The Mussulmauns have permission from their Lawgiver to be pluralists in wives, as well as the Israelites of old. Mahumud's motive for restricting the number of wives each man might lawfully marry, was, say his biographers, for the purpose of reforming the then existing state of society, and correcting abuses of long standing amongst the Arabians.
My authority tells me, that at the period of Mahumud's commencing his mission, the Arabians were a most abandoned and dissolute people, guilty of every excess that can debase the character of man: drunkards, profligate, and overbearing barbarians, both in principle and action. Mahumud is said unvariedly to have manifested kindly feelings towards the weaker sex, who, he considered, were intended to be the companion and solace of man, and not the slave of his ungovernable sensuality or caprice; he set the best possible example in his own domestic circle, and instituted such laws as were then needed to restrain vice and promote the happiness of those Arabians who had received him as a Prophet. He forbade all kinds of fermented liquors, which were then in common use; and to the frequent intoxication of the men, were attributed their vicious habits, base pursuits, and unmanly cruelty to the poor females. Mahumud's code of laws relating to marriage restricted them to a limited number of wives; for at that period they all possessed crowded harems, many of the inhabitants of which were the victims of their reckless persecution; young females torn from the bosom of their families and immured in the vilest state of bondage, to be cast out upon the wide world to starvation and misery, whenever the base master of the house or tent desired to make room for a fresh supply, often the spoils of his predatory excursions.
By the laws of Mahumud his followers are restrained from concubinage; they are equally restricted from forced marriages. The number of their wives must be regulated by their means of supporting them, the law strictly forbidding neglect, or unkind treatment of any one of the number his followers may deem it convenient to marry.
At the period when Mahumud issued these necessary laws for the security of female comfort and the moral habits of the males, there existed a practice with the Arabs of forcing young women to marry against their inclination, adding, year by year, to the many wretched creatures doomed, for a time, to all the miseries of a crowded hut; and at last, when tired of their persons or unable to provide them with sustenance, turning them adrift without a home, a friend, or a meal. To the present day the law against forced marriages is revered, and no marriage contract can be deemed lawful without the necessary form of inquiry by the Maulvee, who, in the presence of witnesses, demands of the young lady, 'whether the contract is by her own free will and consent?' This, however, I am disposed to think, in the present age, is little else than a mere form of 'fulfilling the law' since the engagement is made by the parents of both parties, the young couple being passive subjects to the parental arrangement, for their benefit as they are assured. The young lady, from her rigid seclusion, has no prior attachment, and she is educated to be 'obedient to her husband'. She is taught from her earliest youth to look forward to such match as her kind parents may think proper to provide for her; and, therefore, can have no objection to accepting the husband selected for her by them. The parents, loving their daughter, and aware of the responsibility resting on them, are cautious in selecting for their girls suitable husbands, according to their particular view of the eligibility of the suitor.
The first marriage of a Mussulmaun is the only one where a public display of the ceremony is deemed necessary, and the first wife is always considered the head of his female establishment. Although he may be the husband of many wives in the course of time, and some of them prove greater favourites, yet the first wife takes precedence in all matters where dignity is to be preserved. And when the several wives meet--each have separate habitations if possible--all the rest pay to the first wife that deference which superiority exacts from inferiors; not only do the secondary wives pay this respect to the first, but the whole circle of relations and friends make the same distinction, as a matter of course; for the first wife takes precedence in every way.
Should the first wife fortunately present her husband with a son, he is the undisputed heir; but the children of every subsequent wife are equals in the father's estimation. Should the husband be dissolute and have offspring by concubines--which is not very common, --those children are remembered and provided for in the distribution of his property; and, as very often occurs, they are cherished by the wives with nearly as much care as their own children; but illegitimate offspring very seldom marry in the same rank their father held in society.
