Persian wedding traditions, despite their local and regional variations, like many other rituals in Iran (Persia) go back to the ancient Zoroastrian tradition. Though the concepts and theory of the marriage have been changed drastically by Islamic traditions, the actual ceremonies have remained more or less the same as they were originally in the ancient Zoroastrian culture. The Persian wedding traditions are observed by the majority of ethnic groups in Iran.
Before the marriage
Khastegari (خواستگاری) is the first step of the traditional Persian marriage process. When it is time for a young man to get married, his family will look around to identify a number of potential brides. Some men ask their parents to suggest potential brides, if they have been unable to find one themselves. However, this has become rarer in recent years, with men and women mixing and meeting freely themselves. Once the man, or his family, have decided on a potential bride, the khastegari process takes place. For this ceremony, one or more representatives of the man’s family pay a visit to the woman's family. The first visit is purely for the parties to become acquainted with one another. The first visit does not include a formal proposal and there is no commitment - it is perfectly acceptable for the man and his family to go for more than one khastegari in a short period of time. Following the first visit, both parties can begin to think more seriously about whether they would like to pursue a relationship. Both the woman and the man have their say in whether or not they would like a follow up to this visit.
The second khastegari
A marriage proposal is made by the suitor and his family. The woman’s family welcome the party and invite them to sit in the reception room.
At first, members of the bride’s family talk about the virtues of the girl. Traditionally, modesty was among the most highly valued qualities, along with domestic skills like cooking, embroidery, and entertaining at social gatherings (mehman-navazi); less emphasis is placed on these characteristics nowadays. In modern times important characteristics are the education level and intelligence of the girl, her ability to make the most of the situation when times get tough, and her future prospects. After hearing about the potential bride, the man's family will discuss his own merits, usually his education and/or career prospects. The woman's parents will normally ask the suitor if he is able to provide her with accommodation, and if he is able to support their daughter financially. They may also discuss any religious commitments.
The most important part comes when the bride’s father calls for the tea to be served. In the most traditional families, the first time that the man and woman see each other is when she enters to offer tea and pastries to the guests. At the end of the second khastegari, the man and the woman will be given time alone to talk in private. This usually involves a discussion about what they want for the future.
Note that, in most modern families, the first two khastegaris are done in one step, and the man and the woman already know each other and are the instigators of the ceremony.
Bale Boroun is the ceremony which takes place a short period of time after the formal proposal, publicly announcing the couple's intention to form a union. At this stage, both the man and woman are happy with each other and, traditionally, both their families have agreed to the union and any conditions surrounding the marriage.
The groom's parents usually give a gift to the bride at this ceremony. According to an ancient Zoroastrian practice, this is done by the groom's family in order to persuade the bride to accept the proposal. The traditional gift is a piece of cloth (to be made into a gown) and a ring. In religious families, the cloth is given to be made into a chador.
Majless e Namzadi (engagement)
The Majless takes place at the woman’s family home. The man and woman, alongside their families, will determine "the gift of love", known as the Mehriye, as well as the date of the wedding. This may be held as early as a year before the wedding itself, in order to allow time for all the wedding arrangements to be made.
The Persian engagement ceremony, known as the namzadi, involves the bride and groom exchanging rings, followed by a reception and/or party.
The sharing of refreshments that follows the namzadi ceremony is called shirin khordan (eating sweets) including tea and shirini (desserts) such as bamiye (light doughnut balls), nun-e berenji (rice flour cookies), chocolates, ajil (nuts and dried fruit), are served as part of the festivities. Eating sweet food stuffs at celebratory events such as an engagement ceremony carry symbolism such as wishing for sweetness in the couple's life in general.
A few days before the wedding, presents from the groom's family are taken over to the bride’s house. Men from the groom's family dressed up in festive costumes carry the presents on elaborately decorated large flat containers carried on their heads. The containers are called tabag. This ceremony is also called tabag-baran.
The wedding ceremony
Sofreye Aghd (Wedding Spread)
There is a very elaborate floor spread set up for Aghd, including several kinds of food and decorations, this is called Sofre-ye-Aghd. Items in the Sofreh include:
- The Seven Herbs: Khashkhash (poppy seeds), Berenj (rice), Sabzi Khoshk (Angelica), Salt, Raziyane (Nigella seeds), Cha'i (black tea leaves) and Kondor (Frankincense).
- The Seven Pastries: Noghl, Baklava, Toot (Persian marzipan), Naan-e Bereneji (rice cookies), Naan-e Badami (almond cookies), Naan-Nokhodchi (chickpea cookie) and Sohan Asali (saffron almond brittle) are placed on the spread and traditionally served to the guests after the ceremony.
