Zoroastrian Wedding Customs
Indian Zoroastrian (Parsi & Irani)
Page 1. Yazdi-Zoroastrian Wedding Customs
» Suggested Prior Reading: Yazd Region
Traditional Yazdi-Zoroastrian Wedding Customs
From various sources, some over a hundred years old, this writer has pieced together the following narrative of traditional Yazdi Zoroastrian wedding customs (the source texts are archaic and at times vague or contradictory. Nevertheless, a picture does emerge - one that shows some interesting links with Indian Zoroastrian wedding customs):
Before thinking about marriage, young Yazdi men first gain a livelihood and either acquire a house suitable for a family or ensure that living with his parents is possible.
Having met on their own or through their family, when a man and a woman decide to wed, they inform and seek the approval of their parents. The role of the parents is not to be obstructive but to look at the big picture, to be objective and then facilitative.
A woman who marries with the consent of her parents does so as padshaha janina. If she marries without their approval, is she does so as khood rehijni.
Unless the parents know the couple and family very well, or had previously introduced the couple, their advice and approval follows a two-step process: first a preliminary approval to the concept of marriage and an engagement period (of say a year) during which time the couple and families can get to know each other.
Next, after the engagement period, the couple and families reassess the situation. Only if a very serious issue such as a previously undisclosed critical health or financial problem comes to light, will they advise against proceeding with the marriage. The vast majority of times, however, the families will have vetted each other before any public declarations are made, since not proceeding with a marriage can be very harmful to a family's reputation. In a small community, unexpected surprises and impediments are usually not an issue as the families will have known each other for generations. In a large community, the parents may be somewhat more cautious.
After the man's parents have considered their son's intentions or after the son has considered the parent's introduction of a suitable candidate, if all agree, the man's family pays the woman's family a visit at the latter's home.
At the woman's home, the man's family asks the woman's parents if their daughter is open to a proposal for marriage. The woman's parents seek her opinion, and if she and her family are jointly open to the idea of a proposal, the woman's family tells the groom's family that she is agreeable to such a proposal. It is only after receiving an assurance to this effect, will the man's family asks for the woman's hand in marriage.
Engagement Ceremony / Nam-e-Jadsood
If the woman accepts through her parents, the two families set a date for an engagement ceremony (spring is the preferred season, autumn and winter are avoided) and the man's family return home to make preparations. In the coming days, they will have a ring and a set of clothes made for the woman.
The engagement ceremony is held in the woman's family home on the appointed day. There, the groom-to-be's family present the bride-to-be with the set of new clothes in what will become the start of numerous gifts for the bride-to-be and a lot of pampering from the groom and his family. [It is customary for the groom-to-be and family to display their desire to win her consent and for the bride-to-be to show reluctance.]
The bride-to-be changes into her new clothes and rejoins the assembly with some fanfare. When she sits down, the groom-to-be places a ring on her finger in a formal act of engagement. The two families rejoice and share specially prepared foods, tea and sharbat (sherbet).
|Woman showers flower petals in Yazd|
After the engagement ceremony, the bride's family give the groom-to-be and his family small bags of dried fruits and nuts to take home with them. Dried fruit and sweets are also sent to neighbours and the head of the community - sometimes with much éclat accompanied by musicians and flower petal strewn ahead of the procession - thereby announcing the engagement to the community.
The engagement ceremony is called nam-e-jadsood (elsewhere: nam padvun or namzad kardan), meaning to name or declare. Namzad also means 'spoken-for'. The bride-to-be is until this time na-kardeh-nam meaning unnamed or 'not-spoken-for'. From this point on the bride-to-be will be connected to the groom-to-be in all religious ceremonies. The marriage ceremony itself is called nekeh kardan meaning confirmation. Breaking the implied contract of the engagement results in a great loss of face for the families and a possible shunning of the offending party by the rest of the community.
Tour for Gifts & Shower
In the next days, the groom-to-be visits various towns to acquire gifts for his fiancée. Upon his return from the trip, he hands the gifts he has collected of to his mother who takes the gifts over to the bride-to-be's home and presents them to her son's fiancée.
The bride continues to receive gifts. During the first major religious festival that follows the initial giving of gifts, the groom-to-be sends over for his fiancée a coif (scull-cap) of green or red silken cloth. On the occasion of the religious festival, the couple may also visit a religious shrine, or a place of worship, together.
|pomegranate with coins inserted|
The couple and families will have by this time known if there are any impediments to the process proceeding, and if all is well, they will have chosen a date for a betrothal ceremony. Relatives are invited to the betrothal for which the groom's family prepare a tray of rock sugar candy, a headscarf of green silk, a pair of new shoes, another coif (scull cap) for the bride, and a pomegranate with seven to twenty three coins inserted. During the ceremony, the tray is passed around and the guests take a piece of sugar candy from the tray.
