For Iranians marriage is considered to be an 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 “Anjoman” for the queenly bride.
Traditionally, both the bride and the bridegroom would dress in white with wreaths of flower on their necks, something similar to the Hawaiian Lei. These wreaths of flower are still worn in modern wedding ceremonies in Pakistan (which used to be part of the great Persian Empire), but it is eliminated from the Iranian wedding ceremony. The color white is a symbol of purity, innocence and faithfulness. Today most modern Iranian couples follow the western dress code and style.
There are two stages to a Persian marriage. Most often both take place on the same day, but occasionally there could be some time between the two. The first is called “Aghd”, the legal process of getting married, when both the bride and bridegroom and their guardians sign a marriage contract. The second stage is “Jashn-e Aroosi”, the actual feasts and the celebrations, which traditionally lasted 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 called “Sofreh-ye Aghd”. Traditionally Sofreh-ye Aghd is set on the floor facing east, the direction of sunrise (light). Consequently when bride and bridegroom are seated at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd they will be facing “The Light”.
By custom Aghd would normally take place at bride’s parents/guardians home. The arrival of the guests, who are to be witnesses to the marriage of the couple, initiates the wedding ceremony. Traditionally the couples’ guardians and other elder close family members are present in the room to greet the guests and guide them to their seats. After all the guests are seated the bridegroom is the first to take his seat in the room at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd. The bride comes afterwards and joins the bridegroom at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd. The bridegroom always sits on the right hand side of the bride. In Zoroastrian culture the right side designates a place of respect.
The spread that is used on the floor as the backdrop for Sofreh-ye Aghd was traditionally passed from mother to daughter (or occasionally son). The spread is made of a luxurious fabric such as “Termeh” (Cashmere: A rich gold embroidered fabric originally made in Cashmere from the soft wool found beneath the hair of the goats of Cashmere, Tibet, and the Himalayas), “Atlas” (Gold embroidered satin) or “Abrisham” (Silk).
On Sofreh-ye Aghd, the following items are placed:
* Mirror (of fate) “Aayeneh-ye Bakht” and two Candelabras (representing the bride and groom and brightness in their future) one on either side of the mirror. The mirror and two candelabras are symbols of light and fire, two very important elements in the Zoroastrian culture. When the bride enters the room she has her veil covering her face. Once the bride sits beside the bridegroom she removes her veil and the first thing that the bridegroom sees in the mirror should be the reflection of his wife-to-be.
* A tray of seven multi-colored herbs and spices “Sini-ye Aatel-O-Baatel” to guard the couple and their lives together against the evil eye, witchcraft and to drive away evil spirits. This tray consists of seven elements in seven colors:
1. Poppy Seeds “Khash-Khaash” (to break spells and witchcraft)
2. Wild Rice “Berenj”
3. Angelica “Sabzi Khoshk”
4. Salt “Namak” (to blind the evil eye)
5. Nigella Seeds “Raziyaneh”
6. Black Tea “Chaay”
7. Frankincense “Kondor” (to burn the evil spirits)
* A specially baked and decorated flatbread “Noon-e Sangak” with blessing “Mobaarak-Baad” written in calligraphy on it. The writing is usually with either saffron “Zaffaron”, cinnamon, Nigella seeds, or glitters. This symbolizes prosperity for the feasts and for the couple’s life thereafter. A separate platter of this flat bread, feta cheese and fresh herbs are also present to be shared with the guests after the ceremony, to bring the new couple happiness and prosperity.
* A basket of pomegranates and/or apples for a joyous future. Pomegranates are considered heavenly fruits and apples symbolize the divine creation of mankind.
* A cup of rose water extracted from special Persian roses “Gol-e Mohammadi” to perfume the air.
* A bowl made out of crystallized sugar “Kaas-e Nabaat/Shaakh-e Nabaat” to sweeten life for the newly wed.
* A brazier “Manghal” holding burning coals sprinkled with wild rue “Espand” a popular incense. Wild rue is used in many Zoroastrian ceremonies, rituals and purification rites. It is believed to keep the evil eye away and bring on plenty of health.
* A bowl of gold coins representing wealth and prosperity.
* A scarf or shawl made out of silk or any other fine fabric to be held over the bride and bridegroom’s head throughout the ceremony by various happily married female relatives (mostly bride’s close family members).
* Two sugar cones “Kalleh Ghand” made out of hardened sugar to be used during the ceremony. These sugar cones are grinded together above the bride and bridegroom’s head (over the scarf held above their heads) throughout the ceremony to shower them in sugar (symbolizing sweetness and happiness).
* A cup of honey to sweeten life. Immediately after the couple is married they each should dip one pinky finger in the cup of honey and feed it to the other one.
