|RITUALSOF IRAN, MARRIAGE CEREMONY, HISTORY AND SYMBOLISM|
| “ I say (these)
words to you, marrying brides and bridegrooms! Impress then upon your mind: May you two enjoy the life of good mind by following the
laws of religion. Let each one of you clothe the other with righteousness.
Then assuredly there will be a happy life for you”- Yasna 53.5,
ancient Zoroastrian textbook.|
The Iranian wedding ceremony despite
its local and regional variations, like many other rituals in the country
goes back to the ancient Zoroastrian tradition. This was the religion of
Iran before the advent of Islam 1400 years ago. Though the concepts and
theory of the marriage have changed drastically by Quran and Islamic
traditions, the actual ceremonies have remained more or less the same.
For Iranians marriage is considered to bean event, which must be celebrated not quietly but with glory and
distinction. It is the most conspicuous of all the rituals and must be celebrated
in the presence of an assembly, which can bear witness to the event.
In the ancient times, the musicians
playing at marriage gatherings used drums to announce the marriage to the
people of the town or village. The group that gathered for the marriage was
called the assembly for the queenly bride. Traditionally, both the bride and
the bridegroom would dress in white with garlands of flower on their necks.
The color white is a symbol of purity, innocence and faithfulness. Today
most modern Iranians follow the European dress code and style.
There are two stages to a marriage.
Most often both take place on the same day, but occasionally there could
become time between the two. The first is called ‘Aghed’.
This is when the legal process takes
place, both the parties and their guardian’s sign a marriage contract and a
bride price or ‘mahr’ is set to guarantee the financial well being of the
bride. The second stage is the actual feasts and the celebrations, which
traditionally lasts from 3 to 7 days.
The ceremony takes place in a specially
decorated room with flowers and a beautiful and elaborately decorated spread on
the floor i.e. ‘Sofreh Aghed’. By custom the Aghed would normally take place
at the bride’s home or her close relatives. The bridegroom is the first to take his seat in the room and the bride comes afterwards. The
bridegroom always sits on the right hand side of the bride. With Zoroastrians,
the right side designates a place of respect.
The bride and the bridegroom have each
marriage witness. Usually older and married males are chosen amongst close
relations to stand as witnesses. The priest (Mula) or other males with
recognized authority i.e. a notary public perform the legal part of the
ceremony. This consists of preliminary blessings, questions to the
witnesses, guardians, the marrying couple and finally the ceremony is solemnized
by reciting verses from Quran, the Muslims’ holy book and signing of a legal
After the preliminary blessings and a
few words about the importance of the institution of marriage the priest
confirms with both the parents or guardians that they indeed wish to proceed
with the ceremony and there are no objections. Then the priest asks the
mutual consent of the couple. First the bridegroom is asked if he wishes to
enter into the marriage contract then the bride is asked the same question.
Once the bride is asked if she agrees to the marriage, she pauses. The
questions repeated three times and it is only at the last time that she will
say yes. To make the bridegroom wait for the bride’s answer is to signify
that it is the husband who seeks the wife and is anxious to have her and not
the other way around.
During the service female relatives of
the couple (mainly the bride) hold over the couple’s head a fine scarf or
other delicate fabrics like silk. Two different actions take place at the
sometime. Two pieces of crystallized sugar shaped like cones are rubbed
together, a symbolic act to sweeten the couple’s life together. In the second
act two parts of the same fabric are sewn together with needle and thread.
The ceremony is reminiscent of the ancient traditions. Zoroastrians today
hold over the grooms head a small tray on which two pieces of cloth (Kosti) are united together, with needle, thread, scissors, a raw egg, a
pomegranate or apple, dried marjoram, and white sweetmeats, all covered by a
green kerchief. The symbolic act of sewing two parts together is uniting the
couple for the rest of their lives, a knot is tied that should not be broke
Once the bride has said yes to the
proposal, verses from Quran are read. Documents are signed, the amount of mahr
is entered in the written document and the two are announced man and
wife. The practice of setting up a bride price or mahr is becoming a
ceremonial one for most modern couples. Etymologically meaning “price” or “ransom”, mahr is the money or other valuables, paid or promised to be paid to
the bride by the groom or his family for the financial protection of the
bride in case of a divorce. Once this is over, the couple will held their
right hands together, will drink a sweet liquid or will taste some honey for a better and sweeter life.
At this time the bride is showered by
gifts, usually expensive jewelry and all she receives is hers and the
husband has no right over the presents. Songs, jokes and merry-making
gestures and clapping of the hands, accompany the whole ceremony. The
elaborately decorated spread in front of the bride and groom contains several
items each symbolizing a different aspect of the ancient religion.
Mirror and candles represent light and
fire, two very important elements in the Zoroastrian religion. A specially
baked and decorated flatbread is to bring prosperous feasts. Gold
represents prosperity. Honey and crystallized sugar to sweeten life. Esphand a
popular incense is burnt. This item is used in many Zoroastrian religious
ceremonies, rituals and purification rites. It is believed to keep the evil eye
away. After the ceremony, there are lavish feasts, dancing, music and
entertainers. There will be more parties given by close relatives and friends for
the next few weeks. The marriage ceremony marks the most significant
ritual for all Iranians specially the women.
By: Massoume Price
Massoume Price is a Social Anthropologist and Human Ecologist from London
University, Kings and University Colleges. She specializes in ancient
Mesopotamian Studies. She currently lives in Canada. Works with a number of
Women's organizations and is a free lance writer.