

What surprised me most is the fact that Iran and Kashmir have so much in common with each other, yet we know very little about it. I hope the efforts would be made to revive the golden past.  

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