* A needle and seven strands of colored thread to figuratively sew up the mother-in-law’s lips from speaking unpleasant words to the bride! The shawl that is held above the couple’s head throughout the ceremony is sewed in one corner by the needle and threads.
* A copy of Koran “Ghoraan-e Majid” (the Moslem’s holy book) opened in the middle and placed on the spread. This symbolizes God’s blessing for the couple. Traditionally “Avesta” the ancient Zoroastrian holy book was present during the ceremony and readings were made from it. Eventually Koran replaced Avesta after Iran became a Moslem nation.
* A prayer carpet/kit “Jaa-Namaaz” spread open in the center of Sofreh-ye Aghd to remind the couple of importance of prayer both at blissful times and times of hardship. This prayer kit includes a small rug “Sajjaadeh” to be spread on the floor at the time of prayer, a small cube of molded clay with prayers written on it “Mohr” and a strand of prayer beads “Tasbih”.
* An assortment of sweets and pastries to be shared with the guests after the ceremony. The assortment usually includes: Sugar coated almond strips “Noghl”, Baklava (a sweet flaky Persian pastry “Baaghlavaa”), Mulberry-almond paste made in the shape of mulberries “Tout”, Rice-flour cookies “Noon-Berenji”, Chickpea-flour cookies “Noon-Nokhodchi”, Almond-flour cookies “Noon-Baadoomi”, and Honey roasted almonds “Sohaan A’sali”.
When the bride and bridegroom are both seated the marriage ceremony begins. Usually the Moslem “Mullah” or other males with recognized authority such as a notary public will be the master of ceremony and perform the legal part of the ceremony. The bride and the bridegroom have each a marriage witness. Usually older and married males are chosen amongst close relations to stand as witnesses. The ceremony consists of preliminary blessings, questions to the witnesses, guardians and the marrying couple. Finally the ceremony is solemnized by giving some prayers for the newly wed couple and signing of a legal marriage contract.
After the preliminary blessings and a few words about the importance of the institution of marriage, the master of ceremony confirms with both the parents or guardians that they indeed wish to proceed with the ceremony and there are no objections. Then the master of ceremony 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 question is repeated three times and it is only at the third 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 eager to have her and not the other way around!
During the reading of the marriage contract, all the unmarried ladies are asked to leave the room. There exists the belief that a girl should only hear the marriage ceremony’s readings for her own marriage or her chances for marriage might be ill-fated! Nowadays the single ladies do not seem to be too worried about finding a husband and getting married, because most of them stay in the room to witness the ceremony.
During the service married female relatives of the couple (mainly the bride) hold over the couple’s head the fine scarf. Two different actions take place at the same time. Two pieces of crystallized sugar shaped like cones are rubbed together, a symbolic act to sweeten the couple’s life. In the second act two parts of the same fabric are sewn together with needle and thread to symbolize sewing mother-in-law’s lips together. The ceremony is reminiscent of the ancient traditions.
Once the bride has said yes to the proposal, the master of the ceremony pronounces the couple husband and wife and asks for God’s blessing to be with the couple in their lives together. The bride and bridegroom place the wedding bands on each other’s hands and feed each other honey. Afterwards the couple, their guardians, witnesses and master of ceremony sign the documents.
Traditionally after the ceremony while the bride and groom are still seated the bride is showered with gifts, usually expensive jewelry, and all she receives is hers. The bridegroom does not receive many gifts. He only receives one gift from the bride’s parents/guardians. When all the gifts are presented to the bride the wedding ceremony is officially concluded. Generally after the ceremony the bride and bridegroom and the guests move to the location of the wedding celebration party “Aroosi” and celebrate the occasion by playing laud cheerful music, dancing and consuming some lavishly prepared food.
The celebration includes a lavish meal, sometimes with a whole roast lamb as the centerpiece. Jeweled rice “Morrasah Polo” or sweet rice “Shirin Polo” is always served along with many other dishes and an elaborate wedding cake. The celebration, with so much feasting, singing, and dancing, is a day for all to remember. After the guests have gone home, it is customary to give the remaining pastries to those who were unable to come and to those who helped make the day a success. The sugar cones are kept by the bride for good luck.
Before they enter their home, the bride kicks over a bowl of water placed in the doorway. The water spilled on the threshold represents enlightenment, happiness, and purification for their new house. A friendly competition starts with the bride and groom as the bride tries to enter her house while stepping on her husband’s feet. This act makes the bride the boss in the household.
In recent years, the Persian communities abroad have changed and adopted the life-styles of their host countries. The Persian marriage ceremony, however, is so old and can be such a beautiful ceremony that it would be a shame not to enact it.