The latitude allowed by 'the law' preserves the many-wived Mussulmaun from the world's censure; and his conscience rests unaccused when he adds to his numbers, if he cannot reproach himself with having neglected or unkindly treated any of the number bound to him, or their children. But the privilege is not always indulged in by the Mussulmauns; much depends on circumstances, and more on the man's disposition. If it be the happy lot of a kind-hearted, good man to be married to a woman of assimilating mind, possessing the needful requisites to render home agreeable, and a prospect of an increasing family, then the husband has no motive to draw him into further engagements, and he is satisfied with one wife. Many such men I have known in Hindoostaun, particularly among the Syaads and religious characters, who deem a plurality of wives a plague to the possessors in proportion to their numbers.
The affluent, the sensualist, and the ambitious, are most prone to swell the numbers in their harem. With some men, who are not highly gifted intellectually, it is esteemed a mark of gentility to have several wives.
There are some instances of remarkable generosity in the conduct of good wives (which would hardly gain credit with females differently educated), not necessary to the subject before me; but I may here add to the praise of a good wife among these people, that she never utters a reproach, nor gives evidence by word or manner in her husband's presence that she has any cause for regret; she receives him with undisguised pleasure, although she has just before learned that another member has been added to his well-peopled harem. The good and forbearing wife, by this line of conduct, secures to herself the confidence of her husband; who, feeling assured that the amiable woman has an interest in his happiness, will consult her and take her advice in the domestic affairs of his children by other wives, and even arrange by her judgment all the settlements for their marriages, &c. He can speak of other wives without restraint, --for she knows he has others, --and her education has taught her, that they deserve her respect in proportion as they contribute to her husband's happiness. The children of her husband are admitted at all times and seasons, without restraint or prejudice; she loves them next to her own, because they are her husband's. She receives the mothers of such children without a shade of jealousy in her manner, and delights in distinguishing them by favours and presents according to their several merits. From this picture of many living wives in Mussulmaun society, it must not be supposed I am speaking of women without attachment to their husbands; on the contrary, they are persons who are really susceptible of pure love, and the generosity of their conduct is one of the ways in which they prove themselves devoted to their husband's happiness. This, they say, was the lesson taught them by their amiable mother, and this is the example they would set for the imitation of their daughters.
I do not mean to say this is a faithful picture of all the females of zeenahnah life. The mixture of good and bad tempers or dispositions is not confined to any class or complexion of people, but is to be met with in every quarter of the globe. In general, I have observed those females of the Mussulmaun population who have any claim to genteel life, and whose habits are guided by religious principles, evince such traits of character as would constitute the virtuous and thoroughly obedient wife in any country; and many, whom I have had the honour to know personally, would do credit to the most enlightened people in the world.
Should the first wife prove a termagant or unfaithful--rare occurrences amongst the inmates of the harem, --the husband has the liberty of divorcing her by paying down her stipulated dowry. This dowry is an engagement made by the husband on the night of Baarraat (when the bridegroom is about to take his bride from her parents to his own home). On which occasion the Maulvee asks the bridegroom to name the amount of his wife's dowry, in the event of separation; the young man is at liberty to name any sum he pleases. It would not prevent the marriage if the smallest amount were promised; but he is in the presence of his bride's family, and within her hearing also, though he has not yet seen her; --it is a critical moment for him, thus surrounded. Besides, as he never intends to separate from the lady, in the strict letter of the law, he cannot refrain from gratifying those interested in the honour he is about to confer by the value of the promised dowry, and, therefore, he names a very heavy sum, which perhaps his whole generation never could have collected in their joint lives. This sum would of itself be a barrier to divorce; but that is not the only object which influences the Mussulmaun generally to waive the divorce; it is because they would not publish their own disgrace, by divorcing an unfaithful or undutiful wife.
If the first wife dies, a second is sought after on the same principle which guided the first-- 'a superior to head his house'. In this case there would be the same public display which marked the first wife's marriage; all the minor or secondary wives being introduced to the zeenahnah privately; they are in consequence termed Dhollie wives, or brought home under cover.
