Marriages are made in heaven but thankfully the fun is experienced here and of course the payments too are made on earth.
A Bengali wedding is steeped in traditions and ceremonies, and fun too.
Traditionally marriages are ‘fixed’ by the families of prospective groom and bride where a lot of things were taken into consideration. Family background is given utmost importance. Now times are changing, though, and Bengalis by and large have accepted the trend of girls and boys selecting their own partners. Inter-community and inter-faith marriages have also become common and are no more a ‘big deal’. It speaks about the open-mindedness of the Bengali family which has moved from extreme orthodoxy to a modern outlook.
After the wedding is finalised between two families, it is action time on both sides. There is a lot to be done. Usually a couple of months are kept in between to put the grand wedding together.
In olden days, pati-potro or the final agreement was held usually in a temple in front of the elders from both sides and village heads as witness. It usually stated all the points that have been agreed upon and also listed the things that the girl’s side would give as wedding gift. Thankfully this tradition has been done away with and even where followed, has been reduced to a mere tokenism.
Drawing up the list of invitees is a major task and utmost care is taken to see that no one is left out. Usually the elders get going on this job. Simultaneously, another set of women from the family gets busy with the shopping. The male brigade is in charge of fixing the decorators, caterers and other logistical issues.
Relatives and friends staying away are informed well in advance to help them book their travel.
Wedding cards are selected and given for printing. Nowadays an English version of the invite is also added in the card keeping in mind the cosmopolitan nature of the guests. As an auspicious sign, a dot of haldi and sindoor is put on the corner of each envelope. The member of the family possessing calligraphy skills is asked to write the names of the guests on the cards. However tedious may the task be, going in person to invite the guests is still followed in West Bengal. Small teams are formed who head in different directions to complete this very important task
Many families have an ashirvaad or engagement ceremony before the marriage. It is normally held separately on two days at the two homes. With changing times and with the difficulty of taking leave from workplace, this is now often done minutes before the actual wedding.
Shopping is fun and generates a lot of enthusiasm. Saris, dhotis, kurtas, shirts and other apparels are not only bought for the would-be bride and groom but for the entire family. It is a custom to exchange namashkari or gifts, mostly clothes, between the two families. When gold was affordable, small ornaments were also sent for the mother-in-law known as kanakanjali.
Tattwa or sending of gifts to the boy’s family in a presentable and decorative manner, usually on trays, is another activity that engages the young and the old of the family. Nowadays there are professionals who do this job. Saris and toiletries are innovatively displayed and are a treat to watch. Tattwa is not just clothes, shoes, toiletries and household items; there are trays of sweets too that are sent alongwith. Bor-bou or prajapati made of sandesh is an absolute must. So also a tray of spices innovatively decorated. But what takes the cake is the big fish – decorated with haldi and sindoor, it is sent as a good omen.
Tattwa - sari made into the shape of a peacock
Aaiburo bhaat is a touching tradition held a day before the wedding in the girl’s family. All her favourite dishes are cooked and served to the girl – it is taken to be the last meal she has in her parents’ home as an unmarried girl. All young girls of the family and friends of the bride-to-be join in the celebration. The girl is made to wear a new sari and ornaments to add to the festivities.
Activities on the D-day begin well before dawn. It begins with dodhi-mongol. The bride-to-be and the groom-to-be, in their respective homes, are fed mishit doi (sweet yogurt) and sweets mixed with khoi as they would have to fast the entire day. This rule of fasting is much relaxed now much to the delight of the young brigade.
Female relatives of both families visit nearby water-bodies, be it river or lake, to fetch water to be used for the rituals and also to invite goddess Ganga to the wedding, and act as a witness. Water also symbolises unending happiness for the newly-weds.
Back home the celebrations begin with virdhi or asking for blessings from the deceased members of the family. This ritual is performed by the eldest male member of the family.
This is followed by gaye holud or the haldi ceremony. This is held in both the homes of the boy and the girl. Haldi or turmeric paste from the boy’s side is brought along with the tattwa, which includes sari, sweets and rohu fish. The same is sent from the girl’s home, maybe a bit more elaborate. There is a lot of laughter and fun that is generated during this haldi ceremony. Haldi paste is smeared on the bride-to-be as it is believed to be auspicious as well as that haldi lends a golden glow to the girl, adding to her beauty.
Gaye holud ceremony - a joyous affair
While all members of the family enjoy a traditional lunch, the bride and the groom start getting ready for the evening wedding. The bride is decked up elaborately with love and care by the women of the family. Now it is the beauty parlours that do this job. Starting from hairdo to make-up everything is done quite elaborately. Intricate design is done on the forehead and cheek of the bride is with sandalwood paste. Normally the bride adorns a red-and-gold Benarasi sari. She is bedecked with ornaments. A matching red-and-gold veil is put on her head. A crown made of shola completes the attire. The groom is attired in silk kurta and dhoti. During the actual ceremony the groom has to wear a headgear made of shola.
A Bengali bride and groom in full attire
At a pre-determined time, the groom arrives at the venue of the wedding. Conch shells and ullu-dhoni (ululating sound made with the tongue) welcome him. The mother-in-law welcomes the groom in a traditional way with a boron dala. It was an old custom to wash and wipe the feet of the groom but thankfully such customs have been done away with.
The ceremony begins with the groom being made to stand and the bride being carried by her brothers as she covers her face with two betel leaves. Then the exchange of first look or shubho drishti happens and it is perhaps the sweetest moment – exchanging of glances draped in shyness, and the matching excitement of folks from both families.
After this begins the lengthy ceremony of the wedding ritual. First is kanya samprodaan or when the girl is handed over to the boy with the chanting of mantras. This very important act is performed by the father of the girl or any senior person from the girl’s side. This is followed by mala bodol or exchange of garlands and then saat paake bandha – this is where the bride and the groom walk seven times around the sacred fire of the ritual, vowing to be with each other through all the ups and downs of life. Finally, the boy applies sindoor on the girl who is now his wife.
Lots of traditional fun activities follow that have been carried on through the ages. A grand feast is arranged for the guests and it is the custom to ensure that no one leaves without having food.
Next day the bride leaves for the groom’s home. The time is decided by the purohit and varies according to traditions. It is a touching moment for all. Emotions overcome the girl and her family and friends as she bids goodbye to her family.
A host of ceremonies follow at the groom’s home while welcoming the new bride. Each of these are significant and auspicious. Be it the bride stepping on sindoor-jol and then walking into the house leaving pretty red footprints. Or the time when she tips a pot of rice grains to enter the house, signifying eternal abundance.
Stepping on sindoor-jol
Bou bhaat is when the new bride serves the family members with her own hands and the groom takes a pledge to take responsibility of the bride.
A day later a reception is held at the boy’s house – a way to introduce the new bride to the entire family and friends. Much to the delight of the girl, her family too makes a visit with phulshojja tattwa. Ornaments made of flowers are a must on this day.
Thus begins the journey of a new couple as man and wife and thus lives on the tradition of Bengali wedding.
With the exchange of culture, nuggets of fun elements from different communities have seeped in. It is very common now to have a sangeet ceremony or sagai. Mehendi ceremony has also become an integral part of many Bengali weddings.