The groom-to-be personally presents the pomegranate to his intended, and the women from his family put the new shoes on his intended. When she inserts her feet in the shoes, symbolically she demonstrates she will be walking with her fiancée and she has become the rightful life partner for her husband-to-be. At this point, those present say "Haabaro, haabaro, haabaro, aay shaabaash" roughly translated as 'hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, well done'.
|Drawing a design using henna paste on a woman's hand|
On the morning of the day before the wedding, the groom's family arrive at the bride's house carrying with them a tray of henna (hanah in Persian), a tray of gum tragacanth (a natural gum obtained from the dried sap of several species of legumes of the genus Astragalus) and soap, a comb, a small pouch used to rub the body during a bath, a piece of flint stone to rub the heel during a bath and a set of cloth.
The women-folk pound the henna to make a paste, which they apply first to the hands and feet of the bride, and then to their own hands and feet. (It is not clear if for a wedding, the application was in the form of a design, or a broad colouring of the hand and foot. Apparently, both systems were practiced by Yazdi women in general.)
[In India, Parsis commonly assume that using henna are Muslim or Hindu, but not Zoroastrian, customs. The plant from whose leaves, henna powder is made, Lawsonia inermis, is native to the arid climates neighbouring Yazd such as Kerman (Bam), Sistan and Baluchistan. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, in his 1654 description of Yazd, related (I, p. 171) that the Yazd natives "make a lot of rose water, and an extract from hina, which they use to redden their hands and their nails."]
The groom's party retire to their homes having received a gift of a copper basin and sweets from the bride's family.
Gift of Shoes Ceremony
On the morning or early afternoon of the wedding day, the groom's mother, sister and selected relatives go to the bride's home to help the bride wash her hair. They also take with them a tray of shoes. The bride in turn, gives all her teachers, mother-in-law and sister-in-law(s) a pair of shoes and a loaf of sugar. As she gives them these gifts, she kisses their hands.
Once these duties and ceremonies are completed, the groom's party return home to continue cooking a meal for the evening dinner that will take place before the wedding ceremony.
Arrival of Guests. Start of Festivities
According to a report written by an Englishwoman who observed a Yazdi wedding during her travels, the guests arrive at the bride's house at about 1 p.m. in the afternoon and engage in general merriment - talking, playing the tambourines, drinking tea and sharbat, and eating sweet-meats.
At around 5 p.m., the groom's deputy or best man arrives heading a group carrying four large wooden trays, one full of apples, pears and pomegranates for the bride's male relations; the second with bread and a kind of sweet for which Yazd is famous and which looks like spun glass or raw silk; the third containing the bridal dress provided by the groom; the fourth holding loaves of sugar for the bride and the members of her family.
The bread and sweets are handed to the guests, after which the men retire leaving the women to help dress the bride in bloomer-like pants, a flowing robe of green and cinnamon silk, and a long jacket-like garment made from gold cloth. A green silk shawl from which hangs gold coins covers the head and is kept in place by a heavy gold ornament that rests on the forehead. The bride also puts on silver bangles, a gold ring set with an emerald, and a silver chain necklace from which hangs a "very handsome talisman, the size of a breakfast saucer" with a bas-relief of Zarathushtra, various scenes from his life and the sacred fire. Also suspended from the necklace are two small silver boxes containing a miniature book of Avestan prayers.
When the bride emerges, she is greeted and saluted by all the guests who offer her a sprig of myrtle and a pomegranate (see barsom and haoma). The merriment continues with the playing of tambourines, laughing and talking at the top of one's voice with on one playing attention to what was being said.
Dinner of Acceptance
The groom's family come over for a second time to the bride's home in the evening, this time with a tray of dinner, stew and flowers (usually tulips). Guests from the bride and groom's side, the groom's deputy or best man, and priests (the dastur and mobed) are invited for dinner which ceremoniously begins with the dinner of acceptance. Here, the bride is the first to place her hand in the food to start eating, but the groom's family place a mouthful of food in the mouth of the bride as well as in the mouths of the bride's mother and sisters.
A sheet, or sofreh, is spread on the floor and after the guests seat themselves on the sofreh, trays of food are placed in front of them.
Ceremony of Taking the Bride
At about 8.30 p.m., the groom's deputy or best man with much aplomb rises to ask the bride if she wishes to marry the groom! The bride lies down pretending to sleep and is covered with a green silk shawl. The best man accompanied by his cohorts comes over to the dormant bride and in a commanding voice, asks (for instance) "Do you, Goher, daughter of Shireen and Khuda Parast, wish to marry Mehraban?" The bride does not reply and the best man turns to his friends to say, "She did not answer." Eleven times, the best man's cohorts join him in asking the question, each time in a louder voice. Eventually, the reluctant bride answers, "Bale" (meaning yes) which invites shouts of joy and a scramble to go and inform the groom.
Shortly after, the reluctant bride agrees, the bride's father emerges from an inner room carrying a large bundle containing the groom's clothes. The tambourines are brought out, tea is served and the guests sing and dance for about an hour until it is time to escort the bride ceremoniously to the groom's home - her new home - for the marriage ceremony.
The entire gathering forms a procession with the bride and escorts near its head. The bride is flanked by two escorts, the groom's deputy whose arm she holds, and another member of the group. The wife of the groom's deputy follows close by carrying a small box under her arm. A few members of the party walk in in front of the bride carrying with them the tulips that had previously been brought over by the groom's family, gifts for the groom, and lamps to light the way.
