Zoroastrian Wedding Customs
Indian Zoroastrian (Parsi & Irani)
Page 3. The Wedding Day
Ceremonies Before the Marriage
The intention of the pre-wedding rituals on day of the wedding are similar to the pre-navjote ceremonies on the day of the navjote or initiation. These rituals help the couple enter and conclude the marriage in a state of physical and spiritual purity.
Nahan or Nahn / Ritual Bath
For a description of the nahan please see the page on purification.
Garments & Accessories
The priests, the couple and the witness who stand behind the couple, all wear white garments and cover their heads. Zoroastrian cover their heads when they pray or attend religious ceremonies.
The groom wears a thin and flowing thin white robe, a dugli, with white trousers and a ceremonial hat or a simple prayer cap. There are two principal types of ceremonial hats: a flat topped hat called a fetah and one with a tapered top called a pagri or pughdi. Tassels tied together close the opening in the front of the dugli. Wrapped around the man's arm is a shawl (see photograph above).
In previous times, the groom would have worn a jama-pichori or sayah, a loose flowing garment with folds and curls seen in the photograph in the banner at the top of the page.
The bride wears a white sari and blouse. The sari is often intricately decorated. A part of the sari is used to cover the bride's head. The head of both women and men are always covered during the religious parts of the ceremony, and can be uncovered once the ceremonies are over.
Zoroastrians do not usually perform weddings in a place of worship (as this would exclude non-Zoroastrians in many Indian fire temples), though halls adjacent to a temple are used at times.
Zoroastrian weddings are for the main part events where both families invite numerous relatives and friends, the number being decided by negotiation. [The families risk hurting feelings if they neglect to invite people who feel entitled to an invitation.]
Wedding Area, Platform or Stage
A modern Zoroastrian marriage ceremony is generally conducted on a raised platform or on a low stage decorated with predominantly white flowers with some red flowers added. White and red are colours customarily used in Zoroastrian festivities, white representing purity and honesty, and red representing fire and vitality. The use of raised platforms or a low stage is not traditional but helps the audience better view the ceremonies.
Other items are placed near the chairs on a metallic tray. These include two lit candles which the couples will use to jointly light a third candle or oil lamp (devo), a censer or brazier of burning incense or espand seeds, as well as a small metallic container containing ghee (or clarified butter - representing gentility, courtesy, understanding and loyalty) and molasses (representing sweetness and good temper). In Yazd, oil instead of ghee and molasses is used - oil that the couple will sprinkle on the threshold of their home. The groom and bride's sace or ses will contain other traditional items such as cones of sugar, rose water, a container of kunkun (vermillion paste), a devo or oil lamp and a garland or flowers. [In Iranian weddings (other than Yazdi weddings), the items are spread all over the sofreh or sheet, while in Yazdi and Parsi weddings, the items are collected and placed on trays called a sace or ses by Parsis.
Arrival of the Couple
The wedding ceremonies start with the arrival of the groom and bride.
For a description of the achu michu please see the page on purification.
One system for performing the achu michu is for the bride's mother, or eldest woman relative, to perform the ritual on the groom, and for the groom's mother, or eldest woman relative, to perform the ritual on the bride.
Var Behendoo - Hand Dipping
When the bride's mother has finished performing the achu michu on the groom, the groom steps onto the marriage platform and seats himself on the left chair (as seen facing the platform or stage) to await the arrival of the bride. He will not however be allowed to remain idle.
First Phase of the Marriage Ceremony
• Ara Antar - Curtain of Separation
• Hathevaro - Joining of Hands as
Tying the right hands together
Next, the priests place a few grains of raw rice in the left hands of the couple. The groom's priest then places the bride's right hand in the groom's right hand at the bottom edge of the curtain, and wraps a string around their clasped right hands seven times while reciting the Ahunawar (Yatha Ahu Vairyo) prayer. This binding of the hands in handshake position is called hathevaro.
The same string that binds their right hands is also wound around the couple's chairs seven times, the number seven signifying the divine heptad of God and God's six attributes or archangels, the seven regions (keshwars) of the earth, and the various heptads of values and qualities that feature prominently in Zoroastrian theology, philosophy and ethics.
In some ceremonies, the string around the chair is replaced by a cloth wrapped around the chairs once. The string or a long piece of cloth, are joined by a final knot that symbolizes the bride and groom's desire to unite of as a lifelong couple. [For reasons of symbolism, it is preferable if the string encircles the couple only and does not encompass other participants. Four individuals can hold the string at the four corners around the chairs.]
There is added symbolism in the ritual: while the thread that binds them is weak and can be broken easily as a single strand, it gains strength when wrapped seven times - strong enough that the bonds cannot be easily broken, if at all.
The priests recite one ahunavar (yatha ahu variyo) prayer for each circle of the string and finish reciting the seventh ahunavar at the moment the seventh encirclement is finished. This is the cue for those holding the curtain of separation to lower or drop the curtain, a lowering that symbolizes the removal of the spiritual divide that had existed between the couple. The removal also permits the process to unite them as husband and wife to begin - not, however, before the interjection of a moment of levity.
The finishing of the the seventh ahunavar prayer by the priests also signals the moment when the couple can shower each other with the rice they had been holding in their left hands. Neither will waste any time, for the one who throws the rice first is considered to be one who will 'wear the pants in the family'.
|Ara antar: Rice throwing|
Also notice the string around the couple - Chero Bandhvanu
Their eagerness to be the first to shower the other with rice is, however, supposed to demonstrate their eagerness to take the lead in showing respect and love for one another. Unspoken in the jesting is the message that there are no assumptions or pre-assigned roles of dominance in the relationship and that each person has to take the initiative and lead in strengthening the bonds between them. The one who takes the initiative, leads by example.
If the curtain has been lowered but not dropped, it is dropped after the couple finish the rice shower. The right hands of the couple are untied, sometimes only after the bride's women family members have extorted money from the groom. Behind the silliness in the untying of the string lies an important message: the bonds of the string are to be replaced by the bonds of mutual love and respect, the same love and respect that has removed the divide between them.
The couple rise and the chairs are either rearranged in the manner described above. Alternatively, if the ara antar had taken place in front of the wedding platform, the couple are invited to sit on two pre-arranged chairs on the stage. The couple now sit next to and beside one another, with the groom on the bride's right. This change in seating compliments the symbolism throughout the ara antar: barriers and gulfs that would have prevented the bride and groom from forming a family unit have been removed, and they are ready to enter the next steps of the ceremony together.