The traditional Bengali wedding is filled with many colorful ceremonies covering pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding customs. As the ceremonies are so numerous, the road to marriage is a busy and active one for the bride and groom. There is hardly time to consider that the Bengali wedding is actually the beginning of a marriage with all of things to take care of beforehand. However, these traditional rituals and ceremonies are so beautiful, as well as meaningful, it is certainly something that is not to be missed.
Traditional customs begin as soon as the happy couple decides they wish to marry each other. The engagement is a vital part of the path to the Bengali wedding as it is the first step. There are very specific rituals involved for the engagement in a Bengali Wedding.
First of all, the family priest, or purohit, studies the ancestral lines to make sure that the marriage in question is not going to occur between close relatives or a couple who has the same lineage, or gotra. This custom is known as Adan Pradan which means “give and take.” After the approval of each other by the prospective bride and groom, the parents, grandparents, and older aunts and uncles, sit down together in the presence of the family priest. Once it has been established that all is in order, the groom’s family goes to visit the bride’s family. This ritual is known as Paka-Dekha and is done for the purpose of finalizing the marriage dates according to the Indian calendar. The setting of the date is crucial because there are several time periods that a Bengali wedding cannot take place.
The Aashirwad or Patri Patra ceremony follows, which confirms the marriage alliance, and takes place a couple of days before the Bengali wedding ceremony, and is held in the evening. This ceremony is officiated by a purohit at the home of either the bride or groom. Traditions of this ceremony require that the door at the entrance of the home be decorated with a string of mango leaves. These will stay in place for one year following the marriage. During this ceremony, the bride is presented with a sari and the groom with a ring, gold buttons and a watch.
A typical Bengali Wedding involves several pre-wedding rituals that must be followed closely. These are not only very important to the Bengali wedding, but are quite meaningful and beautiful ceremonies.
The day before the Bengali wedding or on the wedding day itself, piris are brought to the home of the bride. Piris are low, flat, beautifully painted stools where the couple will be seated during the wedding ceremony. As they are brought into the home, the women of the home accompany the arrival by blowing conch shells and ululation. This is a sound that is made by moving their tongues horizontally at a very fast speed while making a sound from their mouths. It is also known as wailing.
Al Buddo Bhaat is the last meal that the bride to be eats in her home before she is married. This is a particularly happy and festive occasion. It consists of a small feast and gathering of the bride’s family and close friends. They all gather to bestow best wishes upon the bride while eating such things as fish, rice, luchis, vegetables and desserts such as payash and rasgullas. The groom is also treated to this Bengali ritual. Sometimes, other relatives or close friends will host the Al Buddo Bhaat and invite the bride to be or groom where their favorite foods have all been prepared for the feast. This is also a gift giving event.
The day before the Bengali wedding, the Vridhi ceremony is performed and attended by all of the family members. Vridhi rituals are usually performed by a paternal uncle and include the offering of puja, or prayers, to honor all the ancestors of the bride and groom. The place of the puja is decorated with alpona or Bengali rangoli. On this, a ghot with amra pallab is placed. These puja items are arranged in a silver plate called a baran dala, and has a “Sri” symbol drawn on it. The priest is also in attendance and brings an idol of Bhagwan Narayan to the puja. Worshipping this idol is then performed by the lighting of incense, known as agarbattis, and lamps called diyas. It is customary for the uncle and the bride and groom to be fasting for this ceremony.
The Dodhi Mangal ceremony takes place at dawn. The bride and groom are fed with a meal consisting of fried fish known as macher laija bhaja, rice cooked in water or jal dhala bhaja, curd and chiruya. In earlier times, the wedding couple would visit a nearby pond accompanied by 8 to 10 married women. This was done to invite the Goddess Ganga to the wedding. The women would bring back a pitcher of water collected from this pond which was used to bathe both the bride and the groom. This very moving ritual has been largely done away with in recent times because of the limitations of city life.
