KARACHI: Dressed in colorful apparel, 80 Hindu couples, from across Pakistan’s Sindh province, vowed to honor their partners for life at a mass wedding in Karachi on Sunday.
Faisal Edhi, son of late Pakistani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, took part in the rituals while a Hindu priest, Maharaj Jay Kumar, recited a few verses to solemnize the weddings.
“Edhi Sb, when he was alive, would regularly attend our grand weddings. Today, his son, Faisal is among us, giving a message of interfaith harmony to the world, a message that we Pakistanis live together, mourn together and laugh together,” Ramesh Vankwani, president of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), a non-governmental organization, which has been organizing mass weddings for the past 12 years, told Arab News.
The first event, which was held in 2008, saw 35 couples get married at the time. That number has since grown to 100 over the years.
“This year, 80 couples were chosen out of those who had applied and were scrutinized, bringing the total to more than 1,200 who have been married thus far,” Vinod Premlani, an organizer, told Arab News.
The process itself, he added, is very tedious.
For the purpose, applications are sought from community members through the PHC’s district units at least three months prior to the event.
The PHC’s committee then scrutinizes the applications, shortlisting the most deserving candidates.
Those selected are then required to provide their National Identity Card and other documents for the purpose.
Unique to Karachi, the mass weddings cost Rs8 million to arrange – funds that are sourced from the community or sponsored by banks and other entities.
On any given day, mass weddings take nearly two hours to complete.
For Sunday’s event, which was held at the Railway Ground along I.I. Chundrigar Road, the couples traveled from different parts of interior Sindh to participate in the rituals.
After a brief announcement by Vankwani, Maharaj Kumar continued with the rituals which required all the brides and grooms to take individual vows for their partners.
Vankwani said such events are necessary for any society as they promote “strong social bonds.”
“Strong social bonds are developed among the participants as they celebrate their big day in a joint gathering. We also provide financial support – amounting to more than Rs100,000 ($647) – to the couples so that they can start their life with honor and dignity,” Vankwani said, adding that it also projects a positive image of Pakistan on the international stage.
“We want to show the international community that non-Muslims enjoy complete freedom to organize and participate in socio-religious ceremonies, too,” he said.
It’s a thought, Edhi says, which is unique to the idea of Pakistan. “Today, I am very happy that deserving couples were married with such dignity. These are the sons of the Sindh soil and have been living here for thousands of years. We believe in humanity and are here to show that we are together,” he said.
Edhi wasn’t the only Muslim to participate in the event. “I come here every year. It’s a brilliant cultural event where the poor are given a lot of respect,” Dr. Karamat Ali, a social activist and executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research told Arab News.
Abdul Rasheed, a 50-year-old resident of Sangar who was accompanying a Hindu couple, said he was at the event because his friends were like a family to him.
While organizers said that the mass wedding encouraged charity too; for a majority of couples participating in the event, it was a dream come true.
Jhaman Alam, a 50-year-old laborer from Umerkot, said giving his daughter away in marriage was not an easy task. “With this price hike, it’s hard for me to earn a living for my family. I am happy that my daughter has gotten married with dignity,” Alam told Arab News, as he poured some ghee [clarified butter] into the fire as part of the ritual for his daughter Dhhai Alam and son-in-law, Atam Parkash.
“My father, Parkash Das, was working at a marriage hall before he fell sick two years ago. Witnessing a wedding almost every second day, he would think of a lovely wedding ceremony for me,” Asha Das said, adding that Prakash had given up hope of ever seeing her married.
“This is wonderful. It is more than what my father had dreamed of for me.”