When the procession starts to walk, the bride abruptly announces that she will not proceed. The groom's deputy, who has with him gifts from the groom for the bride, tries to persuade her to change her mind. After much argument and good humoured cajoling, he gives the reluctant bride (through her deputy) a gift and the bride walks four steps and stops. The arguing and cajoling resumes. She is given another gift, walks a few steps and stops again. This continues until the procession arrives at the groom's home. By this time, the bride will have accumulated sufficient money for her needs as well as household items that she will need to purchase in order to maintain a household. The theme throughout, is the need to pamper and win over the bride through gifts and other means - gifts that are a token of the groom and his family's devotion. The bride on her part displays a reluctance and waits to be induced to leave her home and start her life anew.
The priests will have proceeded ahead to light a ceremonial fire. Upon the bride's arrival at the groom's house, the entire congregation circles the fire three times after which the groom's mother and sisters give the bride further gifts. The congregation enters the groom's home and seat themselves. Elders in the group light candles which they hold in their hands and look around for the bride who will try and hide herself in a final display of reluctance.
When they find her, while she is continues to demonstrate some good-natured reluctance, she is led to sit on the marriage sofreh or sheet (nowadays a chair). After she is seated, the groom is invited to sit beside his bride. Once the couple are seated, the priests prepare for the religious ceremony by asking the bride for her consent to the marriage. Twice she does not reply, but on being asked for the third time, she consents by answering softly "Bale, bale" meaning 'yes, yes.' If the bride does not answer "bale", the marriage cannot proceed. In saying yes after some thought, the bride demonstrates that she is exercising her free will and choice in making her decision.
The priest asks the the guests present whether they heard her and whether they are witnesses to the consent. The men folk shout, "Bale, bale."
A plate of fruit covered by a sheet of green silk is held over the groom's head by a selected member of the gathering. The priests now begin to recite the law of the religion, advice and admonishments which the groom is required to accept in order for the ceremony to continue. Upon acceptance, the man holding the tray of fruit over the groom's head is given the silk covering as a gift.
A drink is prepared, offered first to the couple and then to all the guests. The couple are then led to walk around the fire (presumably seven times) and everyone sings hymns and songs known to them. The couple are given an oil lamp to hold and led to the entrance of the house where they pour some oil on the threshold.
The groom leads his new wife to the nuptial chambers, and all the women from her party stand round the room. After the couple sit on a handsomely covered mattress, the husband's mother and sisters take off the couple's right socks, put their feet together and proceed to wash their feet, hands and face. A glass of sherbet is given to the groom which he sips and she finishes. The groom produces a large black silk handkerchief with coloured border, to dry their faces, hands and feet.
The company then wish the couple with the words, "May your eyes be enlightened, and may you live a hundred and twenty years," and leave the couple to their wedded bliss.
Feast of the First Day
The next morning, the bridegroom goes over to his father-in-law's home, presents him with a loaf of sugar, kisses his hand, and sacrifices a sheep in the father-in-law's honour.
After performing the sacrifice, the groom receives refreshments and then returns home. The father-in-law roasts the sheep in a copper pan, on the bottom of which he will have placed some bread. At the same time, the bride's family prepares sweetmeats. The bride's family take the roasted sheep and freshly prepared sweetmeats to the groom's home for a feast with invited guests. They also take with them a carpets and furniture for the new couple.
Once in the groom's house, the bride's family divide the meat into pieces, cut the sweetmeats in rhombic forms and offer them to the guests.
The Concluding Dinner
In the afternoon, the families of the bride and groom prepare aush (a soup with noodles and vegetables). They take the bride to the kitchen where she puts the noodles into the pot. While she is helping prepare the aush, those who wish place gifts for the bride in a headscarf which is taken into the kitchen and given to the bride.
The guests are served the aush and this meal marks the end of the wedding festivities.
In subsequent days, parties in honour of the newlywed couple are held by the bride and groom's side. The first of these parties, the very first function the pair attend as couple, is called a pogoshi, meaning clearing the path. During the parties, the bride's mother-in-law or sister-in-law presents her with a tray filled with candy, a dress, and a headscarf with silver ornaments.
Recent Day Yazdi-Zoroastrian Wedding Customs
|1. A Zoroastrian wedding in Rahmatabad, Yazd|
|2. A Zoroastrian wedding in Rahmatabad, Yazd|
|Pomegranate, thread, scissors, egg & Avesta|
Items placed on a tray
and held over the couple's heads in Yazd
In the photographs above, the Zoroastrians of Yazd do not appear to use the sofreh aghd, the wedding spread, described in the next page. Instead, they use a tray which is held over the heads of the couple during the marriage ceremony. The tray contains two pieces of cloth sown together, a needle, thread, scissors, a raw egg, a pomegranate or apple, dried marjoram, and white sweetmeats, all covered by a green kerchief sized piece of cloth.
» Page 2: Modern Iranian Wedding Customs
» Suggested Additional Reading: Yazd Region