Many great men appear to be close imitators of King Solomon, with whose history they are perfectly conversant, for I have heard of the sovereign princes in Hindoostaun having seven or eight hundred wives at one time in their palaces. This is hearsay report only, and I should hope an exaggeration.
The first marriage is usually solemnized when the youth is eighteen, and the young lady thirteen, or fourteen at the most; many are married at an earlier age, when, in the opinion of the parents, an eligible match is to be secured. And in some cases, where the parents on both sides have the union of their children at heart, they contract them at six or seven years old, which marriage they solemnly bind themselves to fulfil when the children have reached a proper age; under these circumstances the children are allowed to live in the same house, and often form an attachment for each other, which renders their union a life of real happiness.
There are to be found in Mussulmaun society parents of mercenary minds, who prefer giving their daughters in marriage as dhollie wives to noblemen or men of property, to the preferable plan of uniting them with a husband of their own grade, with whom the girl would most likely live without a rival in the mud-walled tenement; this will explain the facilities offered to a sovereign or nobleman in extending the numbers of his harem.
Some parents excuse themselves in thus disposing of their daughters on the score of poverty, and the difficulty they find in defraying the expenses of a wedding: this I conceive to be one great error in the economy of the Mussulmaun people, --unnecessary expense incurred in their marriage ceremonies, which hampers them through life in their circumstances. Parents, however poor, will not allow their daughter to be conveyed from their home, where the projected union is with an equal, without a seemingly needless parade of music, and a marriage-portion in goods and chattels, if they have no fortune to give beside; then the expense of providing dinners for friends to make the event conspicuous, and the useless articles of finery for the girl's person, with many other ways of expending money, to the detriment of the parents' finances, without any very substantial benefit to the young couple. But this dearly-loved custom cannot be passed over; and if the parents find it impossible to meet the pecuniary demands of these ceremonies, the girl has no alternative but to live out her days singly, unless by an agent's influence she is accepted as a dhollie wife to some man of wealth.
Girls are considered to have passed their prime when they number from sixteen to eighteen years; even the poorest peasant would object to a wife of eighteen.
There has been the same difficulty to encounter in every age of Mussulmaun history in Hindoostaun; and in the darker periods of civilization, the obstacles to settling their daughters to advantage induced the villagers and the uneducated to follow the example of the Rajpoots, viz., to destroy the greater proportion of females at their birth. In the present age, this horrid custom is never heard of amongst any classes of the Mussulmaun population; but by the Rajpoot Hindoos it is still practised, as one of their chiefs very lately acknowledged in the presence of a friend of mine. I have often heard Meer Hadjee Shaah declare that it was a common occurrence within his recollection, among the lower classes of the people in the immediate vicinity of Loodeeanah, where he lived when a boy; and that the same practice existed in the Oude territory, amongst the peasantry even at a much later date. One of the Nuwaubs of Oude, --I think Asoof ood Dowlah, --hearing with horror of the frequent recurrence of this atrocity in the remote parts of his province, issued a proclamation to his subjects, commanding them to desist from the barbarous custom; and, as an inducement to the wicked parents to preserve their female offspring alive, grants of land were to be awarded to every female as a marriage-portion on her arriving at a proper age.
It is generally to be observed in a Mussulmaun's family, even at this day, that the birth of a girl produces a temporary gloom, whilst the birth of a boy gives rise to a festival in the zeenahnah. Some are wicked enough to say, 'It is more honourable to have sons than daughters', but I believe the real cause is the difficulty to be encountered in settling the latter suitably.
The important affair of fixing upon a desirable match for their sons and daughters is the source of constant anxiety in the family of every Mussulmaun, from the children's earliest years to the period of its accomplishment.
