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Bengali Marriage Ceremony

Bride and groom at a Bengali wedding

Winter time is wedding season in Bangladesh. They are easy to spot: huge strings of lights in front of houses and hotels throughout the city. Bengali wedding are elaborate affairs that involve four or five days.

Weddings are of course held round the year in Bangladesh like any other country, but the favorite season for weddings in Bangladesh is winter. Since Bangladesh is tropical in climate, summer is the hot and humid monsoon season, while winter is mild and pleasant from October to March. Rural communication and travel are also easier and less hazardous in winter.

Bengali weddings generally meet all the formal requirements for a marriage in Islam, such as consent of bride and groom, the presence of witnesses, payment of the mahr (dowry) to the bride, etc. Beyond these legal requirements, a Bengali wedding is the most pompous and elaborate of all social ceremonies in Bangladesh.

Groom's family arrives for a wedding in Bangladesh.

The above photo is not a political rally. It’s the grooms extended family arriving for the festivities.

For good or bad, people of all classes from the poorest farmers to the richest elites spend to their utmost economic abilities to stage an elaborate and memorable wedding ceremony.

Modern Reform

In ancient times, the bride had no right to choose a husband and no choice in the matter, in spite of the fact that this is a violation of her Islamic rights. It was a part of the culture. The marriage was arranged by the parents and the bride had no right or thought of refusing.

In modern days attitudes have changed. This is partly due to greater education among the population, especially the education of women, and partly due to a greater awareness of proper Islamic teachings. The personal choices of the bride are more commonly respected now. Forced marriages still occur but are not the norm.

Bengali Muslim bride

A Bengali Muslim bride and her bridesmaids

Panchini (Engagement)

This is the first stage of the elaborate Bengali marriage process, in which the ring is given to the bride by the guardian of the bridegroom. The bridegroom’s guardian would normally be his father, or if the father is absent then the mother, or of both parents are absent then any elder relative such as a grandparent or uncle.

At this time the date of the wedding would be set, as well as the amount of the mahr, or as it is called in Bengali, the Denmahor. The Denmahor is a gift given to the bride by the groom, and can consist of cash, gold or any other significant asset. The amount depends on the financial ability of the groom and will be negotiated between the groom and the bride’s representative. Typically in Bangladesh half of the Denmahor will be paid at the time of marriage, and the remainder will be paid in the future according to an agreed schedule.

Gaye Hulud

The Gaye Hulud is sort of a pre-wedding festival and is one of the most interesting parts of the Bengali marriage process. It is arranged at the houses of the bride and the groom as well. The children and youth of the groom’s family go to the bride’s house with various gifts that are necessary for the Gaye Hulud festival. They bring a sharee (a type of garment), a flower garland, turmeric paste, mehendi paste, and sweets. The bride puts on the sharee and flower garland, and the girls smear the turmeric paste on the bride’s body. Then the sweets are distributed to everyone to enjoy.

Similarly, the youth of the bride’s family go to the groom’s family and initiate a similar festival.

The gaye hulud ceremony at a Bengali wedding

The Gaye Hulud ceremony. Hulud is turmeric, a spice which since ancient times has been used in beauty treatments for girls. Gaye means body. (Both in Bengali) Turmeric is known for its antiseptic and cosmetic properties. 'Gaye Hulud' is a pre-wedding ritual where a turmeric paste is put on the girl. This photograph is taken during that ritual. The convention is that the paste is put all over her face, arms and feet. Nowadays, however, due to the fact that turmeric is a dye and if put all over the face in considerable amount, may leave a stain which might be difficult to remove before the wedding), it is applied only to her forehead (as you can see in this photograph). Though there is always a popular demand to put it on her face, and some ensuing commotion.

That evening, the mehendi festival takes place at the bride and groom’s house simultaneously. The girls of each household draw beautiful designs on the bride’s hands and on each other’s hands.

The Biye

The Biye is what is called in Arabic the nikah, or the marriage itself. In Bangladesh, this traditionally takes place at the bride’s house.

First, a ritual called Doi Mangole takes place, in which curd is mixed with chira and doi, and is given to the groom to eat.

Then the groom and his relatives proceed in a march to the bride’s house. This festive journey is called Barjatra. Upon arrival, the groom’s guardians give some gifts to the bride, such as a sharee, ornaments or jewelry, and cosmetics.

A religious leader, Maulana, or Marriage Registrar performs the main event. He begins by reciting scriptures from the Holy Quran. Then he asks the groom if he accepts this woman to be his wife. Upon receiving the groom’s consent, the Marriage Registrar along with two witnesses (generally respectable relatives from both sides) goes to the bride, who sits separately on a stage, surrounded by her female relatives and friends.

The Maulana or Registrar names the groom with his full name and tells her that this man wants to marry her, and he asks her if she consents as well. The question is asked three times, and the reply should be given three times as well, so that no doubt remains that the bride consents of her own free will. The Registrar then confirms with the witnesses that they heard the consent of the bride.

After getting the bride’s consent the Registrar gives her the marriage contract to be signed, then the team returns to the groom and obtains his signature as well. At this point the couple are considered married, and the formal part of the marriage ceremony is over.

Now the feast takes place, and every invited person attends. Customary dishes are polow, biriani, roast chicken, and sweet desserts.

Cooking biryani before a wedding

Biryani being prepared for the occasion. Biryani at most wedding feasts is cooked in huge cauldrons outdoors and stirred with a spoon as long as a boat oar. In Bangladesh, the biryani is made with long-grain rice, goat meat, potatoes, prunes, rose water, saffron, and plentiful butter and cream.The meat is marinated in yogurt and spices and the ingredients are layered on top of one another. The result is a golden medley of rice, meat and potato. The prunes grow plump and caramelized, the meat is soft, and the potato is sweet and delicious.

Finally at this point the groom goes to the bride’s stage. If she is wearing a veil then he lifts her veil and their eyes meet, and they exchange their flower garlands in a ritual called Shah Nazar. This is assisted by the bride’s sisters and sisters-in-law.

Exchanging flower garlands

Bride and groom exchanging flower garlands at a Bengali wedding

Bashar Sajja (Bed of Flowers)

The Bashar Sajja or bed of flowers is the honeymoon bed. After all the formalities of the wedding and the feast have concluded, the bride and groom are sent alone to a separate room. This room will have been nicely decorated by boys and girls from both families. The room will be filled with natural flowers, multicolored papers and perfumes, and the bed also may be strewn with flower petals. In this lovely room the groom and bride meet intimately for the first time.

Bou-bhat (Wedding Reception)

The Bou-bhat ceremony takes place at the groom’s house. The groom formally introduces his bride to all his relatives. The relatives of the bride also attend this function, as well as friends and relatives.

While some of these functions may sound rather formal, in reality they are all social occasions which quickly turn to merry-making, singing and dancing.


– Courtesy of Sayma’s Weblog, rewritten by Zawaj.com for clarity.

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