For the Gae Halud Tattva ceremony, a turmeric paste is applied to the groom at dawn. This is witnessed by all his family members. Following this, a relative of the groom goes to the bride’s house with this same paste along with gifts called Gae halud tattva for the bride and her immediate family. These gifts include at least 6 saris, cosmetics, fish, curd, an assortment of sweets, dhaan, and durba. Incense is lit and conch shells are blown in welcome, and the gift bearer is given gifts and sweets. Once the bride’s haldi ceremony starts, she is to fast until the wedding is completed. The haldi ceremony requires the bride to be to sit in the middle of 4 plantain trees that are kept at 4 corners of the room. Then she is anointed with a paste made of turmeric and mustard oil.
The groom’s family leaves the haldi ceremony with Adhibas Tattva. This brings gifts for the groom and his mother which are placed on a brass plate known as kasar thala. A gift of a saree for the mother of the groom is included along with fish, curd, paan, dhaan, which is rice husk representing plentitude, durba grass which shows that he will treat his bride tenderly, and sweets. The plate of Adhibas Tattva is typically presented by the servants.
The ceremony of Kubi Patta, in honor of Saint Kuber, is held in the houses of both the bride and the groom on the wedding day. Family members fill 3 metal glasses completely with khoi, dhaan and crushed rice. These glasses are then placed at the altar of the Saint.
The snan is the bathing ceremony of the bride and groom and is performed in late afternoon or early evening on the day of the Bengali wedding. The bride and groom are anointed with haldi and scented oil on their bodies and hair with the help of 8 to 10 married women. Following this bath, they dress in the new clothes given to them by their in laws. These clothes are later given to a barber.
The Sankha Porana ceremony is performed by the bride following her bath. She dons a new sari and the sankha pola, or the conch shell that has been washed in turmeric water. While the priest chants the sacred verses, 7 married women help the bride wear the iron and silver entwined bangle that is symbolic of a strong and long lasting relationship.
The bride then dresses in all of her bridal finery which is called the Sringar of the Bride. Her hair is fashioned into a bun and then covered by a veil. The mukut, or head dress, is placed on her head and pinned to the veil. The traditional Bengali wedding dress is a red banarasi sari. Once the bridal makeover is complete, a design of the mukut is traced on her face. This is done with the use of the chandan paste. The bride must now sit with the gaach kouto, which is a pot containing a red powder, called sindoor, and a silver coin and the kaajal laata, or hair decoration for the rest of the ceremonies.
The Boijtri is the ritual whereby the groom is picked up by the bride’s maternal uncle or brother and escorted to the place of the wedding. The rest of the groom’s family members follow along behind him. As the groom arrives at the wedding place, the Potto Bastra is performed. It is done by women from the bride’s side of the family welcoming him with ooulu, bell ringing and blowing of conch shells. Next, the bride’s mother welcomes the groom at the entrance with the boron dala. This contains a lamp, yogurt, honey, and betel leaves. His future mother in law then applies a tika of sandalwood, first to the groom’s forehead, and then on the ground. This process is repeated 3 times. The groom is given sherbet and sweets. To mark this special moment, the doorstep is sprinkled with water before the groom first steps into the house. Then the groom is given a shawl and dhoti, which is an unstitched garment and shirt. Now he is ready to be taken to the mandap, which is the place where the wedding ceremony will be held. Typically, two banana trees are planted here and a large alpana is made with a rice paste. Decorations are usually flowers and lights.
Now that all the pre ceremony rituals have been followed, the Bengali wedding ceremony is now ready to take place. Always conducted in the evening, it actually begins when the bride, who is seated on the wedding piri, is lifted into the air by her brothers and uncles. She is brought to the mandap to the sounds of conch blowing and clapping. Here, she circles the groom 7 times while keeping her face covered with betel leaves. After the 7th round, the bride takes away the betel leaves and looks at her husband to be. This ritual is known as the Shubho Drishti. The purohit hands the couple floral garlands and asks them to exchange them 3 times while he chants mantras. They do this and then move to sit in the mandap. The Sampradan ceremony where the bride is given away by a maternal or paternal uncle is then performed. The couple’s hands are joined with a sacred thread followed by the receiving of blessings. The mothers of the groom and bride do not watch the ceremony because it is believed that this casts an “evil eye” on the wedding couple.