- Mirror of Fate and two candelabras, symbols of light and fire. 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.
- The Blessed Bread: A specially baked bread with calligraphy written on it.
- "Naan-o Paneer-o Sabzi": Bread, feta cheese, and greens are also placed on the spread to symbolize the basic food that is needed to sustain life. They are traditionally served to guests after the ceremony.
- Symbols of Fertility: Decorated eggs, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.
- The Heavenly Fruits: pomegranates, grapes, apples.
- Persian Rose: A cup of rose-water and a rose extracted from the Gol-e Mohammadi (Mohammadan flower). This is to perfume the air.
- Shakh-e-Nabat: A bowl made out of rock candy.
- "Honey": A cup of honey should be on the spread. Immediately after the couple is married, the bride and groom each dip one pinky finger in the cup of honey and feed it to one another.
- Esphand: The esphand and frankincense are sprinkled on a brazier holding hot coals producing a smoke to ward off evil eyes and purification.
- Coins: A bowl of gold or silver coins representing wealth and prosperity.
- The Sacred Text: The Avesta, Qur'an, Bible, or Torah is placed in front of the couple on the spread. Some families also add a poetry book such as Rumi's Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, Hafiz's Divan, or the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi..
- Prayer Rug: A prayer rug (Jaa-ye Namaaz) or a traditional Iranian Termeh is placed in the center of the wedding spread. The prayer rug, open in the Aghd-cloth is to remind the couple of the importance of prayer to god, the prayer carpet also includes a small cube of clay with prayers written on it (Mohr) and a rosary (Tasbih). Non-Muslim families may or may not omit the prayer kit.
A scarf or shawl made out of silk or any other fine fabric is held over the bride and bridegroom's head (who are sitting by the Sofreh) by a few unmarried female relatives (bridesmaids). Two sugar cones made out of hardened sugar are used during the ceremony. These sugar cones are softly ground together above the bride and bridegroom's head by a happily married female relative (and/or maid of honor) throughout the ceremony to shower them in sweetness. The sugar drops in the held fabric, not on their heads.
In spirit of humor, sometimes a few stitches are sewn on the cloth which is held over the bride and the groom's head. The needle will have seven threads of seven colors and will symbolize sewing the mother-in-law's tongue against saying anything rude or unholy to the bride in her future life.
The contract signing for the wedding is usually done before the ceremony of Aghd so that the ceremony can flow naturally. When the groom signs the marriage contract, he legally agrees to provide the bride with a mehriye (Dowry). The amount of mehriye is restated during the wedding ceremony. In religious circles the Aghd usually includes some verses of the Quran (followed by reciting a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad about the importance of marriage (only if one or both of the couple are Muslims). In the more modern ceremonies, the officiant is not of religious background and would recite romantic poems from Saadi, Hafez or Rumi.
Then the ceremony administer (or marriage officiant) asks the mutual consent of the couple. First the groom is asked if he wishes to enter into the marriage. Then the bride is asked the same question. Here the bride makes the groom wait for her hand in marriage by not answering the question right away. This is usually accompanied by a relative yelling out something (funny) that the bride could have gone to do. The scenario will often be as follows:
- The officiant: Do you wish to accept x as your husband?
The bride remains silent, while one of the guests/bridesmaids says "the bride has gone to pick flowers."
- The officiant: For the second time I ask, do you accept x to be your husband?
Again the bride remains silent and a female relative/bridesmaid may say "the bride has gone to bring rose-water."
- The officiant: For the third time I ask, will you accept x as your husband?
This time the bride says "with the permission of my parents and elders, yes" and they are declared man and wife. From that moment, the man and the woman will be considered married (or mahram in religious families).
Once the couple is pronounced husband and wife, the officiant will ask for God to bless the union. The bride and groom exchange wedding rings, where they put the rings on each other's left ring finger. In religious families the kiss exchange is not done publicly. Finally, the bride and groom dip their little finger in honey and put it in each other's mouths, to symbolize starting the marriage with sweetness and love. At this point, the families start clapping and singing, and the closer members of the family will present their gifts to the bride and the groom, mostly cash or jewelry.
Traditionally, the cost of the wedding ceremony is paid by the groom's family, and in return the bride's family provide the 'jahaz' (the furniture and household appliances for the couple's new life together). However, most modern families share the responsibilities and the costs associated with the wedding ceremonies.
After the wedding
Traditionally, on Patakhti the bride wears a lot of floral ornaments and the decoration of the house with flowers is provided by the groom's family. The relatives of the bride and the groom bring them presents. This is usually more of a party with finger foods, sweets and drink than a sitdown dinner. The majority of the night is spent dancing and socializing. It's almost like a bridal shower, but is held after the wedding.