There is a class of people who make it the business of their lives to negotiate marriages. Both men and women of this description are of course ingeniously expert in the art of talking, and able to put the best colouring on the affair they undertake; they occupy every day of their lives in roving about from house to house, and, as they have always something entertaining to say, they generally gain easy admittance; they make themselves acquainted with the domestic affairs of one family in order to convey them to another, and so continue in their line of gossiping, until the economy of every person's house is familiar to all. The female gossip in her researches in zeenahnahs, finds out all the expectations a mother entertains for her marriageable sons or daughters, and details whatever she learns in such or such a zeenahnah, as likely to meet the views of her present hostess. Every one knows the object of these visits, and if they have any secret that the world may not participate in, there is due caution observed that it may not transpire before this Mrs. Gad-about.
When intelligence is brought, by means of such agency, to the mother of a son who happens to be marriageable, that a lady of proper rank has a daughter to be sought, she consults with her husband, and further inquiries are instituted amongst their several friends, male and female; after due deliberation, the connexion being found desirable, the father will consult an omen before negotiations are commenced. The omen to decide the important step is as follows: --Several slips of paper are cut up, on half the number is written 'to be', on the other half, 'not to be'; these papers are mixed together and placed under the prayer-carpet. When the good Mussulmaun is preparing for his evening Namaaz he fails not in his devotions to ask for help and guidance in an affair of so much importance to the father as the happiness and well-being of his son. At the portion of the service when he bows down his head to God, he beseeches with much humility, calling on the great power and goodness of God to instruct and guide him for the best interest of his child; and then he repeats a short prayer expressive of his reliance on the wisdom of God, and his perfect submission to whatever may be His wise decree in this important business. The prayer concluded, he seats himself with solemn gravity on the prayer-carpet, again and again imploring Divine guidance, without which he is sure nothing good can accrue: he then draws one slip from under his carpet; if 'to be' is produced, he places it by his left side; --a second slip is drawn out, should that also bear the words 'to be' the business is so far decided. He then offers thanks and praises to God, congratulates his wife on the successful issue of the omen, and discusses those plans which appear most likely to further the prospects of their dearly-loved son. But should the second and third papers say 'not to be' he is assured in his heart it was so decided by 'that Wisdom which cannot err:' to whom he gives praise and glory for all mercies received at His hand: after this no overture or negotiation would be listened to by the pious father from the same quarter.
The omen, however, proving favourable, the affair is decided; and in order to gain the best possible information of the real disposition of all parties concerned, a confidential friend is sent to the zeenahnah of the young lady's mother to make her own observations on what passes within; and to ascertain, if possible, whether the report brought by the female agent was true or exaggerated; and finally, to learn if their son would be received or rejected as a suitor, provided advances were made.
The female friend returns, after a day or two's absence, to the anxious parents of the youth, and details all she has seen or heard during her visit. The young lady may, perhaps, have been seen (this is not always conceded to such visitors), in which case her person, her manners, her apparent disposition, the hospitality and good breeding of the mother and other members of the zeenahnah, are described; and lastly, it is hinted that, all other things suiting, the young lady being yet disengaged, the projected offer would not be disagreeable to her parents.
The father of the youth then resolves on sending a male agent in due form to negotiate a marriage, unless he happens to be personally acquainted with the girl's father; in which case the lady is desired to send her female agent on the embassy, and the father of the youth speaks on the subject in the meantime to the girl's father.
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 Mussulmaun rule) of the affair pending the marriage of her son.
The young lady to be sought (wooed we should 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 Syaad, his pedigree was traced up to Mahumud, 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 Meer Mahumud, my friend's son.
On the tray, with the pedigree, was laid a nuzza, or offering of five gold mohurs, and twenty-one (the lucky number) rupees; a brocaded cover, fringed with silver, 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 zeenahnah 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 twelvemonth, when the young lady would have accomplished her thirteenth year.
'Do you decide on having Mugganee 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 honour to the future bride of her son.
Mugganee 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 Hindoostaunie 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 Hindoostaun, except Kings or Nuwaubs sending khillauts to females, when this dress, called a jhammah, is invariably one of the articles.
