Nothing Like It Before In The Town

The following article written by Edith Hilton has been transcibed from the 'Mainly for Women' section of 'The Blackburn Times' and reports on what was deemed to be 
Blackburn's first full traditional Asian wedding in Blackburn. 

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Copyright 'Blackburn Times'​

Balaclava Street had never seen anything like it.  Blackburn had never seen anything like it.  And come to think of it, there had never been such a spectacle in the whole of England.  Not at a wedding anyhow.  And it’s whispered in the bazaars that they don’t even have weddings like this in India anymore.  In the towns, that is-and not always in the villages.  This was Blackburn’s – and England’s- first ever, full-scale ceremonial Indian Muslim Wedding.  And according to tradition- without a bride.

For most English brides, getting married means carrying a beautiful bouquet, being driven to the church in style in a luxury wedding car, walking up the aisle on father’s arm to the accompaniment of a choir singing anthems as the organist plays “Here Comes the Bride”.

But Rabia Patel  had none of those things, for like a strict Muslim bride, she stayed home and let her bridegroom take all the glory. Yet Rabia, a lovely 17-year old Indian Muslim girl never stopped smiling from the time she rose, early on Saturday, her wedding day until late afternoon when she left her home on Balaclava Street with her 20-year-old bridegroom she had met for the first time a few hours previously.
Rabia came to Blackburn three years ago with her family and she had dreamed of this day ever since as a shy young girl of 15.  She and her intended husband, Yakub Patel from Bradford, had exchanged photographs, obtained their parents’ approval and became “engaged”.

The sequel was Blackburn’s and England’s first full Muslim wedding, complete with procession and escorting musicians.  

First Yakub, who is a self-employed crafts-man in Bradford, arrived with carloads of male relatives and witnesses, the equivalent of our “best man” and “groomsmen”. Next, they took up their headquarters at a neighbour’s house in Balaclava Street, across the way from Rabia’s family at number 42.  The bride’s father is Mr Vali. M. Patel a textile technician, who owns a smart four-bedroomed house at the end of the terrace.
Yakub’s witness then called out Rabia and her father to confirm approval.  Then they decorated the bridegroom with a garland of fresh flowers, placed a bouquet of carnations in his hand and hoisted him onto the saddle of Buccaneer, a five year old gelding belonging to Mrs Heather Clarkson, of Waddington Farm Riding School, Tockholes. And Buccaneer led by two girls from the riding school, behaved perfectly even though he had to submit to the indignity of being covered by a net saddle cloth trimmed with flowers matching those of the bridegroom.

Then accompanied by his witnesses and more than 100 men “supporters” the bridegroom’s party left Balaclava Street in procession for Windsor Hall. They were followed by a chanting band of the bride’s female relatives who strewed sweetmeats – in this case “Dolly” mixtures- in his path and threw fruits and shredded coconut in his wake - all symbolic of prosperity, happiness and fertility much the same as our old shoes and rice!

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According to Muslim tradition the bridegroom must be preceded by music and on this occasion it was the band of Audley Congregational Scouts who did the honours: playing fanfares and marches and repeating the performance in Windsor Hall while the bride’s father was receiving the guests and young girls were handing out flowers at the door of the hall.

Back at her home in Balaclava Street, with the men out of the way, Rabia and her female relatives, supervised by her mother, began getting ready for the end of the ceremony and her bridegroom’s return.

First they dressed her in the discreet undergarments Muslim modesty dictate should be worn to mask the female figure.  Then over these went a gorgeously embroidered silver and white tunic, nipped in at the waist and flared at the hem.  Next came the intricately figured silver and white matching trousers, tight fitting at the ankles and finally the gold and white “dupetta” or bridal scarf.  

On Yakub’s return they both wore matching garlands of chrysanthemums, dahlias and carnations brought by Yakub from Bradford for the occasion.  

Neither the bride nor bridegroom wore “wedding rings” as the English know them, but Rabia’s fingers were specially painted with reddish brown dye known as “mandi” a delicate filigree-like pattern.  Then she wore Indian rings on six of her fingers.

Rabia’s two younger sisters, Yasmin and Salma, both wore gold brocade tunics and trousers; her younger brother, Sohail, wore a smart black suit with long trousers and her mother and all her relatives and friends wore Muslim dress ordered specially for the wedding in sumptuous fabrics and glowing colours. Then to an incessant chorus of admiration from all the womenfolk, Rabia settled down in a comfortable armchair in the best bedroom and “held court” while the men were at Windsor Hall getting the ceremony underway.  

This was introduced by Yakub’s brother, Abdulla, after the bridegroom and most of the witnesses had taken up their positions cross-legged and without shoes, on the white carpeted stage in Windsor Hall.

And when all 350 guests, including about 60 from the host community had been told what it was all about, the priest or Imam, Valli Achodi from Charlotte Street, intoned the religious ceremony.  

Mr Ved Singh Sarpal, Blackburn’s Community Relations Officer and a Sikh spoke to the guests and said he was pleased to attend such a gathering provided by one of his own countrymen.  Mr Vali Patel, the bride’s father said he hoped the affair would prove not only a happy occasion for the people concerned but also an exercise in community relations.

First to sit down to a delicious meal of soup, curried lamb with saffron rice and vegetables were English guests and friends of the family from other Indian religious groups.  The bride’s and the groom’s family ate next and finally the Muslim ladies from both families.

Rabia newly married by proxy, but still radiant, really got a chance to show off her wedding clothes much longer than most English brides- but the public were denied the privilege. 

Later that afternoon the new Mr and Mrs Yakub Patel left Balaclava Street for a new life in Bradford – and a civil ceremony by registrar some time during the next few days to make it all legal according to English law.

And Rabia was still smiling happily as she waved goodbye to the only family life she has known up to now.  For like most Muslim daughters, she does not go out to work.

For she knows that she must, according to her strict faith , always be provided for and protected- by her husband’s life if necessary.  And that divorce Muslim style may appear to be easy, but is almost unknown.

The Blackburn Times, Friday August 27, 1971, page 4​.