You're Invited! A Guide to Bengali Weddings
Wedding festivities and rituals are deeply integrated into various cultures within the Indian Subcontinent. These traditions vary by region and community. Bengali weddings are amongst the most intricate and symbolic traditions that come out of South Asia. While the staple of a Bengali wedding follows a specified format of differing events— traditions vary in regards to religious identity as well as familial tradition. Bengali weddings are through and through beautiful events that celebrate love and life. Keep reading to find out more!
While pre-wedding ceremonies differ regarding religious affiliation and region they follow a specific format that acts as a way for the families of the bride and groom to get to know each other as well as recognize the relationship and future between both parties.
This pre-wedding gathering differs in the regions of Bangladesh and West Bengal. In Bangladesh the Pakha Dekha or “auspicious alliance” is centered around the Elder members of each family agreeing to the union. This is followed by a gathering with sweets and other celebratory foods to mark the occasion. It is during the Pakha Dekha that the date of the wedding is decided as well as expectations of the groom and bride to be in order to live a happy and harmonious life. The Aashirbaad or “Blessing” parallels the Pakha Dekha in many ways but focuses on the rite of Elders blessing the married couple-to-be. The aashirbaad is prominent in West Bengal and other Bengali Hindu-majority communities.
The Gaya Holud is a ceremony that preludes the wedding day. The main goal of the event is for the family of the Bride and Groom to lightly cover the bride and groom with a tumeric paste. During this event the bride and groom are given their wedding attire, cosmetics, sweets and other goods. Amongst these goods, it is traditional for the family of the groom to fish that is dressed in wedding attire. It is at the Gaye Holud that the hands of the bride are adorned with henna. Both the bride and groom have tumeric paste applied to their skin to promote a glow for the day of their wedding. While this event occurs, family and friends sing songs, eat sweets, and rejoice with the couple to be. This wedding rite spans across Hindu, Muslim and Christian Bengali communities.
The Wedding Ceremony
The actual wedding ceremony differs greatly depending on the religious identity of the family. For Hindu Bengalis the wedding ritual includes the bride and groom walking around a fire 7 times, this is followed by the couple sitting in front of the holy fire with the priest as sacred mantras are read, offerings are thrown into the fire so that Agni, the Hindu Diety of fire can bare witness to the union. This is followed by the groom applying red vermillion between the Bride’s hair-part. This marks the Brides status as a wife and she is adorned with a new sari by the groom's family.
Bengali Muslims marriage rituals differ greatly from that of Bengali Hindu wedding rituals. Bengali Muslims take part in a Nikkah which is a formal contractual agreement binding the newlyweds. This usually includes the bride and groom sitting separately with their families. The Imam asks both the parties to vocalize their agreement to the contract followed by the bride and groom signing the document to symbolize their union.
Both are usually followed by a reception which is where music, food, and entertainment take the forefront. It is a way for the newlyweds, their families, and guests to celebrate the union. This part of the wedding is dependent on the preference of the family and the way in which they choose to celebrate. Overall, it is a vibrant event which is usually made up of decadent displays of affection to shower the newlyweds with love and blessings. As the evening commences, the bride leaves with the Groom’s family, symbolizing the Bride’s family sending her off to her new life. This is often a moment that includes tears of joy and sadness for the bride and her kin.
The Bou Baath is a gathering at the family of the groom’s home where the new bride offers her in-laws rice and ghee for lunch. This follows the bride being showered with gifts from the family and guests who come to witness the joyous occasion.