The costly dresses for the present Mugganee my friend prepared at a great expense, and with much good taste; to which were added a ruby ring of great value, large gold ear-rings, offerings of money, the flower-garlands for the head, neck, wrists, and ankles, formed of the sweet-scented jessamine; 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 Meer Mahumud 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 Mugganee 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 Mussulmaun people, I was allowed to perform the part of 'officiating friend' on this occasion of celebrating the Mugganee. 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 zeenahnah 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 prescribed forms.
The lady of the mansion waited my approach to the dulhaun (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 musnud-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 taste of the lady of the house, I was surprised at the servants entering with trays, which they placed immediately before me, containing a full-dress suit in the costume of Hindoostaun. The hostess told me she had prepared this dress for me, and I must condescend to wear it. I would have declined the gaudy 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 Mugganee of the young Bohue 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 dulhaun 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 knees 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 forefinger 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 my presence seemed to inflict, the moment I had accomplished my last duty, which was to feed her with my own hand, 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 dulhaun, 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 musnud with Sumdun Begum, the female slaves entered with sherbet in silver basins. Each person taking sherbet is expected to deposit gold or silver coins in the tray; the sherbet-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 sherbet is presented to the guests, the money collected there is reserved for him. The produce of the two houses is afterwards compared, and conclusions drawn as to the greatest portion of respect paid by the friends on either side. The poor people find the sherbet-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.
After the Mugganee ceremony had been performed, and before the marriage was solemnized, the festival of Buckrah Eade occurred; --in the eleventh Letter you will find it remarked, the bride and bridegroom elect then exchange presents; --my friend was resolved her son's presents should do honour to both houses, and the following may give you an idea of an Eade-gift.
Thirty-five goats and sheep of the finest breed procurable, which I succeeded in having sent in their natural dress, instead of being adorned with gold-cloth and painted horns: it was, however, with some persuasion the folly of this general practice was omitted in this instance.
The guinah or garland, of flowers on a tray covered with brocade. The guinah are sweet-scented flowers without stalks, threaded into garlands in many pretty ways, with great taste and ingenuity, intermixed with silver ribands; they are formed into bracelets, necklaces, armlets, chaplets for the head, and bangles for the legs. There are people in Lucknow who make the preparing of guinahs a profitable business, as the population is so extensive as to render these flower-ornaments articles of great request.
A tray filled with pawns, prepared with the usual ingredients, as lime, cuttie (a bitter gum), betel-nut, tobacco, spices, &c.; these pawns are tied up in packets of a triangular form and covered with enamelled foil of many bright colours. Several trays of ripe fruits of the season, viz., kurbootahs (shaddock), kabooza (melons), ununas (pine apple), guavers, sherreefha (custard-apple), kummeruck, jarmun (purple olives), orme (mango), falsah, kirhnee, baer, leechie, ormpeach, carounder, and many other kinds of less repute.
Confectionery and sweetmeats, on trays, in all the varieties of Indian invention; a full-dress suit for the young lady; and on a silver tray the youth's nuzza of five gold mohurs, and twenty-one rupees.
The Eade offering of Meer Mahumud was escorted by servants, soldiers, and a band of music; and the young lady returned a present to the bridegroom elect of thirty-five goats and sheep, and a variety of undress skull-caps, supposed to be her own work, in spangles and embroidery. I may state here, that the Natives of India never go bare-headed in the house. The turban is always worn in company, whatever may be the inconvenience from heat; and in private life, a small skull-cap, often of plain white muslin, just covers the head. It is considered disgraceful in men to expose the head bare; removing the turban from the head of an individual would be deemed as insulting as pulling a nose in Europe.
Whatever Eade or festival may
the Mugganee and the final celebration of nuptials, presents are always
interchanged by the young bride and bridegroom; and with all such
there is one prevailing custom, which is, that though there should be
at hand but part of their own gifts, the trays are not allowed to go
without some trifling things to keep the custom in full force.
 The Koran (iv. 3)
to marry 'by twos, or threes, or fours'; but the passage has been
in various ways.
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