The ceremony of Yagya is begun when the couple walks around the fire 7 times. They offer Anjali to the fire through the gifts of puffed rice. The Bengali wedding ceremony ends with the Sindoor Dan. This is where the groom applies vermillion to his bride’s hair parting. Then he offers her a new sari which she uses to cover her head. Now they are officially married and they touch the feet of all the elders in order to seek their blessings.
With the wedding ceremony over, the real fun can start. The Basar Ghar begins with the bride and groom being welcomed into the home of the bride. Dinner is served along with plenty of celebration. Guests sit cross legged in huge rows on small carpets called ashon. These are placed on the floor, and the food is served on banana leaves. Younger members of the household do the serving of such favorite food as luchi, mixed vegetables known as chhachra, patol er dolma, fish curry called maachh er kaliya, mutton curry called kosha mangsho, sandesh, and rasogolla. It is typical to have jokes told and poetry recited by friends and relatives, along with game playing. It is done with the idea of keeping the happy couple awake all night long.
After a long night of revelry and celebration, the ritual of Bashi Biye occurs the following morning. To honor this, the groom applies to his bride’s forehead with vermillion by looking into a mirror. They next visit the mandap and worship the Sun God while a priest watches over them.
The Bidaai Ceremony marks the departure of the newlyweds. It is a time of joy for the new couple starting their life together mixed with sorrow that the bride is leaving her home. After being blessed by the elders, they set off for the home of the groom, where the Bou Baran will be performed. This is the ritual to welcome the bride and groom into the groom’s home. The women of this house pour water on the ground under the vehicle of the newlyweds when they get out of it. The bride first steps onto an ornate stool which will be hers for the rest of her life. The wife of the groom’s older brother stands ready with a plate of red dye and milk. She places this under the bride’s feet. Once the bride’s feet are imprinted, she takes the bride into the house where the elders are waiting to offer blessings to the couple.
To show the new wife acceptance and respect from her new family, the Bou Bhat or bahubhat, is observed. This is the first meal that is served by the new bride. It gives her a chance to also become more acquainted with her new family. As a part of this first meal, the husband presents his new wife with a plate full of food, signifying that he will always provide her with what she needs. This is a ceremony that is followed by the groom’s father hosting an evening reception.
The last of the Bengali wedding ceremonies is called Phool Sajja, or Flower Decoration. The bride’s family sends a new sari to her along with a new dhoti and kurta for the groom. The nuptial bedroom is decorated and filled with beautiful flowers, thus the reason for the name Flower Decoration. These also are sent from the bride’s family along with sweets to help round out this occasion.
There is yet one more ceremony to be conducted for the newly married couple. This is called Dira Gaman and happens when the couple makes their first visit to the bride’s house after the wedding and as a married couple. The thread that was tied onto the bride’s wrist by the priest during the Bengali wedding ceremonies is now cut as a part of the ritual. This moment is celebrated by the blowing of conch shells and ululation, as it is now symbolically official that the bride to be is truly a wife and belongs with her husband now.
As you can see, a Bengali wedding is very involved, quite colorful, and drenched in ceremonial traditions. There is a ritual from the time of the engagement until after the wedding ceremony itself, and each one is a very meaningful one. Of course, there is fun and revelry along with the celebrations, but this is equally balanced with the quieter, more meditative and religious, parts of the tradition.
A lovely part of the whole process is just how special the bride and groom are treated from the time they become engaged up to the last post wedding ceremony. They are made to feel just how important and loving this path they are taking together in life truly is. It is a path that the couple takes together along with their close family members on this amazing journey. This really is a “family affair.”
Today’s fast paced lifestyle has changed things a bit from the simpler older times. Relatives rarely have the time it takes to arrange these elaborate celebrations so it is more often than not, now left to event coordinators. The traditional Bengali wedding dress has been changed to designer saris, and the head dress has been deemed less important than make up. The mandap is now decorated by professionals. Family members rarely have to serve guests food any longer, as caterers have taken over the preparation and the serving of the Bengali wedding feast. All of the modernization has done nothing to harm the spirit in which these Bengali wedding ceremonies are conducted, however. The Bengali wedding is still just as beautiful, spiritual, and meaningful as the ones of the older days.