A typical wedding in Bangladesh is a melting pot of all things Bengali, and often blur the arbitrarily drawn lines of caste and class, only differentiated by the varying budgetary strengths. This unification of wedding and other celebrations becomes even more visible when we look into the steps and ritual observed in most weddings — be it meeting the family, presenting a token gift, or the brides return ‘visit’ right after a few days of leaving for her new home.
Some keep it simple, with just a day of revelry with friends and family, and others like a drawn-out affair, with four or five functions with different rituals and themes for each of them.
THE HINDU WEDDING
The first step of every wedding, after the decisions of marriage is made in case of arranged weddings, is where the families meet and finalise the nitty-gritties. In Hindu weddings, this ceremony is known as ‘ashirbad’ and it is during this event that the family of the bride and groom show their blessing by sprinkling ‘durba’ leaves and husked rice on them and by gifting gold. Then the priest fixes the ‘logno’, which is the ‘auspicious time’ according to the Hindu almanac.
The most interesting thing is that a Hindu wedding takes place at the exact time fixed, no matter how late or early the hour.
Before the wedding ceremony a series of smaller occasions are observed.
The ‘aiburobhat’ is sometimes observe, akin to the western bridal shower. The close friends and relatives of the bride take some time to spoil her, give her gifts, and of course, arrange a scrumptious meal.
A number of pujas are also observed for blessings.
The next fun aspect of the wedding is the gifting of fish, and apart from so minor differences, this observed by most Bangladeshis. The groom’s family sends a couple of ruhi fish dressed as a bride and groom to the bride’s home. The fish carries a bit of vermillion on a coin inside the mouth, which is later on used by the groom to fill the hair-parting of the bride. Also, the holud used on the bride, must be ground by five married women for luck.
Next is the Holud ceremony. Traditionally, the groom’s family makes a paste of turmeric and mustard oil, and applies it on his body by his mother and a group of married women.
After the ceremony is complete, the remaining turmeric paste is sent over to the bride’s, along with her dresses and wedding trousseau. Similar holud rituals are done for the bride, and sometimes, additionally, she then wears the traditional symbols of the Hindu married women, like bangles made of Conch.
Early on the wedding morning, the bride and groom are fed a mixture of sweet curd, flattened rice, sweets and the like, in a ritual called ‘Dodhi Mangal,’ which is the bride and groom’s last meal until the wedding vows are said, as they are supposed to fast till then.
The bride’s family offers the groom his trousseau in what is known as ‘bastro-dan,’ which is also symbolic of accepting the groom into the bride’s family.
The wedding ceremony itself usually begins with ‘Shaat Pak,’ which is when the bride, with her face hid behind a couple of betel leaves, is carried by her relatives, around the groom seven times. The bride and groom then exchange flower garlands, and this allows for some light-hearted pranks too. Then the ritual of ‘Kanya Sampradan’ sees an elderly relative or the father of the bride ‘give away’ the bride.
Later the priest chants as the bride and groom say their vows around the ‘sacred flame’, the wood for which is brought by the groom’s family.
Sometimes, the wedding ceremony is broken up into two parts, and the latter is known as the ‘Bashi Biye.’
After the wedding, ‘Bidai’ sees the bride and groom leaving for their new abode. The bride here bids farewell to her family, and generally leave before the evening. Sometimes the bride takes a handful of puffed rice over her head, which is then caught in the sari ‘anchal’ of her mother.
When the couple arrives at the groom’s place, the bride is made to step into a mixture of milk and red hues, and then walks into the home creating coloured footsteps, a memory of her blessed arrival. She also receives gifts and blessings from the family. Other smaller and region based rituals then end the wedding ceremony.
THE CHRISTIAN WEDDING
The Bengali Christian wedding has more elements of traditional Bengali wedding than the religious elements. The bride and groom enjoy a traditional holud, and often there are also fun bridal showers as well as more recently, bachelor and bachelorette parties.
The main wedding takes place at the church, where the priest officiates as the couple say their vows, and often, exchange their wedding rings. The day is then spent in general merriment, and often, the bride is welcomed into the groom’s home with song and gifts.
THE BUDDHIST WEDDING
A traditional Buddhist wedding starts off with the matching of the bride and groom’s horoscopes, and then finding the auspicious hour for the wedding, according to the priest’s suggestion.
The actual wedding takes place at the temple, officiated or blessed by the head priest. First, the couple bows down before the image of the Buddha, chant prayers, and light incense sticks.
The parents of the bride and groom then tie a loop of thread around their heads. The couple then makes offerings to the monks, of food, sweets, flowers and even medicines.
Then the couple are blessed by chanting of prayers in Pali. The string around the couple is not connected to container, which is later sacrificed, and red paste is applied to the couple’s foreheads. This signifies the end of the official ceremony. Although monks traditionally did not attend weddings, now they often do.
SOME INDIGENOUS TRADITIONS
Apart from the Bengali ethnicity, the tribal people of the country have many interesting and colourful rituals too. The Chakmas of the Chittagong Hills, the largest indigenous group, are predominantly Buddhist, but their ceremonies also have a distinct indigenous flavour.
The Chakma do not hold any weddings in the Bangla month of Poush, and weddings only take place at the auspicious hour.
Before the wedding, the groom’s family visits the bride’s home at least thrice in the ‘tin purani’ custom, and only fix the date and other details during the third time.
On the day of the wedding, one person from the groom’s family is appointed as the ‘shabala,’ and he/she takes all the bride’s trousseau and gifts in a basket (kula) and takes the blessings of all the elders in the family. The same person then takes the gifts to the bride’s home, and collects blessings from all her elders, before giving it to the bride.
Another lady from the groom’s family is assigned as ‘bou doroni,’ and she collects the bride from her home and brings her to the wedding venue, after she seeks blessings from all her elders by touching their feet, and receiving a sprinkling of cotton and rice! At the venue, usually the groom’s house, the priests chant prayers and conduct the ceremony. Interestingly, the bride’s mother in this community has a right to ask for a special gift from the groom and family, ‘doduli tengya.’
The Garo community of the Mymensingh and surrounding regions also had many different rituals. They are a matrilineal society, and children take the surname of the mother. Also, people with the same last name cannot intermarry.
There are two main events in the Garo wedding, the ‘panchini’ and ‘biye.’ Interestingly, the ‘panchini’ is organised in the house opposite to that of the bride. The wedding gifts are also exchanged on the day. Later, if the wedding takes place at the bride’s, then the groom comes to her place to live, and if it takes place the groom’s, then she comes to live with him.
Many of the Garos have now become Christian, and often marry at the church, and start their lives together at an entirely new house, away from the parents.